Building on Community Spirit for Good

Eko Prawoto shares how sustainable urbanisation is achievable when Gotong Royong, the spirit of community cooperation, is activated.

Mr. Eko Prawoto, speaking at the Ideas for a Better World Forum: HeART of Sustainable Living

Constructing a collective, shared experience is what award-winning Indonesian architect and artist, Professor Eko Prawoto strives to do each time he works with local communities in many of his architectural and art installation projects, both in Indonesia and abroad.

Speaking at the Singapore International Foundation’s 12th Ideas for a Better World Forum, he explains why community involvement drives the collaborative nature of his works. It stems from his desire to create a positive impact in the communities he works with, and an observation that “in our contemporary situation, we are all moving fast and living in our own time capsules, it has become difficult to communicate. We are losing our sense of community – a common platform for us to meet, talk, share and relate to each other. Without this common platform, it’s very difficult to talk about sustainability or our future world because we don’t have the chance to share our ideas with a larger group of people. That’s why it’s important for me to be able to give something to the community with the projects that I do.”

Titled “At the heART of Sustainable Living”, the forum was held as a parallel event of the Singapore Biennale 2013 and explored the role of arts and culture in galvanising communities to take action for sustainable social change.

One community project cited for demonstrating this potential is the post-disaster reconstruction of Ngibikan village in Yogyakarta. After a 2006 devastating earthquake left many homeless, Professor Prawoto helped rebuild lives guided by an intrinsic cultural value of selfless volunteerism, mutual collaboration and joint bearing of burdens for the good of the community – Gotong Royong.

Working together with villagers in the affected community, he came up with a plan to help them build new, earthquake-resistant homes using locally sourced materials. Community involvement was evident in every step of rebuilding efforts, from planning to construction, as Professor Prawoto felt that even after physical structures were gone, “the social capital and structure was still there, the people’s knowledge, their skills, their culture. I thought it was important to start the reconstruction from what was already there.”

This focus on community involvement not only saw local craftsmen and builders pitching in to help rebuild some 65 homes within 90 days, it also enabled “available materials, like their old doors and windows to be used, and all the people’s creativity could be channelled into finishing their new homes,”

Professor Prawoto said. His efforts were nominated for the prestigious Aga Khan Architecture Award.

The panel comprised (from left) Mr Allan Lim, Co-founder of The Living! Project; Ms Audrey Wong, Programme Leader, MA in Arts and Cultural Management Programme, LASALLE College of the Arts; Professor Eko Prawoto, Vice Dean, Faculty of Architecture and Des

Joining Professor Prawoto at the forum was a panel comprising distinguished speakers from the Singapore community. The panellists were Audrey Wong, Programme Leader for the MA programme in Arts and Cultural Management at the LASALLE College of the Arts, Allan Lim, Co-founder of The Living! Project, Louisa-May Khoo, Senior Assistant Director (Adjunct), Centre of Liveable Cities, Singapore, Augustine Anthuvan, Editor, International Desk, Channel News Asia moderated.

They exchanged perspectives on how a sense of community can be built in highly urbanised Singapore and the need for more ground up action to encourage cultural sustainability.

Lim, through his social enterprise The Living! Project, has worked with numerous artists, social innovators and designers towards sustainable urbanisation in Singapore, said “we need to explore getting back that sense of community quickly in Singapore, because if we don’t we will have a brand new sustainable city without people to sustain it,” Lim said.

Khoo, a trained urban planner, said there is certainly more room for gathering Singaporeans to come and do something that is good for the community and observes that “as we can see from Pak Eko’s projects, it can be humbling and inspiring when you see people from different races who cannot speak the same language work together. I think that says something of the human spirit.”

As Professor Prawoto aptly sums it up, “there is no environmental sustainability without cultural sustainability and no cultural sustainability without social sustainability”.

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