Ready for the Future

Photography By Bagus Tri Laksono

Being the diplomatic representation of a government in another country, an embassy plays an important role in keeping the bilateral relationship with the host country, in terms of trading, military, culture, science and more. While most embassies are designed to focus on its main function as a government office, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Jakarta took a different approach with their latest renovation project.

Ever since the embassy was first built in 1978, the Dutch government was already thinking forward by putting design elements into their embassy’s architectural plan. Renowned Dutch architects N.J.J. Gawronski and M.J.M. Moll of the engineering and architecture agency Van Hasselt and De Koning (Haskoning) were chosen to design this embassy. Together they brought a concept where the embassy characterises the plasticity of the building, which was tailored to the tropical climatic conditions and generated a harmonious and functional relationship of the parts, with the chancellery as the main accent of the whole.

In the broad ground floor, the consular department is situated where there is a lot of contact with visitors. There’s also a lobby where they welcome people. The offices of the chancellery are located in three octagonal layers arranged around a central light well with the open main staircase and two independent stability cores in which elevators, toilets, pantries and ducts are located. At the ground floor of the well, an ornamental pond has been included. The hanging plants in the light well and the surprising incidence of light makes for an exciting and spacious effect that fits in with the tropical surroundings, but also meets the functional requirements of the chancellery.

The embassy that first opened its doors to the public at the end of 1980, has received its popularity amongst Indonesians as it also has a cultural centre known as the Erasmus Huis that hosts various cultural activities from film screenings, concerts, lectures, recitals and other gatherings. It is also the only Dutch embassy in the world that has integrated a concert hall and a cultural centre in one complex as a whole.

In order to keep up with changes and developments around the world, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and their diplomatic missions abroad feel the need to keep up with these changes and increase their working pace to uphold the Netherlands’ interests at all times. Thus, this legendary embassy underwent a rejuvenation process recently and transformed itself as a place that is ready for the future. The biggest in the embassy history so far, this rejuvenation process is the physical culmination of a broader transformation process of the embassy, making it more open, transparent and accountable. The new approach is to create an innovative place that is flexible, light and inspiring. The new changes were created to turn this embassy into a place to welcome the exchange of knowledge and ideas, to meet and greet, and to connect.

The apparent result of this rejuvenation process can be seen from the changing of the interior design outlook. The typical clinical look from the past was changed using an elegant approach where colours were applied through several artworks and Dutch design products that are used around the entire compound. A stunning mural that was commissioned to Hadassah Emmerich is painted from the main staircase of the embassy all the way to the top, a strong piece-de-resistance to the entire surroundings. Hadassah painted the big mural in 2006 and after the renovation, she painted her reaction to her own work on the walls of the respective floors. The main idea behind the selection is art with a little colour and lots of black and white.

The embassy appointed Dutch interior designer Mariët Hendrikx from MHIO design firm who also works for the housing department of the ministry in The Hague. She created the new design concept after having workshops with the embassy staff to determine their hopes and expectations. After that, she made a preliminary design and checked it with the project team, which consist of the project manager, the architects, the art-advisor, embassy representatives, and others related to it. Finally she chose the exact objects that would be placed in the building.

The interior was designed in such a way that fits the aforementioned philosophy of open, transparent and accountable, and to create an innovative place that is flexible, light and inspiring. Mariët applied products from famous Dutch brand called Ahrend in the office spaces. A company that has been established for 120 years, Ahrend is known for its products that emanate simplicity and strength, and carries the minimalistic and timeless spirit. Their sustainable design is functional yet has beautiful aesthetic. Currently, there are various great Dutch design products that can be found in this embassy, such as a stunning Delft Blue Plate carpet in the Erasmus Huis library that is made by Marcel Wanders, as well as an Edward van Vliet carpet collection entitled Garden of Eden Yellow and Garden of Eden Light Grey, both made for MOOOI collection.

Furthermore, Mariët kept an eye on the sustainability of the design. As the architecture of the building provides a lot of daylight, there is limited need for additional lighting and use of electricity. She also reused some of the existing furniture such as the chairs that were used in the old building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands that are no longer in use. The embassy brought these chairs to Indonesia and refurbished them by changing the colour of the wooden frame and upholstery so the seats would not disappear into a depot. These chairs are now visible in the lobby of the embassy.

The other impressive element in this newly rejuvenated embassy is to see their amazing art collection that features extensive work from the classic to the contemporary era. It is a fact that the Dutch government has been collecting art since 1875 known as the “National Collection”. Highlights here include two masterpieces by Raden Saleh that is located in one of the meeting rooms on the third floor of the embassy, juxtaposing a stunning old Dutch wooden cupboard.

The renovation work on the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and its cultural centre the Erasmus Huis definitely gives a new perspective on an embassy as a diplomatic representation. The Dutch approach to follow the world’s changes through their embassy design truly represents the spirit and mindset of the country itself.

As a diplomatic representative, this embassy is definitely ready for the future.

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Erza S.T.
Erza has pursued his great passion for opera and classical music for over a decade. His brainchild, the Indonesia Opera Society, has produced many classical music concerts and operas, and recently marked its 10th anniversary with a gala production. He is also a journalism lover focusing on luxury, lifestyle and travel stories, which he files from datelines around the globe.
Bagus Tri Laksono