The introduction of Islam to Indonesia did not lead to a new building tradition, rather the mosques appropriated the architectural forms of Indonesia with additional Muslim requirements. A place of worship and its religion thus blended into Indonesia. Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 4.50.29 pm

In the mid 1960s, approaching the demise of his political career, Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia and an architect, decided to build a national mosque in a “modern” monumental architectural style at the centre of Jakarta. (Kusno, A. 2000) The design of a timeless building now would be re-contextualised in a new era of independence afterall “Would we build a Friday Mosque like the Masjid Denmak, or Masjid Banten?” Sukarno challenged, “When it [Masjid Banten] was built it was already great. But if erected today how would it rank?” (Cited in O’neil 1993) Thus, design when put in a new context gives new meaning to itself. In this example that new meaning is independence with the result being the creation of the Istiqlal Mosque. It is the largest in South East Asia and a defining stand of Indonesia’s Independence from The Netherlands with Istiqlal being the arabic word for independence.

The Istiqlal Mosque (Courtesy of <>)

When comparing the design between two different contexts we can see that traditional Islamic architecture follows the building tradition of four central posts supporting pyramidal roofs. The characteristic of Islamic architecture in the past include multi-tiered roofs, ceremonial gateways, and a variety of decorative elements. Looking at the new design of the Istiqlal Mosque its context of design reflects the countries independence. The structure is as new and independent from the past as its context. It has seven entrances and two connected rectangular structures. The main structure has twelve supporting posts and is covered by a 45-meter in diameter central spherical dome with the number “45” representing the 1945 Proclamation of Indonesian Independence.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 4.50.19 pm
Traditional Javanese Mosque
Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 4.50.42 pm
The Istiqlal Mosque

Sukarno was breaking the traditional form of the local mosque when he favoured a “modern” look. This not only reflected the post World War II era of the time but also reflected a new “Indonesia.” At first, I questioned how a style of building could reflect a new context of a country yet it is most certainly the case as  “the modern image of Sukarno’s national mosque could be interpreted as a specific challenge to the previous architectural, cultural and political order.” (Kusno, A. 2000) Sukarno’s mosque was mapping Indonesia on the world map; it marked a new type of nation but also a new type of authority.

“Buildings” are not only tangible images of the aspirations of the societies that produce them; they are also an attempt to mould social attitudes (Kostof,S. 1995) The design of the Mosque exemplifies how a building when designed in a new context of style and time provides a different meaning.


A.K.Dey and G.D.Abowd. 1999, Towards a better understanding of context, Springer Publishing, Berlin

Kostof, S. 1995, A history of Architecture: Settings and Rituals, Oxford University Press, UK

Kusno, A. 2000, Behind the post colonial, Routledge, UK

*All imagery unless stated comes from; Kusno, A. 2000, Behind the post colonial, Routledge, UK.


  1. Its great to see your view of Islamic architecture in Indonesia! I’ve always been impressed with the minimalistic approach of Masjid Istiqlal. If you compare it to other mosques in Indonesia, it might be the largest, but its definitely not the most extravagant. Yet, it played such a significant role by carving a pathway for Indonesian independence.

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