"The Poor People's Floating Mall":
A Prototype to be used in solving urban poverty in water-front cities

A Report from Indonesia
By
Antonio Ismael Risianto

City governments seldom consider the poor as part of their development landscape - as shown in many of their past policies. The poor is yet to be integrated into the "City for All" discourse. Instead, we see traditional markets being burned down by rampant unexplained fire; we also see the rapid disappearance of many egalitarian public spaces in the city. All this is happening on a national scale.

This "Poor People's Floating Mall" is actually a proposal to the Mayor of Samarinda and the local Indonesian Architects Association. It is an attempt to solve of the problem of exploding informal street peddlers mushrooming all over the city.

This proposal was introduced during a seminar that was held in the city of Samarinda. The theme was: "Architecture for the Poor". Several solutions were presented in the seminar. And because Samarinda is a waterfront city, one practical solution is to have a "Land for the Poor above the Water" (learning from the city of Banjarmasin and Bangkok).

With a well designed set of buildings or complexes, the proposal could enhance the overall landscape of the city while solving the urban (as well as rural) poverty problems. It re-introduces more egalitarian public spaces that were left behind - along with the bazaars - as the city moves deliriously towards modernity. This is yet another possible catalyst in helping the poor so that they could help themselves to survive. They could use the space to find employment opportunities, get out of poverty, and regain their dignity.

With the threat of rising seawater due to Climate Change, we were thinking about designing a floating structure that can withstand floods (learning from the evolution of the water mosquito and Aceh Housing Design competition experience). Together with the Bamboo Foundation in Bali, the next generation of the design will also involve a slow and careful research on the state-of-the-art bamboo technology that is often called the "People's Steel"; and it is actually found to be one of the fastest carbon absorbing species on the planet.

With these thoughts, we hope to deal with discourse of Climate Change and Poverty Alleviation together as one integrated solution.

The Proposal

Revitalization of the City’s River banks by adding “Street hawkers Centers” (SHC) at certain intervals along the river. When most of the space along the roadside is already being “taken”, the simplest way of obtaining “land” is on water.

Therefore it is just a matter of creating a “FLOATING LAND” and its surrounding environment. Hopefully, by living close to the river, the people will be more respectful towards the river.

• The Street hawkers (Pedagang kaki lima) will then be consolidated toward these centers to ease off untidy activities along the sidewalks.

• Each centers can be specially designed under a certain “Urban and Building Design Guidelines”.

• It will include clientele from of land, accessed from the street and ample parking as well as accessible with boats.

• Stalls will be situated on both the buildings and on mobile boats.

• Stalls could be specially designated for different Kecamatan from fishermen and inbound villagers to gain/ capture the market.

• Some of the boats can be elevated to the status of vendors or even floating restaurants with transportation service. The main purpose of this project will be to support the “People’s Economy” for both inland (the kampoengs) and the hinterland (accessible thru the sampans and ketingting).

• Everything will be planned and organized by a certain management unit with participatory management approaches.

• These “Floating Street Hawkers Centers” will also act as Fruit and Produce market from the hinterland and Boat based/ River based transportation Stations/ Mini Passenger ports in combination.

• There will also have “towers” as orientation points that acts as “light houses” for the boats passing across the Mahakam River.

• The “towers” will be iconic symbols that could be used as stages for attracting crowds during events and festivals.

• Each “Street Hawkers Centers” could also be developed as a mix-used commercials centers (by the private developers) that could be mutually beneficial to other Public Facilities. This includes facilities such as Commercial Centers, Hotels, Meeting Hall, Mosque which are guided at certain interval. Each of the Center is directed to and linked with mini river based transportation stations, bus stops, future taxi stops. This is planned for future integrated public transportation linkages which would eventually attract the crowds.

• The development of these Centers will be spaced at 3 km apart (at most) for assuring the visual openness of the River Front City.

• Each River front nodes will not be more than two blocks wide (200 m2) buildings and all building must be accessible to the public.

• In between these River Front Nodes (RFN) shall be open space/ greens for public access, and must be 80% open (visually) from the road towards the river. (Singaporian model).

Possible Design Patterns:

• Ample parking from the “street side”.

• Bus Station/ Taxi drops zone available to link to the “Sampan station” for transportation integrated linkages.

• Stall to be on stilts (stationary) with the bridges on the perimeter to be floating as to be approachable by the people’s sampan.

• Organized the arrangement of the Water Front Mini Station to link with
the stalls as well as the “continued mode of transportation” (Bis, angkot, bus stations/ stops).

• Buildings to be able to withstand the wind from all direction.

• Considering the technology to manage the garbage from within as
well of the garbage from the outside.


•The design is to have vegetation, floating trellis/foliages along the walkways.

• Center orientation as a “tower” as the center of attraction space/ stage.

• Minimally, the design should be able to support 2 x 3 stalls of a total 300 small stalls for the total “FSHC”.

• A minimal of five 4 x 4 stall adjacent to the dock as vendors’ platform and collection center for fresh produces from rural / hinterland.

• Access from the land is controlled thru lockable gates at the bridges (not less than 5 meters in length).



The building is inspired by the Water Mosquito, its legs floating and balancing on the water.

It is envisaged to have the market either on concrete posts or on floating light-weight concrete slabs anchored to keep it stationary, yet able to keep their balance on the tide. The center platform will have a “tower” envisaged to be the “lampion” of the sacred river of Mahakam, the life blood of the city of Samarinda.


* Antonio Ismael Risianto is an architect, a teacher, and a social activist. He is the 1989 winner of the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture. He lives in Indonesia and can be reached at antoniodesk@alum.mit.edu