Life

M. Ridwan Kamil: Creativity
at heart of success

Returning from his two-week visit to London in 2006, where he accepted the International Young Design Entrepreneur of the Year (IYDEY) award, architect M. Ridwan Kamil brought home an unusual souvenir.

Arriving back in his hometown of Bandung, Ridwan carried the results of research he found on how creative activity drives the economy of England's capital.

"I saw a shift in economic activities in London, where communities are moved by strong ideas. The interesting thing was that economic activities that started from a powerful idea didn't always rely on big capital. Whoever was the most creative was the most successful," he said.

Realizing Bandung's potential to become a nest of creative economic activities, Emil, as he is familiarly known, formed the Bandung Creative City Forum (BCCF) with his friends in January 2008.

In July and August, the BCCF held the Helar Festival. Using .bdg as its icon, the festival served as a forum for the creative economic activities of its members.

"Many creative ideas have emerged in Bandung. There is only one problem - no communication. If Bandung wants to accelerate and become a globally competitive city, its people must unite. So with this in mind we set up the BCCF," Emil, who also teaches at Bandung Institute of Technology, his alma mater, said.

The BCCF now manage 25 creative projects. One of them, the Pixel People Project, was awarded the UNESCO Award of Excellence in 2008 for its work on "Batik Fractals" -- the application of fractal geometry theory to batik design.

"Batik Fractals is an example of the Bandung that we'd like to see in the future. It combines creativity, technology and business. The forum also looks for ways to nourish creative ideas so they can help bring prosperity. Being creative is not enough on its own" Emil said.

The BCCF has three major goals: To encourage people to develop a creative spirit and help them recognize their own potential for creative thinking; to motivate and bring about the realization that their creativity can add value to the economy and to make Bandung a more creative and inspirational city.

"The problem is the difficulty in finding places in public where creative people can find inspiration. Today, people look for inspiration in places like cafes," Emil said, adding that he thinks there are not enough parks in Bandung.

"Many parks are left neglected. They're just vacant areas and are not properly designed. People are reluctant to visit them. Many activities can be done in a park -- jogging, having lunch and browsing the internet," he added.

"After the Helar Festival, Bandung's administration came to the realization that it could not manage visitors to the city on its own.

"Visitors have started to flood Bandung; it has become too crowded and the traffic is terrible every Saturday night."

Emil credits his overseas experiences -- he worked for an architecture firm in the United States and Hong Kong between 1997 and 2004, and frequently visits China, India, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Singapore -- with sharpening his awareness of environmental and social issues.

He emphasized that ecological issues, such as recycling and energy conservation, are essential to architectural design.

At his house in Bilangan Cigadung, North Bandung, Emil built a wall using 30,000 empty bottles of Extra Joss energy drink that he had collected over six months.

"A good design is balanced with economic, social and ecological aspects. In Indonesia, these last two requirements are not always met, especially with public buildings. The majority of new buildings use concrete and are made to be luxurious and neat. Architecture should contribute to a healthy and pleasant environment, but it does not consider urban life or the soul. There is no active recognition of street life. People just escape into their airconditioned rooms inside," he said.

He criticized narrowing and broken sidewalks for becoming a place of business for vendors and makeshift motorcycle lanes.

Emil is also concerned about the declining amount of green space in Bandung. "Ideally, 30 percent of a city's area is allocated for green spaces and water catchment areas. But city administrations have argued that the increasing conversion of public space for commercial purposes is necessary for economic reasons. Now, only eight percent of Bandung is green space."

He stressed that architects have the responsibility to educate their clients on the importance of social and ecological aspects in their design.

"It's a pity that architects and urban planners today are not always able to influence their clients. What is even worse is they don't seem to care about it. It's ironic."

Through Urbane -- an architecture firm and urban design consultancy firm he opened in 2004 -- Emil tries to defend his idealism, despite the overwhelming challenges faced.

"I try to struggle for the other side. Our weakness in Indonesia is the poor design of big and medium-sized public buildings in cities," he said.

When designing the Tarumanegara University building in West Jakarta, for example, Emil asked for the chance to also design the campus environment. The university's yard was previously covered in asphalt for car parking.

"I built a separate parking area. What was previously a parking area has become a park. Now students can play soccer, relax, make a date, read a book or contemplate," said Emil, who is now designing the 12-hectare Bakrie Kuningan Epicentrum Superblock in South Jakarta.

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