When industrial designer Singgih Kartono, a native of the Kandangan village in Indonesia graduated from Bandung’s Institute of Technology (ITB), like many of us, he was troubled by what he wanted to do afterwards. “Should I work for a design office in the city or go back to my village and set up a business?” he said, as I interviewed him during my stay in one of his homestays located in Kelingan, Central Java.
Singgih eventually followed his heart and returned back to his hometown with the intention of revitalisng the village and creating an ecological and self-sufficient community. He mentioned that he has a strong belief regarding the relationship of a user and a product. Hence by going back to his roots, Singgih aims to sensitive the users of his products with the natural environment that the materials come from. Since bamboo is widely available across Indonesia, many Indonesians see this type of wood as cheap and affordable, often overlooking the sustainability of the material. For example, the ecovillage homestays feature treehouses and cocoon pods (as shown in the featured image) that are made entirely out of bamboo, and while most foreigners would see this as innovative and resourceful design, Singgih says “the villagers would rather take a more modern approach, choosing to buy expensive building materials such as cement instead of the bamboo that’s readily available.”
Today, his company Magno Design combines local artisanry, Singgih’s design experience, and sustainably grown wood to make innovative consumer products (Elvin, 2015). The local wood and bamboo is now a focal point of Singgih’s designs, with the Magno line ranging from magnifying glasses, wooden radios, clocks, yoyos, and even speakers.
I had the privilege of visiting the Magno Design factory, and was able to witness the wooden creations in the making – including the bamboo bicycle Spedagi, which derives from Sepeda Pagi (Morning Bike). The people of Magno are all very dedicated and enthusiastic with their work, taking care into creating the best quality products. The limited machinery also means that the workers must possess some excellent hand-crafting expertise.
“I consider wood as a balance material,” he said. “Compared to synthetic materials, I feel that wood is a material with soul inside. The beautiful texture and grain actually tell the story of its life. Wood is a kind of perfect material, perfect because of its imperfectness. Its character teaches us about life, balance and limits.”
Singgih focuses on designing with awareness, planting a new tree for every one used in his products (Magno Design, 2016).
Dunn, J. 2014, Wooden radios, bamboo bicycles and human cocoons, Inside Indonesia, viewed 9 April 2016, available at: http://www.insideindonesia.org/wooden-radios-bamboo-bicycles-and-human-cocoons
Elvin, G. 2015, Wooden Radio: Local Artistry, Local Materials, Post-Petroleum Design, 1st edn, Routledge, London, pp.77-78
Febrina, A. 2009, Singgih S. Kartono: Designing with Awareness, The Jakarta Globe, viewed 10 April 2016, available at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/08/13/singgih-s-kartono-designing-with-awareness.html#sthash.JM5fJLlm
Kartono, S. 2016, Magno Design, Singgih S. Kartono, viewed 10 April 2016, available at: http://www.magno-design.com/
Notes from Interview with Singgih S. Kartono, dated 16 February 2016.
*All images, unless stated otherwise were taken by the author.