The Future is Now

Bali’s Future Design is a week of exhibitions, workshops, talks and installations that show the potential of creativity to change the world

Along the Seminyak shoreline, resorts sit side by side in a strip of glossy finishes and internationally recognisable logos. Desa Potato Head stands out from the rest, though, trading steel and glass for brick and repurposed wood that pulsate with warmth. ‘Desa’ is Bahasa for ‘village’ — a fitting term for the idyllic complex that houses Katamama hotel, Potato Head Beach Club, and the group’s various restaurants, bars and boutiques. Adjacent to the complex, The Beach House — Desa's newest addition designed by OMA — is taking shape and sprouting a verdant blanket on its facade.

This is the site of the inaugural Future Design, a week of exhibitions, workshops, talks and installations that seek to create a better world through design and creativity. And Desa Potato Head is a natural fit for the groundbreaking conference, as sustainability has been one of its core tenets from inception. The group’s mantra is ‘good times, do good’, though a quick look at Instagram suggests that the first part is the key for most visitors, the emphasis is on the second. For instance, revellers flock to the Beach Club for its impressive DJ lineups and tropical vibes, but few are aware that the complex is certified carbon neutral.

This began with the building process. Architect Andra Matin created Katamama from more than 1.5 million bricks hand-pressed in a local artisan village, while Potato Head Beach Club’s facade is a hand-crafted assemblage of 6,600 antique windows and shutters sourced from around the archipelago. Crafting the bricks for Katamama took more than three years, in doing so revitalising the village while showcasing the contemporary possibilities of Indonesia’s indigenous crafts. Poolside restaurant Ijen is the first zero-waste restaurant in Asia, and the new Sustainism Lab conducts research and experiments to regenerate waste materials and shift the Desa into a circular economy. 

 
The nano UHERO bamboo tunnel installation beside the distinctive red-brick Katamama

The nano UHERO bamboo tunnel installation beside the distinctive red-brick Katamama

Sustainism Lab’s lego-coloured machinery upcycles plastics into wares for the hospitality complex. Images courtesy of Potato Head

Sustainism Lab’s lego-coloured machinery upcycles plastics into wares for the hospitality complex. Images courtesy of Potato Head

 
Ijen, Potato Head’s zero waste-to-landfill restaurant, features chic terrazzo-style chairs made from plastics pressed with upcycled styrofoam created in Sustainism Lab. Image by Alison Tan

Ijen, Potato Head’s zero waste-to-landfill restaurant, features chic terrazzo-style chairs made from plastics pressed with upcycled styrofoam created in Sustainism Lab. Image by Alison Tan

Future Design is the culmination of the Potato Head Family’s years of experimentation and dialogue in the pursuit of a zero-waste hospitality hub. The impressive roster of designers, activists and organisations are all at the forefront of ecological innovation — as well as people who already collaborate with Potato Head. To name a few, Faye Toogood, Max Lamb and Dirk Vander Kooij have all worked with the company to create sustainable furniture for its properties.

 
Faye Toogood, whose work is often hand-crafted in partnership with artisanal studios, shapes rattan canes into contemporary forms. Images courtesy of Potato Head

Faye Toogood, whose work is often hand-crafted in partnership with artisanal studios, shapes rattan canes into contemporary forms. Images courtesy of Potato Head

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Max Lamb worked with Smile Plastics to create chairs and tables from plastic yoghurt pots and cosmetic bottles melted into painterly patterns

Max Lamb worked with Smile Plastics to create chairs and tables from plastic yoghurt pots and cosmetic bottles melted into painterly patterns

A detail of Dirk Vanderkooij’s holographic bench made from fragmented CD-roms and oyster shells set in resin. Images courtesy of Potato Head

A detail of Dirk Vanderkooij’s holographic bench made from fragmented CD-roms and oyster shells set in resin. Images courtesy of Potato Head

 
 
Lamps by British designer Max Lamb are crafted from offcuts from the local stone and bamboo industries and coiffed with palm fibre

Lamps by British designer Max Lamb are crafted from offcuts from the local stone and bamboo industries and coiffed with palm fibre

Lamb crafts a line of ceramics for Potato Head out of metallic black sand from Bali’s beaches. Images courtesy of Potato Head

Lamb crafts a line of ceramics for Potato Head out of metallic black sand from Bali’s beaches. Images courtesy of Potato Head

 

Also at Sustainism Lab, the What a waste! exhibition, curated by the Dutch Design Foundation, showed projects that shift and expand perspectives on material usage, noting that ‘what was once a by-product in the aim for profit now has become a cost to society’.

A guest explores the What a waste! exhibition. Image courtesy of Potato Head

A guest explores the What a waste! exhibition. Image courtesy of Potato Head

At What a waste!, Mycotech’s fungus leather and Studio Tjeerd Veehoven’s Palmleather (pictured) made for intriguing alternatives to plastic and animal-based products. Image courtesy of Dutch Design Foundation

At What a waste!, Mycotech’s fungus leather and Studio Tjeerd Veehoven’s Palmleather (pictured) made for intriguing alternatives to plastic and animal-based products. Image courtesy of Dutch Design Foundation

 
Both Studio Mixtura (left) and Atelier NL (right) work with rejected materials. The former transforms mineral residues from waste incineration into beautiful ceramic glazes, while the latter turns wild sand — rejected because it doesn’t produce clear glass — into colourful wares that reflect its original terrain. Images courtesy of Dutch Design Foundation

Both Studio Mixtura (left) and Atelier NL (right) work with rejected materials. The former transforms mineral residues from waste incineration into beautiful ceramic glazes, while the latter turns wild sand — rejected because it doesn’t produce clear glass — into colourful wares that reflect its original terrain. Images courtesy of Dutch Design Foundation

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As many of the exhibitors showed, while material is key to sustainable design, it’s not everything; genuinely sustainable design is grounded in local resources, practices and communities. Lim Masulin champions this approach through his company BYO Living, which applies traditional weaving methods to both traditional and upcycled materials, and engineers them into luxurious, contemporary furniture and architectural finishings with the help of designers and master weavers. BYO Living was a natural partner for The Shelter Project, which builds low-cost, fully equipped homes for survivors of natural disasters. When renowned inventor/designer Tony Fadell visited Bali, he saw that the locally preferred method of transportation by scooter was also a major polluter. With the flair of an Apple product unveiling, Faddell brought out a new generation of electric scooters sheathed in upcycled plastic that can be charged in normal outlets and purchased through a practical payment plan.  

 
The opening panel discussion set the tone for Future Design

The opening panel discussion set the tone for Future Design

Viewers were treated to a first demonstration of Edde, Tony Fadell’s electric scooter project. Images courtesy of Potato Head

Viewers were treated to a first demonstration of Edde, Tony Fadell’s electric scooter project. Images courtesy of Potato Head

 

Although it’s not advertised as such, Future Design is the first sustainable design event of its calibre. Desa Potato Head has created a blueprint for the future of hospitality and placed itself as a force for change in an industry renowned for waste and excess. As Mike Long, marine conservationist and director of operations for Parley, declared, ‘The new luxury is purpose.’ Thoughtful design, from material choices to systems of operation, means that sustainability need not compromise on aesthetics or comfort. While Potato Head didn’t invent circular economies, upcycling or community enrolment, they’ve integrated them into an elegant, joyful experience. ‘It’s got to be fun, cool and something to get excited about. Something that speaks to people on a human level, but is functional enough to be a realistic alternative,’ says creative director Dan Mitchell. If sipping lemongrass mojitos by the pool while Virgil Abloh takes to the decks can be part of changing the world, the future’s looking bright after all.

Text / Alison Tan

Potato Head’s motto is ‘good times, do good’

Potato Head’s motto is ‘good times, do good’