Rob Swartbol: From Design to Dutch Culture

Photography By Bagus Tri Laksono

While touring the newly revamped Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands compound, we had a quick conversation with the current ambassador of the country to Indonesia, Rob Swartbol. In that quick moment, we asked his personal opinion about design.

Indonesia Design (iD): Could you please tell us more about the embassy?

Rob Swartbol (RS): I welcome you as a guest in our embassy here in Jakarta. It’s a very special embassy; it was built in 1981. Here you’ll see a very interesting structure of the embassy that’s already been there since 1981. It’s a very special kind of column, which is actually holding the rest of the embassy together. The mural that you see is from a later date and if you look at the colours and the shapes, it’s a combination of what we think about the Netherlands and the values of the Netherlands, and the values of Indonesia. So it’s all about integration. The world around us changes rapidly. To keep track of all the developments, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our diplomatic missions abroad need to constantly change in the same pace. Only then will we be able to successfully serve the Netherlands’ interests 24/7, worldwide,now and in the future.

In the past four years the embassy in Jakarta has made tremendous steps in keeping up with this pace, and has undergone quite a transformation. A contemporary mission and vision statement has been made and the management philosophy has been adjusted accordingly. Together with all staff members the requirements of the new Embassy building have been plotted. A huge investment has been made in modern technology, varying from providing mobile phones and tablets for location independent working to investing in the climate control of the building.

Recently, the last part of the transformation process and the biggest renovation in the history of the building of both the Embassy and the neighbouring Erasmus Huis was finalised. Thus the renovation is the physical culmination of a broader transformation process of the Embassy: more open, transparent and accountable. An innovative place that is flexible, light and inspiring.

iD: Please tell us, what is the importance of design to the Netherlands?

RS: Design is very hip nowadays in the Netherlands, “Dutch Design” we call it. You can find it in furniture, chairs, lighting, but actually it’s more than that. It’s a whole concept. In this embassy over the last two years, we’ve been trying to create an image of a Dutch Design building. It’s transparent, it’s minimalistic for a part, it’s colourful, and it gives a sort of feeling of space and at the same time you feel very comfortable there. So, a Dutch Design building right in the middle of Jakarta. The original architect also designed our embassy in India. Even the headquarters, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague was designed by this architect. Now we’ll talk about the embassy in Jakarta and we’re extremely proud of the final result of the transformation of our diplomatic venue here in Jakarta.

iD: This is one of the oldest embassies in Indonesia and it has been known to bring a lot of art and culture. What is the direction for the future in terms of a bilateral relationship between the government of the Netherlands and Indonesia?

RS: We are lucky that we don’t only have an embassy building where some civil servants work. It’s actually more a compound.We have the Erasmus Huis, which is adjacent to the offices of the embassy, and there’s even a wider compound. What we’d like to do with that is present, of course, Dutch culture, try to connect with Indonesian culture, and also provide a platform where we can exchange ideas between Dutch people and Indonesian people. And that’s working quite well, with the renovation of the embassy, we also try to give our office space a feeling of transparency and openness. People would like to come in and talk to us, and we, as a view to the rest of Indonesia would like to grow out, so it’s all about interconnection.

iD: What is your personal opinion of a good office design?

RS: Well, a good office design makes you feel comfortable, where you can have, as we have done, an open workspace so that you can connect (again, connection is very important here) with other colleagues. And at the same time, there’s also space where you can retract yourself. And if you want to concentrate on your work, we also have several options here to do more focused work. An office should also be fun, so we have lounge seats where people can sit and talk to each other, or play a game if they want. So it’s not only to sit and work, it’s an experience where you come in in the morning and hopefully walk out with a smile at the end of the day and say, “that was nice.”

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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