Menara Saidah - a shabby portent of a dystopian future?

“First she would try to kill him, but failing this, give him food and her body, and even, perhaps, feel affection for him. Then, the moment he was asleep, cut his throat. The synopsis of the ideal marriage.”
~ J.G. Ballard, High-Rise

Boom times are here and Jakarta has been named (*) the region's top destination for real estate investment and development opportunities. As land prices soar, so does optimism, and returns-hungry vultures feed on anything they can. The result? High rises sprouting up all across the metropolis as far as the eye can see. But a future built on mere speculation and an absence of planning means that success is by no means guaranteed. Jakarta’s worsening traffic nightmare is testament to this; a futile game in which no one can win regardless of how expensive their automobile is.

Another kind of Ballardian dystopian future is also on the cards of course – the one related in the Drowned World.

Jakarta is sinking and sinking fast. In one study conducted by researchers from the Bandung Institute of Technology, it was found that land in some parts of central Jakarta around Monas had sunk by around 10-12 cm over the last eight years, mainly due to massive extraction of groundwater. And other parts of Jakarta fared even worse – land in Muara Baru, North Jakarta, and Cenkareng, West Jakarta, has sunk an incredible 116 centimeters in the same period. Never has Bogor looked more attractive!

But the ready mix will continue to flow. From the real jungle to a concrete one; not an unbridgeable leap of faith it seems.

Menara Saidah is what the future could look like if things really do go pear-shaped. Built at great expense, and once a shining beacon in my part of South Jakarta, the lights were abruptly switched off back in 2007. And since then the building has been completely empty. Never a good thing of course, as empty buildings have a strange tendency to fall into a bad state of disrepair if not occupied (why is that I wonder?).

Menara Saidah

So what has happened? Well, it’s not easy to find out. It is interesting to note, however, that the building was originally a 15-floor tower and a further 13 floors (yep, unlucky for the owners!) were added at a later date. I can’t believe that this would have been done if the foundations were not able to support the heavier structure but it is interesting to note that the owners once refused to sell the building to Universitas Satyagama for Rp450 billion because they were apparently unwilling to show the original plans to the university.

Some people I know even say that the building is now slanting – a kind of Indonesian version of the Tower of Pisa in the making.

But I don’t believe that. And I hope you don’t either!

Menara Saidah

* Emerging Trends in Real Estate® Asia Pacific 2013 (right click, pdf file, 4.7MB)


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