To find out about the Dutch government’s vision on their new way of working as well as further insight on this great rejuvenation project of the embassy and cultural centre, Indonesia Design magazine visited Joyce Nijssen, the Manager of Erasmus Huis and the Deputy Head of Culture and Communication for the embassy.
Indonesia Design (iD): The embassy is unique as it is the only embassy that incorporates a concert hall and cultural centre into one compound. Can you share the background story about it?
Joyce Nijssen (JN): The original cultural centre was situated in Menteng at Jalan Menteng Raya 25 and was founded because at that time many Indonesian people were interested in information about The Netherlands. The embassy decided to open a small library with Dutch newspapers and magazines. Slowly, the centre grew into a small cultural centre, hosting film screenings, lectures, recitals and other gatherings. On the 27th of March 1970 the cultural centre received the name “Erasmus Huis” and was officially opened by His Royal Highness Prince Bernard.
Because of an increase in activities and an increase in visitors during the years, the old centre became too small. When it became clear that a new embassy would be built in Jakarta, the Dutch government also decided to build a new Erasmus Huis. The modern building, located at Jalan H.R. Rasuna Said was finished by the end of 1980. Ever since, to this day, a lot of Indonesian people love to visit Erasmus Huis as it is a place with a vibrant program, a place where everyone is welcome, independent of where they were born, what they believe in and who they love.
iD: Recently the embassy and Erasmus Huis underwent a rejuvenation process. What is the new concept that the embassy is trying to achieve with this process?
JN: 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. Biggest changes in Erasmus Huis are the library and the exhibition hall. Both almost doubled in size, have a more contemporary look and feel and bring in more daylight than ever before. Through this process we are creating a place to welcome the exchange of knowledge and ideas. A place to meet and greet. A place to connect. A compound that is ready for the future.
iD: The embassy shows an extensive collection of artworks from the classic era to the contemporary ones. It is a bit rare to see this kind of collection in a foreign embassy that we know of. What is the story behind this?
JN: Since 1875 the Dutch government has been collecting artworks, the so called “National collection”. The Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency is managing this collection. It includes a wide variety of artworks, ranging from paintings and sculptures, to furniture, jewelry, and many others. The Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency lends these works of art to museums, but also to governmental buildings such as the embassy in Jakarta. The artworks often tell something about the Netherlands or the street scene from the past and the present, the people and nature. Photography generally dominates, but is occasionally combined with work on paper and old prints. The large walls are used for collages of works, so that despite the lack of much colour, there is much to see. This occasionally interspersed with independent artworks with a monumental appearance.
For the first floor, three themes can be distinguished: the urban landscape, the portrait and finally historical photos. For the meeting rooms sometimes different themes have been chosen for a surprising effect. The flower is the main theme on the second floor. Again with restraint in colour so that it does not compete with the work of Hadassah Emmerich. On the third floor we host two masterpieces of Raden Saleh in combination with an old Dutch cupboard. In response to the beautiful Indonesian landscapes, there are two black and white photos of the Dutch landscape. Old Dutch prints and maps are shown together with maps by Blaeu about which Marinus Boezem has put weather maps.
iD: Do you use any special materials for this process? Is there any lighting designer that is involved? What about a landscape designer? Can you tell us about the little farm at Erasmus Garden? What is the objective of creating that?
JN: As the embassy wants to show that the Netherlands is an innovative country, ready for the future, sustainability was very important in the design of both the building and the interior. There are several objects in the interior made of upcycled materials, for instance the cupboards in the Durian Meeting room which are made of old newspapers, and the objects I mentioned before. Lighting design has been made by our interior designer Mariët Hendricks. She used Dutch design lamps. There was no landscape designer involved in the design of the garden. The little farmhouse in the garden was established in cooperation with East West Seeds (a Dutch company that develops and sells seeds which thrive in Indonesia). Thus we want to showcase the fact that The Netherlands is a country with a lot of expertise in the agricultural field. Actually by showcasing the concept of “urban farming”, we like to prove that even with limited space in a city as crowded as Jakarta, we are able to produce some vegetables and herbs ourselves. The farm is maintained by our “Green Team”, a team of embassy employees who like gardening, thus contributing to teamwork at the embassy, also outside of the office.
iD: We have seen unique names for each function room. What is the story behind this?
JN: The selection of the names for the meeting rooms has been done in accordance with the principles of the typical Dutch “Polder model”. All staff members have been asked to put forward suggestions for names of the function rooms. Some came up with names of flowers, some came up with names of Indonesian islands, some with colours, etc. A small committee, comprised of the Deputy Ambassador and our Head of Internal Affairs, made the final selection by walking through the building and choosing a name off the long list provided by the staff which matched the look and feel of each room.
iD: The embassy and Erasmus Huis both have a workspace area. What are the guidelines from your government to create an effective workspace in this current era? Did you see the changes in design compared to the olden days? What is the approach these days that your country has set up as the standard?
JN: In 2016 Dutch governmental organisations introduced “Time, Location and Device Independent Working” or “The New way of working” which means that employees can work whenever, where ever and on which device is most convenient and fits your tasks best. The idea behind this new way of working is that it can contribute to higher productivity, increase of quality of the work done and a better work-life balance for employees. It also contributes to lowering housing costs of the ministries. Modern technology provides the possibilities to work smarter and more flexible and contributes to new ways of cooperation with others even people outside your own organisation. By implementing this way of working people can work from home, from an airport, from a restaurant etc.
This way of working has been introduced in our offices as well, and the design of the interior has been adjusted to this idea. We can choose a different desk in an open workspace every day depending on the colleagues you have to cooperate that day; we can work in focus rooms or from home in case you really need to get your work done.
iD: In your opinion, what is the ideal office design?
JN: In my opinion an office needs to be modern, functional, comfortable and equipped with the latest IT appliances. Furthermore, it needs to be a place where you can meet people, either your direct colleagues, your guests or the audience of our events. I’d prefer an office with a lot of daylight, an inspiring place where your creativity is stimulated and where you feel at home. For me our office – which is more or less my second home – is perfect.