Sustainable public spaces

Opdrachtgever: Erasmushuis Jakarta
Domein: Duurzaamheid, Publieke ruimte, Steden

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Jakarta is een van de dichtstbevolkte megasteden op aarde. Met 10.560.000 inwoners op 662 km2 en 15.964 inwoners per km2 is de ruimte schaars. Dit vertaalt zich in een dichtbevolkte stad met relatief weinig vrij toegankelijke openbare ruimte, ook al zijn deze ruimtes cruciaal voor het welzijn van de burgers omdat ze mensen ruimte bieden voor ontmoeting, recreatie, spel en sport.

De toenemende verstedelijking van onze steden heeft niet alleen gevolgen voor de openbare ruimte, maar stelt ons ook voor maatschappelijke uitdagingen op het gebied van klimaat, verantwoord gebruik van beschikbare materialen en de behoefte aan duurzamere oplossingen. Hier kunnen biobased materialen een oplossing bieden; deze zijn vaak volledig recyclebaar of composteerbaar zijn en CO2 uit de atmosfeer absorberen en opslaan.

In What if Lab: Sustainable public spaces, in samenwerking met Erasmushuis Jakarta, vomen Nederlandse en Indonesische ontwerpers een team om een concept te ontwikkelen en te prototypen voor wijken in Indonesië die momenteel geen beschikking hebben over gedeelde gemeenschapsruimtes.

What if… we co-created sustainable public spaces in Indonesia?

Het concept moet het gebruik van biobased en hergebruikte materialen aanmoedigen, die samen met de bewoners ontworpen worden om aan de lokale behoeften te voldoen en de resultaten moeten deelbaar zijn voor een bredere groep. Het eindresultaat is een masterplan, een prototype van ten minste één structuur en een ontwerp- of materiaalgids die kan worden gedeeld met andere gemeenschappen die hun openbare ruimte willen transformeren.

Marleen Kokke

Lab manager

Heb je nog vragen naar aanleiding van dit What if Lab? Neem dan contact op met Lab Manager Marleen Kokke, via

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Design for a sustainable society

What if...we designed a sustainable society together?

The way we, as humanity, choose to live our lives today is causing the world to change at a fast rate. These rapid developments have global effects and create challenges for which plug-and-play solutions usually do not exist. So how do we ensure the quality of living in the near future? 

Wicked problems

The concept of a sustainable society has been around for decades. In 1981, Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, defined it as “one that can satisfy its needs without diminishing the chance of future generations.” It is an ever-evolving concept that includes various topics, including environmental, economic, societal and technological issues. 

Challenges concerning the classic sustainability themes like waste processing, circular and biobased materials, renewable energy and reduction of CO2 immediately come to mind when discussing sustainability. 

Sustainability also covers how we live together and interact as humans, building a respectful environment where future generations will thrive and prosper. Very often, the challenges addressed above are so-called “wicked problems”. These socially complex issues are intertwined with other topics and depend on various factors. For every “wicked problem”, there is always more than one explanation and, therefore, never just one solution. We must look at these challenges from different perspectives and tackle them together. Even small changes can already have significant effects.

In 2018, the Erasmushuis Jakarta (the cultural institute of the Embassy of the Netherlands to Indonesia) and What if Lab (Dutch Design Foundation) initiated the first instalment of the intercultural programme the sustainable society. In the programme, we invited designers in Indonesia and the Netherlands to collaborate on projects that can improve the world around us. The Embassy has a unique view of current challenges in Indonesia that need new creative solutions. By concentrating on a selected challenge each year in a broad programme, we aim to combine forces between Indonesia and the Netherlands to learn from each other's knowledge and skills to develop new mutual perspectives on the questions we face for our future. (watch a video of the programme here)

What if Lab: The sustainable society 2023 

Jakarta is one of the most densely populated megacities on planet earth; with 10,560,000 citizens on 662 km2 of land and 15,964 citizens per km2, space is scarce. This translates to a populous city with relatively little freely accessible public space. Public parks in the city are scarce and not accessible to all as they are far to reach on foot for much of the city’s population. Playgrounds are commonly (indoor) business initiatives where visitors pay an entrance fee. And with 60% of the city’s residents living in homes of less than 50m2 meters (20% less than 20m2) shared public space is a much-needed commodity. Public squares, parks and playgrounds provide people space to meet, recreate, play and practice sports. For children playing and physical activities are crucial to their development. We know, for example, that it stimulates motor skills, social skills and physical development. The Jakarta Post published an insightful article on the challenges and need for children and parents to find open spaces in heavily urban areas like Jakarta. This is problematic as we know that the lack of space for children to move and play is one of the leading causes of children's health problems. It highlights the need to develop freely accessible areas inviting curiosity, stimulating physical activities, and playing for a healthy new generation.

The increasing urbanisation of our cities impacts our public space and presents societal challenges regarding climate, the responsible use of available materials, and the need for more sustainable solutions. Indonesia and the Netherlands have seen their urban environments transform into modern concrete, glass and metal landscapes. Where biobased building solutions were once common ground, industrialisation has sent us down a path favouring inert materials over more traditional natural and biobased techniques. While biobased materials are an inexhaustible source of resources that grow back quickly, are often fully recyclable or compostable and absorb and store CO2 from the atmosphere.

Indonesia is rich in natural materials and has knowledge of building with biobased materials. People built many structures in rural Indonesia with locally available biobased materials such as bamboo, wood and thatched roofs. But biobased materials are rapidly being replaced by concrete, sheet metal and breezeblocks as building materials of choice. Cheap and durable in the short run, but not sustainable if we envision a planet that battles global warming, land subsidence, droughts and floods, CO2 emissions and the scarcity of manufactured materials. Suppose we move towards a planet that can provide qualitative housing for all. In that case, we must transition towards a society favouring biobased and circular buildings in the Netherlands and Indonesia.

The design question

What if we co-created sustainable public spaces and playgrounds in Indonesia?

Can we combine Dutch and Indonesian knowledge to envision a more sustainable future for our cities? Explore needs and wishes with residents in a co-creative setting? Use biobased and reused (upcycled, recycled, circular) materials to design and build new public spaces in the urban environment to cater the needs of local residents? Design inspirational spaces in the city where people can meet, play and reside?  And provide children and their parents with possibilities for outside physical activities and play to improve children’s development and well-being? 

We are looking for Dutch and Indonesian designers that will form a team to design and prototype a concept for neighbourhoods in Indonesia that currently lack access to shared community spaces. The concept should promote using biobased and reused materials, co-designed with residents to meet local demands, and the outcomes should be sharable for a broad group to use. The result will be a master plan, a prototype of at least one structure and a design/material guide to share with other communities that want to transform their public space.

Experimental space and outcome

For this Lab, we are partnering with Kampung Susun Kunir as an experimental space. Kampung Susun Kunir is a neighbourhood in Jakarta that has recently been rebuilt in collaboration with the Jakarta Public Housing and Settlement Agency and a collective of Indonesian architects. 

In Indonesia, informal urban settlements are referred to as ‘Kampung’. In the Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia), kampung means urban village. Kampungs exist throughout Jakarta, scattered through the city, next to high-rise buildings and heavily developed parts of the city. The Kampungs in Jakarta, mainly house residents with lower incomes, are often densely populated, tight-knit communities with self-built houses in structures that have grown organically. The informal status of Kampungs and their location in a city with high demand for space have made them a target of eviction to gain land for commercial redevelopment. 

Kampung Kunir was evicted in 2015 for the inspection road for the Ciliwung tributary. A new building has since been built to resettle 33 families who were ex-Kunir residents. For the design of the new building, the architects worked in close collaboration for over five years with the residents to make a building that does not only work on the architects drawing board but answers to the actual needs and wishes residents expressed for their new home. For the first edition of What if Lab, Indonesian architectural firm PPPOOOLLL and Dutch social design studio Sociaal Centraal developed a co-creation framework for the collaboration on the plans for the building. Kampung Susun Kunir has recently been completed and has the wish and space to develop outdoor shared space on a strip of land next to the building. 

Kunir is a great pilot location for What if Lab: Sustainable public spaces. Because of Kampung Susun Kunir’s status as a successful example of redeveloping a kampung space for its community, its experience in collaborating with architects and designers and its acknowledgement as a successful pilot project for the city's municipality.

Lab setup and collaboration between Dutch and Indonesian designers

The first edition of the sustainable society took place in 2018/2019. Six teams with duos of Indonesian and Dutch designers took on six challenges in Indonesia. We have taken experience and insights from these collaborations for this edition to develop the programme. 

For 2023 we will unite to work on one design question (sustainable public spaces, as described above) with a team of 5 designers with different design skills. The design question is complex and multifaceted, with different sub-challenges that need different expertise: urban planning, material development, biobased and circular product design, and co-creative collaboration. Three Indonesian and two Dutch designers will be selected from an [open call] to form the design team. 

The design team will be supported in achieving their goals by different experts in the field. This way, we hope to facilitate the design team to use their available time effectively on the creative part in the Lab and organise a coalition that can convert outcomes and opportunities into lasting results.

What if Lab manages the Lab Process, the visit of the Indonesian designers to the Netherlands and supports the production of the exhibition during Dutch Design Week 2024 in the Netherlands. Marleen Kokke will be the Lab Manager.

Playo, an Indonesian collective organising creative collaborations, will support the design team in Indonesia as a local project coordinator. Playo has experience with multiple biobased design projects, including the Building with Nature exhibition in Erasmushuis. Playo is the connector to the Indonesian creative and sustainable community. It will help scout and select Indonesian designers for the project, research and present available local Materials and techniques in reused and biobased materials, will organise and guide the visit of the Dutch designers to Indonesia, manage communication with the residents of Kampung Kunir and be involved in the organisation and production of the exhibition of results in Erasmushuis.

Kamill Muhammed (PPPOOOLLL), coordinating architect in the design team of Kampung Kunir, will be joining Playo as an expert in collaboration with residents of Kampung Kunir.

Erasmushuis is the cultural space within the Embassy of the Netherlands in Indonesia, where results will be shared with the broader public in Indonesia in the form of a symposium and exhibition.

The Embassy of the Netherlands to Indonesia (‘the Embassy’) finances the What if Lab programme, and together with the Erasmushuis they can connect to possible local and Dutch partners in the field.

Local opportunity spaces

Within the design question, we have identified different ‘local opportunity spaces’ which designers can use to their advantage in this Lab. This edition of What if Lab: The sustainable society uses the case for public space as a vehicle to showcase the opportunities working with biobased and reused materials can provide. We expect more insights and opportunity spaces to emerge during the course of the Lab.

Biobased materials and knowledge

As stated earlier, Indonesia has a long and rich history of working with biobased materials. The crafts. knowledge and techniques that stem from this tradition can be reinvented and reused in our modern society. Indonesia has all the elements needed to transform towards more biobased solutions: rich soil, land, natural resources and skilled labourers working with natural materials. 

As part of the exhibition ‘Building with nature’, the Erasmushuis, Biobased Creations and Playo have already researched new biobased materials in Indonesia and showcased over 20 innovative designers with their materials. What if Lab: Sustainable public spaces will build on the insights from the exhibition and knowledge that has been gathered throughout the project. Playo has worked on multiple projects around biobased materials and has a broad network in the field.

Community recycling: waste banks

Indonesia has a serious waste challenge, with the country ranking among the top garbage-producing countries in the world. Garbage is seen as a problem without value and far too often ends up in the environment. To bring change to this (worldwide) waste problem our attitude towards waste must first change. We must think in the terms of (circular) resources and material value instead of waste. A development in Indonesia that could help set up local value chains in neighbourhoods and help harvest materials to design our public space is the ‘Bank Sampah’:

Worldbank describes Bank Sampah as: Waste banks – or “bank sampah” as they are called in Indonesian – can be found in neighbourhoods across Indonesia – on Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Java. At waste banks, the waste created by the household is divided into two categories – organic and non-organic. Organic waste gets turned into compost, while non-organic waste is divided further into three categories: plastic, paper, bottles and metal.

Like a regular commercial bank, you open an account with your local waste bank. Periodically, you make deposits with your non-organic solid waste, which are weighed and given a monetary value, based on rates set by waste collectors. This value is saved in your account from which, like a regular bank, you can withdraw. The basic principles of waste banks remain the same across provinces: collect, save, earn, change behaviour, and enjoy a clean neighbourhood. (original article on waste banks)

Informal learning

We hope that the lab results will be valuable to a broad group of people and will open up new opportunities for people to implement them in other settings. In tight-knit communities, gained knowledge can informally spread quickly, reaching a broader group of people that can profit. We hope that opportunities like material recycling and smart biobased solutions will be adapted and reinvented by the residents of Kunir and can end up in more communities that are looking to use that knowledge. By working with residents to implement the knowledge in a project that locals can visit, the outcome of the Lab can become a showcase for opportunities, and residents become ambassadors.

Stimulating play for well-being

Children need room to move and play for their development and well-being. The Netherlands has a rich history of designing and building playgrounds to provide this space. Private playgrounds, much like the ones we see in Jakarta today, facilitating children to play, became part of Dutch society around 1900. After the second world war, the landscape in Dutch cities was transforming rapidly: more urbanisation, more cars, and smaller houses for big families. Little space to play. As a result of this new reality, the city of Amsterdam decided to hire an architecture duo to design public playgrounds in the city to stimulate the well-being of its younger citizens: Aldo and Hannie van Eyck. Over their career, they ended up designing more than 800 playgrounds. In their designs, they adhered to 6 leading principles that are still relevant today:

  1. Equality 
  2. Gender neutrality 
  3. Stimulation of the imagination 
  4. Stimulation of movement 
  5. Connection between the playground and the city 
  6. Combining art and playgrounds in public spaces

Public playgrounds are considered important societal infrastructure in the Netherlands. Modern playgrounds use scientific knowledge of playing, promoting cognitive, social-emotional and physical development. Modern playgrounds are developed to promote a pallet of movements and opportunities for discovery and incorporate nature. Expertise in play, movement, development and playgrounds in the Netherlands, developed over the years, can be used as building stones in this Lab.

What if Lab

What if Lab is a programme developed by Dutch Design Foundation (DDF). DDF is an organisation that focuses on strengthening design's position, development, and importance. DDF believes that designers are equipped with the right state of mind to tackle sizeable, highly complex challenges. What if Lab challenges designers to work on questions that companies, governments, or other organisations (question holders) are dealing with. 

Dutch Design Foundation has found that, for the worlds of ‘question holders’ and designers to come together, they often need to learn how to collaborate effectively and build on each other's strengths. Because designers are specifically trained to question the status quo and think about possibilities, they can easily unearth new insights and opportunities. Organisations have the power to accelerate the outcomes of a Lab.

By offering a programme that gives a head start to these cross-sectoral collaborations, new ideas can quickly and effectively be formulated and executed, counting on the creative strength of designers and knowledge, resources and network of organisations. 

What if Lab structures this collaboration process and creates time and space to explore new possibilities. Based on a clear briefing, introductory meetings, sessions with experts or a master class, design studios start their work. Throughout the process, research and concepts come together, and ideas are validated and further refined based on feedback from the question holder. This process is supported by a specialised 'Lab Manager'. At the end of a What if Lab, designers present results, and the question holder can test potential and impact for further development and implementation.

What if Lab and Embassy of the Netherlands to Indonesia

The Netherlands has a unique position in the design world, with a leading role in employing design for a sustainable society. Indonesia, as one of the world's leading economies with projected growth in 2030 into one of the largest in the world, faces a myriad of challenges that comes with this growth that can profit from a design approach. The way we, as humanity, choose to live our lives today is causing the world to change quickly. These rapid developments have global effects and create challenges for which plug-and-play solutions usually do not exist. So how do we ensure the quality of living for all in the near future? 

What if... we designed our sustainable society together? 

The Embassy recognises the potential for the Dutch creative economy to take a role in these challenges. By initiating collaborative projects, the Embassy and DDF aim to build strong connections between both countries and further the position of design as a societal tool in Indonesia and the Netherlands.

For these Labs, we will invite designers in Indonesia and the Netherlands to collaborate on projects that can improve the world around us. Those with a unique view of Indonesia's current challenges need new creative solutions. By concentrating on a selected challenge each year in a broad programme, we aim to combine forces between Indonesia and the Netherlands to learn from each other's knowledge and skills to develop new mutual perspectives on the questions we face for our future.

Collaboration with Indonesian and Dutch designers: Who are we looking for?

For this What if Lab, we are looking for 3 Indonesian and 2 Dutch designers that will form an interdisciplinary design team. This way, we stimulate intercultural exchange and inspiration in the design world. All designers in the team can profit from each other’s knowledge, craftsmanship, and experience. We believe that combining different backgrounds will be complementary in solving issues from within the community and stimulate solutions from new perspectives. 

Designers can register through our open call. What if Lab, the Embassy and Playo will select five designers from all applications to participate in the programme.

We will look at skills and experience in spatial, product, social and sustainable (material) design for the selection. We are looking for a diverse team of designers who believe in the power of collaboration and want to design a more sustainable world together. Designers who are engaged in enriching the urban environment and prefer to design with rather than for people.

Expected Results

At the end of the Lab, we hope to have achieved the following results as a team:

  • An urban plan
  • Design for in the urban plan
  • One or more prototypes
  • A material guide
  • A method to transfer insights, knowledge and outcomes to a broader public
  • Exchange of knowledge technologies and insights between Indonesian and Dutch participants/partners.
  • Strong new networks 
  • Empowerment of the local community
  • Cultural exchange and learning
  • Exhibitions at multiple venues, including Erasmushuis, Dutch Design Week and Kampung Kunir

Programme set-up and timeline

What if Lab: Sustainable public spaces is a yearlong programme aiming to develop and showcase outcomes in Indonesia and the Netherlands. The collaboration will be a combination of online meetings and work on location. The team is expected to self-organise online collaboration, except for a series of update meetings and presentations that have been determined in the programme. The language is English.

Dutch designers will travel to Indonesia as part of the programme, and Indonesian designers to the Netherlands. Travel, stay and a fee for transportation, food and drinks will be covered by the programme. The visit to Indonesia will be organised by Playo in collaboration with the Indonesian designers while the visit to the Netherlands will be planned by What if Lab (DDF) in collaboration with the Dutch designers.

Outcomes will be exhibited in both Indonesia (Erasmushuis) and the Netherlands (Dutch Design Week).

Open call period  6 April - 11 May
Via an open call, the Indonesian and Dutch designers can submit their applications. The call will be open from 6 April to 11 May. After selecting the designers on the team, we will host an online introduction as soon as possible for the designers, Dutch Design Foundation, Playo and the Embassy/Erasmushuis to get to know each other.

Kick off - end of May
This week the programme will be officially kicked off via an online meeting where Kamill Muhammed and Playo will present about the local context, different Dutch and Indonesian experts will share knowledge about the design challenge and residents of Kampung Kunir can take us on a tour of their neighbourhood and share insights on their needs and expectations for the space.

Both Indonesian and Dutch designers will join the kickoff, as well as What if lab, Playo, Erasmus Huis and residents of Kampung Kunir. The kick-off is to give more background information on the challenge, inspire and learn and talk about the planning, process and deliverables of the project. 

Travel to Indonesia - half June
The Dutch designers will travel to Jakarta for a 10-day residency to visit Kampung Kunir, collaborate with the Indonesian designers and the residents of Kampung Kunir and learn more about the local context, materials and techniques. The visit will be organised and guided by Playo. During the visit, a symposium will be organised at Erasmushuis where designers share their work and studios, the plans for the Lab and are able to meet with local designers and partners.

Work period - June - October
In this period the design team will work together remotely - interacting and working on ideas online. In this period, we will organise regular update meetings with all parties involved to check in on the progress, answer questions and facilitate connections where needed. 

Travel to NL - begin of End of October / Beginning of November
The Indonesian designers will travel to the Netherlands for 7 days to collaborate in person with the Dutch designers, learn more from the local context in the Netherlands and visit specialists and projects/locations to gain further knowledge to develop their idea/ product. 

Work period - Nov - Dec
A second online work period will take place after the trip to the Netherlands in November and December in which the team works remotely on the further development of concepts and designs. The What if Lab team will facilitate regular update meetings in collaboration with the partners. First discussions will take place on the form and content of the exhibition in Erasmushuis. (The exhibition design and production will be managed by a different team in close coordination with the design team)

Presenting results -  January 2024
The final results and outcomes of the lab will be presented to all involved parties in an online meeting. The design team presents designs, prototypes and a framework/toolbox/methodology that can be shared with a broader audience.

In a second meeting, the design team and exhibition team will make a final plan within the exhibition design for the translation towards the exhibition.

Erasmus Huis: Exhibition of results Feb - April 2024     
The project will be showcased in an exhibition at the Erasmushuis and possibly at Kampung Kunir. The project will also be shown at Dutch Design Week in October 2024.    


What if Lab offers an honorarium to each team member to cover their time investment in the Lab. The honorariums are defined with the local financial context of each of the countries in mind. As the costs of living and maintaining a design studio differ in both countries, we have defined different design fees that will enable each design team member to invest sufficient time in the Lab.

That means the three Indonesian designers will each receive a design fee of 65.000.000 IDR, excluding VAT for the lab. The two Dutch designers will each receive a design fee of 7.500 euros, excluding VAT as the design fee for the Lab.

In exchange, participating designers are expected to invest time in the development of the idea and concept. They attend (online) meetings, travel to Indonesia or the Netherlands, and develop a prototype and a framework/toolbox/methodology that can be shared with a broader audience. Furthermore, they transfer outcomes to the exhibition design team to present at the Erasmushuis and Dutch Design Week.

What if Lab will cover flights, accommodation, and meals when visiting Indonesia and the Netherlands. The Lab Manager will book flights and accommodation. Designers will receive a standard daily allowance for travel and food.

For the development of experiments and prototypes What if Lab offers a joint budget for material and labour costs of 5000 euro excluding VAT (approximately 82.000.000 IDR). This budget can be used by the team on the base of quotations or invoices. Prototypes will become the property of Kampung Kunir and/or Erasmushuis. 

What if Lab invests in realising the exhibitions in Erasmushuis and Dutch Design Week.

Conditions for participation

Please read the conditions for participation carefully before signing up. We have drafted these conditions to formalise the intentions of both designers and partners in the lab. By registering for this What if Lab, you automatically agree with the conditions as stated in the document. You can find the conditions here

Please note:

- You must be available for the travel periods mentioned above in Programme set-up and timeline

- Registration is only possible for designers with a Dutch or Indonesian passport.

- The communication during What if Lab will be in English. Participants are expected to be able to communicate in English.

How to sign up?

Registration is possible until Friday, May 4, 11:59 p.m. via this link. 

In the registration form, we ask you to provide a reference of 3 to 5 relevant, previously completed projects or designs and motivation for participation in What if Lab: Sustainable public spaces. In the motivation, you describe how the assignment connects to you as a designer (or design studio), your motivation to participate and where you see opportunities within the design question (max. 800 words).

It is not necessary to provide design solutions yet. Based on the entries, the Lab team will select the designers who will be participating. The designers will be notified within two weeks after the open call closes. The 'Participation conditions What if Lab: Sustainable public space apply. Upon registration, this is automatically agreed to. The terms of participation can be found here.


Registration for this Lab closes on May 4th

From all applications, the What if Lab team (What if Lab, Playo, PPPOOOLLL, the Embassy) will invite a selection of designers for a personal online interview. After the interviews, a final team will be selected to join the Lab. Selection is based on your application and a balance of skills and experience in the team. All designers will receive feedback within two weeks after the closing of the open call on whether they are selected for What if Lab: Sustainable public spaces.



If you have any questions regarding this What if Lab, please contact the Lab Manager:

Marleen Kokke,

Marleen Kokke

Lab manager

Heb je nog vragen naar aanleiding van dit What if Lab? Neem dan contact op met Lab Manager Marleen Kokke, via

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