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Joost Bakker Eco Warrior and Gentle Rebel Story by contributor Paul Best Photos Nic Walker June 20, 2017

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : AFR Magazine , comments closed

Photo of Joost Bakker by Nic Walker

Sharing a fascinating story from Paul Best in The Australian Financial Magazine with great photos by Nic Walker.

An amazing journalistic read in a great magazine.

 

On a nippy autumn afternoon, Joost Bakker has brought Paul Best to the township of Kallista, nestled in the heart of the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne, to reveal the site of his next big thing: the spot, no less, where he hopes to change the world.

Right now, it doesn’t look like much – a vacant lot, ringed by chain-link fencing, where once was a service station. Amid the weeds, a cracked concrete driveway serves as the only reminder that petrol was last sold here nine years ago. It’s taken most of the time since then to decontaminate the brownfield site.

Come February, the 1000-square-metre block will begin to transform. A multi-level house will arise, constructed from a modular steel frame packed with straw bales and glass. Its designer, Joost Bakker, calls the concept “future cave”.

The off-grid, self-sustaining structure will feature solar panels, a nine-metre atrium with an aquaponic system, and soil-loaded green roofs, one of which will be cantilevered.

The house will produce enough organic food to sustain the project’s human guinea pigs, chefs Matt Stone and his partner Jo Barrett, for a whole year. A worm farm will be housed in the reconditioned underground tanks, converting organic waste into nutrient-enriched soil.

And if you know this 43-year-old Dutch-born environmental evangelist at all, you’ll know that soil is everything.

“I want to prove the point that a building can nourish the people who live in it. Not only provide shelter and energy but nourish them,” Bakker emphasises, his clear blue eyes holding a steady gaze. “And I want to see what that diet looks like.”

It’s still in the planning stages, but the year-long experiment will be the subject of a documentary by Madman Entertainment. At the same time, Stone and Barrett’s daily existence, living off the crops they grow and the meals that result, will be shared on social media. The CSIRO is on board too, putting their diet under the microscope.

The “New Holland” project is much more than a social and scientific investigation. It goes to the heart of what makes this maverick florist-cum-artist tick. It represents the latest battlefront in Bakker’s decade-long crusade that has helped to raise awareness about the waste we generate and the need to live sustainably but has yet to realise his underlying ambition of turning our cities and villages into urban farms.

“The system needs to change,” Bakker says over lunch in Monbulk, a short drive from Kallista, where he lives with his wife Jennie and their three daughters. It’s here that he built his first house in 2006 from reclaimed and reclaimable materials. He runs a floristry business from Monbulk, with more than 300 plant species across 2.4 hectares, as well as selling eggs from his chickens.

While his home’s biophilic design has generated interest, Bakker shot to prominence in 2008, capturing the public’s imagination with Greenhouse by Joost, a three-month pop-up restaurant and event space in Melbourne’s Federation Square.

Built from recycled and recyclable materials, the structure featured an exposed straw-bale ceiling, a vertical wall of strawberry plants and a rooftop garden supplying the restaurant. A second Greenhouse sprang up the following year in Perth and another in 2011 at The Rocks in Sydney, both featuring Bakker’s trademark vertical gardens in pots.

In 2012, the restaurant was reprised for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, which infamously harvested guests’ urine to fertilise mustard seed, the oil from which could be used to power the venue.

Later that year, Bakker opened nearby Silo, Australia’s first waste-free restaurant, which composted anything that wasn’t eaten. The venue morphed into Brothl, a soup canteen that used bones and other leftovers from restaurants including the high-profile Attica and Rockpool.

Bakker has also designed and built a family home in the Victorian township of Daylesford, as well as a fire-resistant house at Kinglake in 2014, five years after that town was devastated by bushfires.

“Joost is this big-picture, big-concept guy who understood the imperative of these large public arenas to push his thought-provoking concepts into the public eye,” says designer Georgina O’Connor, who has computer-modelled and helped pitch Bakker’s key projects and will again turn his sketches of New Holland into three-dimensional, computer-rendered drawings.

He’s very charismatic and can portray ideas well,” says artist David Bromley, whose work hung in the first Greenhouse and still graces Bakker’s walls at home. And Rockpool Dining Group’s Neil Perry has credited Bakker with influencing the way restaurants think about food production and waste.

International following

Photo Nic Walker

The eco-warrior has established a following abroad, too. High-profile chefs including Sat Bains in Nottingham, René Redzepi at Copenhagen’s Noma and Alex Atala from D.O.M. in São Paulo are among his legion of fans (the latter two installing a closed-loop composting system after seeing it at Silo).

In Melbourne, Attica’s patron chef Ben Shewry is another fan. “We’re of a similar mindset, learning things from one another,” he says. “Joost always has a new idea.”

But Bakker’s radical thinking started at a much earlier age. Growing up on the family’s flower and bulb farm (Joop and Lia Bakker and their four sons had migrated to Australia in 1982), he recalls becoming obsessed from the age of 12 with the environment, the wasteful way in which we live and the inefficient design of housing, in particular.

When he later established his floristry business, supplying Melbourne’s hospitality industry, Bakker began making his trademark, striking floral installations from found objects and upcycled materials. Even when some of Australia’s biggest companies invited him to design their marquees for the Melbourne Cup Carnival’s exclusive Birdcage at Flemington, his designs were based on reusing and repurposing materials.

In 2005, the same year Bakker created a striking chandelier for Lexus out of reconstituted wine glasses filled with peonies, he designed Macquarie Bank’s entire enclosure from recycled material, including used tyres and old packing cases.

“The CEO [Allan Moss] walked in and said, ‘What the f— is this?’,” Bakker recalls. Fortunately, the overall response was “how refreshing” and he was invited back the next year.

Getting his projects off the ground is no small feat. Bakker funds them from his 25-year-old floristry business and, to a lesser degree, from his wife’s nursery concern, as well as from income generated by his major projects. Recent creations include the central display for Neil Perry at April’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony, another for Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden and the Lexus Melbourne Cup marquee, which he has designed for the past three years.

Bakker earns royalties from the Schiavello Vertical Garden, too, which he designed more than a decade ago and updated last year.

But his big-ticket projects, such as Greenhouse, have proved costly. For his first Greenhouse he had to borrow funds after taking a $300,000 financial hit, and he lost another $200,000 on Greenhouse Sydney (the harbourside venture totalled $1 million).

“Joost is a little like me, he doesn’t care about the financial side, he’s not motivated by money,” says Shewry.

Bakker says he dissolved his construction partnership with former Skilled Group chief executive Greg Hargrave over a difference of direction after building the Kinglake house, which featured on Grand Designs Australia. “Greg wanted to build this big business but I pulled the pin because I couldn’t get my head around that,” he says.

It is not the only project that didn’t go to plan. Proposals for temporary Greenhouses in Milan, London’s Trafalgar Square and Istanbul have been shelved. Even the Victorian Racing Club, which introduced sustainable practices thanks to Bakker, knocked back Greenhouse at Flemington before the concept launched in Federation Square.

Georgina O’Connor says almost as many projects don’t get up as do. For example, a plan for Melbourne’s Eastland Shopping Centre to create nutrient-rich soil from its restaurants’ composted organic waste did not go ahead. “It shows his level of persistence [that he keeps trying],” she muses.

“If it doesn’t come, it stings a little,” says Bromley. “People don’t realise how much bloody work goes into manifesting these things.”

Over a lunch of Dutch cheeses, his wife’s pickled cucumbers and a hearty soup he’s put together from garden produce, Bakker has an undeniable presence. His good looks and 193-centimetre frame help, but it is his brain in full flight that sparks your curiosity.

He is knowledgeable, articulate and draws effortlessly on a plethora of resources, quoting study after study and peppering our discussion with facts and figures to support his arguments. One minute he is calculating how many potatoes you could harvest twice a year from a 200-sq m roof and what they’d earn (18,000 kilograms, worth about $100,000). The next, he’s damning modern farming, the lack of nutrients in our soil and diet, as well as mechanical harvesting, which he blames for gluten intolerance.

Bakker bemoans, too, that food is harvested from soils no longer enriched by earthworms, which have billions of beneficial bacteria – their absence he believes has contributed to depression and anxiety.

At the same time, he advocates the health benefits of drinking bacteria-rich raw milk to stave off allergies and rolling your own oats, something he acknowledges he’s obsessed with. Like many before me, I get a personal demo of his Schnitzer Hand Oat Roller.

Later, Bakker shows me one of his “brain dumps”, a 2.5m board leaning against a wall, filled with his handwritten thoughts. “It helps visualise my ideas when I bring others in to work with me,” he says.

While there’s no doubting his passion and intelligence, you start to appreciate why he’s so difficult to pigeonhole. You have only to scan the range of epithets used to describe him in the media – anything from designer, builder and installation artist, prophet and polymath to sustainability campaigner, eco-warrior and creative disrupter. The New York Times famously described him as “the poster boy of zero-waste living”, and Vogue magazine a “discipline-crossing creative”.

Shewry views Bakker as an environmental activist and visionary. “Joost’s ahead of his time,” he says. “It’s not easy being forward-thinking.” Bromley comes up with a mix of mad scientist and day-dreamer, albeit one with his feet firmly planted “in the dirt” who believes anything is possible.

Bakker puts down his occupation as “artist” when required. It’s what he says he would have been had his family not migrated to Australia. In Holland, a well-known landscape painter, Jan Hollenberg, taught the young Joost about light and shadow, texture and landscape, concepts that are central to his work today. Bakker says he flirted with the idea of an artistic career after holding a number of solo exhibitions in the early 2000s.

Guests at the Lexus Design Pavilion in the Birdcage wouldn’t argue. In 2015, Bakker’s giant bird’s nest, made from recycled and rusted wire, and his ceiling decorated with hundreds of tulips, were an artistic marvel. Lexus’ luxury marquee in 2014 featured a riotous canopy of roses floating above guests seated at the 48-seat Attica pop-up restaurant.

Artistic eye

“Joost has a great eye for creating beautiful work and for design and artistic implementation,” says Miriam Fanning, principal of Mim Design, who collaborated with Bakker on the 2014 and 2015 Lexus pavilions. “He understands all formats of design, not just installation and sustainability but inbuilt structures and building a structure himself, which makes him unique.”

The florist, though, is never far away. Bakker says he doesn’t try to imitate nature: “I just allow it to exist in whatever it is that I create.” He was once told his buildings aren’t buildings but “vessels for nature to exist”.

However, Blue Hill Farm chef Dan Barber in New York, whom Bakker inspired to set up WastED, a pop-up committed to reusing food leftovers and by-products, sees more of the revolutionary in Bakker.

“He’s an artist as change-maker,” says Barber. “Rarely have I met someone so preternaturally talented that he also changes the culture with his work.”

But change doesn’t come easily. Nor, for all his charisma, charm and can-do attitude, is everyone easily won over.

“He’s flying in the face of conventional process,” declares Bromley, who adds there’s a bit of the “ratbag” to Bakker – the same guy who has worked the Birdcage in T-shirt, jeans and Blundstones when everyone else is dressed to the nines. “I don’t think people will openly throw a pie in his face but sometimes I think [one] is thrown loosely in his direction that diminishes some of the outcomes.”

In early 2015, the City of Melbourne served an eviction notice on Brothl, after a two-year stoush over the location of the restaurant’s composter. Two years earlier, the council had vetoed Bakker’s proposal to install a sizeable rooftop farm atop the National Australia Bank’s former head office in Collins Street, which would have required a change to height limits in the CBD.

Even a long-time collaborator like Matt Stone, whom Bakker first employed to helm the kitchen at Greenhouse Perth, wasn’t sold, at first. “I needed to be convinced, when this crazy Dutch guy approaches you to open a restaurant that is a box covered in plants, built from recycled and recyclable materials, that’s going to grow its own food,” Stone recalls.

“But Joost makes you believe what he’s trying to tell you, regardless of how crazy it sounds. Although you’ll always get sceptics who think it’s impossible to live and create a lifestyle in that way.”

In fact, the person hardest on Bakker is Bakker himself. Surprisingly, given all the plaudits and renown, he wishes Greenhouse hadn’t been a restaurant. The message – that we need our buildings to provide for us and feed us – was lost, he says. The revolution he’d truly hungered for hasn’t come about.

“My last three years [since Brothl closed] have been my toughest,” he admits. “I became incredibly depressed even though I got all this publicity for my restaurants … journalist after journalist writing about the food and zero waste and composting, but no one writing about a building that grows food.”

Despite his misgivings, Bakker is sanguine about the forthcoming project. As with his previous initiatives, he and his wife will fund most of it but this time around he is hoping to build the first of five planned houses on the Kallista site for a manageable $200,000.

Central to the project’s success will be the dishes Stone and Barrett cook up. “I want it to be the most exciting food I’ve ever seen and for people to say, ‘Wow, this could be the future’,” Bakker says. “If the food looks shit and unappetising, then we’re lost.”

He is hoping to involve more chefs in time, including David Thompson, Neil Perry and Heston Blumenthal.

New Holland will be open-source to encourage engagement. Anyone will be able to monitor data, such as crop yields and costs, in real-time. “There’s no intellectual property with the project,” Bakker says. “I’m hoping to inspire others to be involved, I want to see the idea evolve.”

He says his future cave design – which Lexus allowed him to use on its Birdcage pavilion last year to help him refine his design – purposefully uses common, recyclable materials that can be sourced and simply constructed anywhere in the world.

Bakker is heartened by the growing numbers of households converting to solar energy, the rise of medium-density housing on blocks previously occupied by a single dwelling, and the increase in sales of supplies in bulk that require less packaging.

“It’s about community, about connection and change on a micro level,” he says.

AFR Contributor

Read more: http://www.afr.com/brand/luxury/how-ecowarrior-joost-bakker-wants-to-change-our-lives-one-scrap-at-a-time-20170422-gvqfm3#ixzz4k97iKOw7
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Philip Gostelow shooting Georgio Armani in China September 8, 2012

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : AFR Magazine, Philip Gostelow , comments closed

Photgrapher Philip Gostelow is heading back to Perth after some  time in China. Recently  he shot “Giorgio Armani: One Night Only in Beijing” for the Australian Financial Review magazine. Here are some wonderful images:

Photo Philip GostelowPhoto Philip GostelowPhoto Philip GostelowPhoto Philip GostelowPhoto Philip Gostelow

 

Photo Philip Gostelow