Jakarta native Ronald Akili is not just an entrepreneur but an innovator and changemaker. The founder of Potato Head Bali – a restaurant, beach club and entertainment venue – that catapulted the tropical island into one of the world’s hottest destinations, has always had an innate understanding of sustainability. He followed it up with Katamama, an all-suite design-focused boutique property that brought to the fore Indonesia’s indigenous craftsmanship and artisans amid worldwide acclaim.
As one of the events taking place as part of the Singapore Design Week 2022, Mr Akili teamed up with his long-time collaborator OMA, the Dutch architecture practice founded by Rem Koolhaas, to bring the N*thing Is Possible exhibition to life. The exhibition that will run for four months at the National Design Centre will highlight the hospitality company’s journey to accomplishing a zero-waste lifestyle.
The genesis of the project lies in Desa Potato Head creative village in Bali, Indonesia. Other collaborators in the exhibition include Japanese architect Kengo Kuma who designed the hotel and creative village complex, American artist Futura, Spanish industrial designer Andreu Carulla, British furniture designer Max Lamb, London-based design studio Toogood, French director and photographer Thibaut Grevet, Indonesian architect Andra Matin, Hong Kong design studio BYO Living, and Bali-based environmental engineers Eco Mantra.
Mr Akili is sanguine about the negative effects of hospitality and tourism that can add to the problem of waste. The Desa Potato Head project has quickly become one of the hottest properties since its opening in 2020. “We didn’t want to be part of the problem; we wanted to be the solution,” he told a packed house of media persons. “Since we started working on this project in 2017 with OMA, we invited designers, scientists, engineers, and activists to join this platform to come up with sustainable solutions. it’s easier to accept the change when the end result is beautiful.”
He admits that it was overwhelming in the beginning because people kept telling him that it was impossible to attain zero-waste goals. “Maybe, we won’t get to zero-waste but now, we witness the journey and the change every year and how it’s all adding up and being noticed by everyone. We want to inspire not preach.”
David Gianotten, architect and OMA’s managing partner, who worked on this project is convinced that Desa Potato Head Bali, sited on the Petitenget Beach, Seminyak, became a testbed for reshaping the hospitality industry. “We want to share with people our own learnings and how trash can be valuable if we change the way we look at it,” he says. “Our exhibition joins creative efforts across disciplines to capture the potential of the materials at different stages of their lifecycles.”
Desa Potato Head — “desa” meaning village in Bahasa Indonesia — features 226 rooms, six restaurants and many experiences that were thoughtfully crafted by the community, for the community, across a carbon-neutral campus, the first of its kind in the region, in partnership with the United Nations. Its zero-waste restaurant, Ijen serves 3,000-plus people daily, with just 3% of rubbish going into a landfill, with the other 97% being managed through recycling and reuse, including much that is transformed into functional, beautiful products and hotel amenities. Mr Akili has channelled his sustainability focus into his latest venture, Wasted Collective, a brand of apparel, footwear and travel essentials made from recycled, reused or recrafted materials.
This, however, is not the first sustainability project that Mr Akili has embarked on. After returning to Jakarta from Hawaii where he read at the University of Hawaii, in 2007, he called upon 10 of Indonesia’s brightest architects, including the celebrated Matin, to design 20 homes, each one distinct but with a common context. The brief to build on land without damaging the natural flora and to use only locally sourced materials, with a vegetable garden for the community, resulted in a self-sustaining community of 20 homes that responded to their surroundings as well as the environment. Even the existing lake was revitalised for water treatment use.
The four-month show at the National Design Centre is supported by Design Singapore Council and will run through 25 December featuring activations, talks, panels and activities involving many of the collaborators and designers. More information here.