Asia

Sustainable living in Bali

Under the canopy of the Balinese jungle, a co-working and co-living hub – with a green school at its heart – is drawing hundreds of international creatives enticed by a digital nomadic existence. Provide good coffee, good internet and a good community, and evidently the people will follow. This is the next big thing in property tech, writes Juliette Morgan, Cushman & Wakefield’s global tech group leader


There is a creeping sense of lethargy in buildings for tech companies, with an aesthetic formula of brick walls, exposed flex and a warehouse look.

There is also a collective craving to know what exactly is the next big thing.

Workplace trends are moving towards wellness, sustainability, flexibility and personalisation, but what if we were in pursuit of wholeness?

Tech workers demand locations which, to coin the phrase of Larry Page, does no evil. Their industry is looking to have social impact, environmental positivity and a desire to change the world.

However, office buildings, schools, and residential blocks are treated as islands, unique and complete in themselves and, at best, part of a masterplan.

This has contributed to the movement towards co-living, co-working, and a desire to educate in mixed-use districts.

This is where Bali, Indonesia’s world-famous tropical tourist island, comes in.

In amongst the jungle, nestled by the 75km-long Ayung River, John Hardy and his daughter Elora are quietly developing a new sustainable city.

It all started with Green School, the world’s most sustainable school, which then triggered the development of Green Camp and now Green Village. There is also the eco hotel Bambu Indah and a farm to feed everyone.

The school has captured international attention. Families want to relocate and settle, drawn by a desire to educate their children with skills for a world that will have to deal with ocean acidification, rising sea temperatures, migration, energy and water crises, and inequality.

Hardy’s vision is to build a sustainable community which can address these problems. They are choosing to do this in the nest of a jungle overlooking paddy fields beyond the river.

Hardy’s vision to create an education for children that is sustainable and ecologically light has birthed a cluster of like-minded individuals pursuing a better earth and life

Nearby, Steve Munroe has founded Hubud Bali. This is a co-working space catering to digital natives who can work from anywhere as long as there is good internet, good coffee and a good community. Hubud has amassed 3,500 members in three years and at any given time is hosting 200-300 people from up to 30 countries.

Munroe describes the makeup of his community as anyone from Airbnb executives to freelancers, writers, film-makers, people on sabbatical and folks from the UN. He says nobody came for a job, they came for an experience. And part of that experience is events and support for members to develop new businesses.

Roam is another subscription living service that meets the demands of a nomadic digital existence. It has set up in Bali, and will soon open in Miami and Madrid. Pieter Levels, a freelancer who blogs from Bali, believes there will be 1bn digital natives by 2035. He calls Bali home, along with Amsterdam and Medellín. Tellingly, he does not mention tech clusters in New York, Silicon Valley or London. He belongs to a global class who are fleet of foot and choosing a location that suits their work.

So what is driving all this? Hardy’s vision to create an education for children that is sustainable and ecologically light has birthed a cluster of like-minded individuals pursuing a better earth and life.

Elora has founded Ibuku, a bamboo architecture design and construction company that built Green School, Green Village and the restaurant at Bambu Indah. She once said in a TED Talk: “We use bamboo because we can tell the kids it won’t run out.”

Taking notice, Singapore has just run an architecture competition for a bamboo skyscraper. Perhaps there is the potential to build strong, light structures, that are sustainable and have a useful life of 60 years?

From the Ibuku studio, beautiful, carved, spiritual, aspirational structures emerge, mimicking nature and being accepted by the jungle around them. This is where barefoot children are growing up in the jungle, leading campaigns to get the government to ban plastic bags by 2018. They are empowered, vocal, literate, passionate and capable.

I brought my son to Green Camp (Green School for families with no time) for a weekend. Watching a boy from east London hold a snake, marvel at spiders bigger than his face and learn drumming and Balinese mud wrestling enlightened me too.

Hardy’s vision for a lighter future is beautiful and it demonstrates how people are voting with their feet.

This is an emergent tech cluster and we should watch it closely. It is a blueprint for architects, city buildings, living lightly, being whole and sharing the planet we call home.

The next tech cluster is green.

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