With more than 20 years’ experience as an architect, Ary Indra has designed a wide variety of buildings in Indonesia and abroad. But who could have guessed that the co-founder of the architectural firm Aboday started it all because of a bathroom? And that his passion for design would result in him representing his country at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale?

Ary realised he had an interest in spaces when he was about seven years old,  initially due to contemplating the design  of a bathroom in his grandmother’s house in Madiun. “Every time I was in that bathroom, I couldn’t help thinking that a bathroom should be built more conveniently,” he says during our meeting in Native Coffee at SAUMATA Suites and Apartments, one of his creations, in Alam Sutera, Tangerang.

Ary was determined to build a beautiful  and comfortable bathroom for his grandmother. “I wanted to build a  carved bathroom because at that time carving equalled luxury,” he remembers. Sadly, his grandmother passed away before he could make his plan a reality.

Forty years have passed, and Ary’s creativity remains in tune with his original motivation. “I often get inspiration when I’m having a shower,” he says, adding that, when inspired, he is not afraid to change a whole concept, even during an ongoing project. “That’s why my team say I shouldn’t have showers too frequently,” he laughs.

Ary also draws inspiration from movies – anything from the latest Hollywood blockbuster to an Indonesian favourite – but as long as he has enough time to contemplate an idea, inspiration can come from anywhere. “Contemplation is essential for architects to give depth to their designs,” he says.

Ary’s designs, both independently and under Aboday, encompass a diverse variety of buildings, including apartments, hotels, offices, schools, museums, houses and places of worship. “One of my ongoing projects at the moment is the BNI 46 building in Pejompongan, Jakarta,” he says, referring to  a 30-floor asymmetric tower that is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.  “I always want my designs to contribute to the city lifestyle and skyline, and I believe BNI 46 will do that. I don’t think there’s a tall building in Jakarta that has a ‘lips shape’ like that.”

Ary’s personal imprint is clearly visible  in his work. “I love fluid shapes,” he says. “When light falls on a curved surface,  it will spread wider. And I also love to play with spaces and scale.”

While obviously happy when clients are open-minded enough to give him free scope to explore his ideas, Ary is also fully aware that collisions between architects’ idealism and clients’ wishes are an intrinsic part of the job. Compromise through communication is the key to handling these situations, he stresses, and that is why architects need to be master communicators as well as great designers.

Ary believes architects also need to be highly adaptable. “In Aboday, we are quite flexible and we are open to working with various parties,” he says. “I think that is one of the reasons why this company has kept growing in its 12-year journey,” explains the architect, who worked for AXIS Architects Planners in Singapore for eight years before establishing Aboday.

Ary’s ambition continues to expand as fast  as his high-rise towers. With Aboday, he has published two books on architecture – F Book: Fame, Fortune, Flirt in 2013 and Firmitas in 2017 – and he was recently selected for  the prestigious role of chief curator of the Indonesia Pavilion for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. It has been Ary’s responsibility to determine the concept  and build the pavilion, one of more than 60 national pavilions presenting contributions from around the world at the Biennale,  being held from May 26 to November 25.

“I feel so honoured to be chosen out  of the 70 architects in the competition,”  Ary says, adding that his concept is built around the theme Poetics of Emptiness. “Architecture in Indonesia provides empty spaces, for example in Yogyakarta’s royal palace or Toraja’s houses,” he explains. “For Indonesians, empty spaces are transformative spaces; full of  philosophical meaning.”

While his working days may be dominated  by designs on a grand scale, the architect has a couple of smaller but equally significant projects in his scope. He plans to design  a place of worship that welcomes people  of all religions. He is also building a house where he grew up, in Salatiga, Central Java, to meet his needs in later life. When there’s no pressing business, he plans to fly there every weekend – with Garuda Indonesia,  of course. Ary says the hospitality of the airline’s cabin crew is commendable.  “I can feel the friendliness right from  the moment I step on board,” he says,  before closing our interview, no doubt  with half-a-dozen ideas for new designs  and concepts whirling in his mind.