SKK’s Office in Jajar: The Anti-thesis of the Urban Cubicle

By Olivia Stinson

Olivia is an urban planner in Jakarta who we know from New York City and New Orleans. She came out to Solo this past summer to volunteer and help bring together the neighborhood mini atlases.

After several months in Jakarta, it was a treat to come down and work with the Solo Kota Kita team for a week in their spartan, but lively office in the Jajar neighborhood. I love Solo. It is quiet, reserved, and genteel compared to Jakarta. Solo murmurs in your ear, Jakarta screams into your BlackBerry.

The SKK office is in a very residential neighborhood which over time, quietly revealed its layers and rhythms. Being in Jajar made you slow down and look around. As you did, the more the various daily patterns and relationships came into focus, the more you unconsciously felt in your place in the street, the office, and the sweet little city.

The office is in an old house there, and we kept the doors and windows open all the time. We all went to the office pretty early, around 8 a.m. or before, and the neighborhood was already lively. There were the serenaders first thing, then little vendors of snacks and satay, then cars and errand runners, on and on. Noises and people, workers and chickens, children and Ibus chirped away at us through the open windows.

It was never dull. It was the anti-thesis of an urban cubicle. We were completely tuned into this place and it was a simple, but connected life, working for the city.

I loved lunch time. If you have ever spent any time in Indonesia, you know it is the eating-est, snacking-est place on the planet. We would usually wander down to a warung nearby and eat there. There was a kind of open-air buffet with crazy home-cooked foods in big, chipped ceramic bowls.

Fried chicken heads? Yes. Strange healthful greens with shredded coconut and chilies? My mother would approve. Tempeh, tofu, tiny-fried-to-death-fish-reconstituted-in-sauce-with-okra. Check! Weird saucy curry with meat of unknown provenance? Let’s go. Don’t forget the fresh sambal. Pile up your bowl, try something new, order a watery sugary tea with dubious ice-cubes, and wander back down the street to work needing a coffee Hello Mister.”

We’d work quietly throughout the afternoon, with some people holding pin-ups of the projects in adjacent rooms. Young architecture students, seasoned Solonese planners, novice photographers, some Harvard interns, a couple of charismatic idealists, and me. Planning talk and collaboration went in and out of the blue rooms, the concrete floors. The slow machine of community planning moved forward, you could feel the energy in perfect tempo with the pace of little ancient Solo and it was just right.

As everywhere in Indonesia, it gets dark around 6 p.m. year-round. As the light outside dimmed and the crackling, tired fluorescent bulbs came on in the small tokos and homes along the street, we’d usually wind-up or wind-down depending on our deadlines. As our lap-tops blinked at us in the twilight, conversation would inevitably turn towards what we were going to do for dinner.

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