Grow Room by Space10.

Bali's First Design Festival is Making Luxury Sustainable

Potato Head Bali featured designers from Virgil Abloh to Max Lamb.

by Nadja Sayej
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Jul 4 2019, 3:06pm

Grow Room by Space10.

Out on the coast of Bali, there’s one beach house unlike the rest. The Potato Head Bali is more than just a place to soak up a cocktail on the beach—it’s a hub of sustainable design. Last month, it hosted their first ever design festival called Future Design Week.

Over 20 speakers and designers were featured in a series of exhibitions, installations and workshops that delved into sustainable design, locally sourcing materials and tacking climate change through better design. Featuring designers like Virgil Abloh and Max Lamb, the theme was ‘how design can be a driving force in building a better tomorrow.’

“It’s a celebration of how design and creativity can help create real solutions to real problems today,” said Potato Head founder, Ronald Akili. “It’s a unique format that welcomes people from all walks of life to experience design from new angles and to get involved, and while we don’t have all the answers, we try, through the festival, to make the conversation more relevant and inspire the younger generation, being a little better today than we were yesterday.”

This October, they’re opening a new onsite beach club designed by Rem Koolhaas, which will have a new culture center for creative-savvy travelers who want to learn more about sustainability and Balinese culture.

Bali may seem like a getaway with a serene beach and nature, but it’s one of the most vulnerable spots to climate change, being in close proximity to the Pacific garbage patch, the world’s largest mound of ocean plastic (it’s basically its own island, at this point).

That’s why it’s a fitting setting to talk about sustainable design strategies, from urban farming to reusing sneakers and designing furniture with recycled plastic. One workshop was a bamboo-building session, a technique found in local Bali villages, while another was a talk by Joe Holder, the founder of Ocho System and a non-profit called System of Service which connects people to impactful services that help local communities (for example, they organize a sneaker donation service which scrubs secondhand sneakers, then donates them to the Soles4souls charity).

“I think we are too narrowed minded in thinking that design is only creating or designing ‘things’ instead of behaviors and to an extent, people,” said Holder. “The future of design just doesn’t have to take objects and buildings into account, but also people, as wellness is actually about designing better humans to get in touch with themselves. We can create a wellness infrastructure that considers not just the individual but also the greater community, as well.”

We live in a time where there are eco-friendly coffins that use fungus to biodegrade the human body (gross, but okay), to MIT's self-growing sandbars, islands and beaches which helps coastal communities, like the Maldives, which much like Bali, is threatened by climate change.

But that’s not always the case. Some of the most impractical design we’ve seen of late is Karl Lagerfeld’s marble tabletops and mirror frames, which must weigh a ton, or even how the Vessel, the million dollar selfie-op at Hudson Yards, was shipped all the way from Italy, instead of being locally sourced.

Here in Bali, though, the festival featured talks by ocean activist Greg Long, who works with Parley for the Oceans to educate surfers and seaside dwellers on the impact of our consumption. Tony Fadell, an entrepreneur who founded Nest, spoke alongside Kristine Harper, a sustainability expert who has written a book on how product design can become more sustainable. Also in attendance was Lim Masulin, the founder of BYO Living, a weaving company making architectural structures with roots in rural craftsmanship, as well as Dutch designer Dirk Vander Kooij, who is known for making furniture and light fixtures from recycled plastic (he also recently made a solar-powered prefab home in Texas).

Among the installations, there was The Womb, a tunnel-like passageway designed by Nano Uhero, which is made entirely from natural bamboo, weaved together without any adhering materials (bamboo is an affordable material in Indonesia used for everything from scaffolding to furniture, cups and straws).

Also on view was a sample house from the Shelter Project, a model home to help victims of the recent refugee crisis as a result from summer’s earthquake in Lombok. With each donation, they can build family homes, including electricity, water tanks and water filters, that can last up to two years—and proves to be an efficient solution for those living rural areas that might be affected by natural disasters.

Grow Room by Space10 was also on view, an open-source, urban farm pavilion that shows how architecture can be a vehicle for locally producing food in cities. This wooden sphere with multiple shelves for leafy greens, was made by architects Sine Lindholm and Mads-Ulrik Husum, and they put a template and construction manual on Medium and Github to encourage more people to build their own.

It also raises the question of how music festivals—who, especially during summertime, can accumulate mountains of trash—can be more sustainable. The Potato Head beach club stage, which featured the talks, DJ sets and performances, was designed by Nano Uhero in bamboo for the opening ceremony.

Lastly, British designer Max Lamb showed new lamps and tables that will soon be featured in all 168 rooms at the Potato Head Bali. He also made all the ceramic tableware and glassware and lounge chairs made from recycled materials sourced within 50 miles, and hired local craftspeople.

“What are we going to do with that current plastic?” asks Lamb. “Let’s recycle it into new products that aren’t only being used one time thrown away but become a piece of furniture that you can use forever.”