The Yak’s interest was piqued when one of our dear friends mentioned that they were “living without walls”. We had to find out more!!
So Anneke, basics first. What is your life mantra?
Be grateful every single day and …
Save energy, save waste, save yourself, is what my mother used to teach me.
How long have you been in Bali?
Not long enough, but that’s a good 20 or more years; I like to stop counting.
What, why, or who made you come here?
I did not want to come here at all as I was led to believe it was a hippy island, so I travelled to Sri Lanka and Vietnam instead, where I stayed for about one year until I was beckoned by a friend from NYC to go to Bali because…with the result that I stayed and never left.
Where are you from originally?
Dutch-born and left Holland when I was 22, traveling, studying, being in love, partying, socializing, never moving back.
Would you say you were born into privilege? That’s a long story, but I would say yes, because I had an incredible youth. After they had to get married, my parents were dis-inherited. So yes, I had the privilege of living a life where not everything was possible. I could not always have what my heart desired, and that has taught me to be respectful and grateful for everything I have. It also made me shy as I was taught to respect others highly. When I was 22, I married into the aristocracy. Our parents proposed us to get married because we were both leaving to go to the US for schooling. While visiting university libraries, we discovered books published by his ancestors, and so grew my interest in publishing. When I first applied for a job at Elsevier in Brussels, I soon had my department and discovered the Elsevier’s were related. I later started a publishing company that mainly published pre-sponsored books for companies: art books, cookbooks, or children’s books. I later sold my publishing company to Elsevier Reed in 1982. With the proceeds, I started a not-for-profit organization, East Meets West, which promoted Japanese influences on Western architecture and design and organized a competition for Design for the Environment with the guidelines we wrote for the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
Has this influenced your style and taste?
I always wanted something unusual. I was lucky when I grew up to have a great friend, my mom; all my clothes were homemade and designed by her and her seamstress. My sister further developed those skills while I choose a different path. I had technical skills and an enormous energy reservoir to learn the unlearnt, develop new ideas, and execute them.
Your brainchild, Escape Nomade, what inspired the idea?
Traveling the world when few people travelled, we dressed in designer clothes to be upped a class. We connected and talked to people in the lounges, inviting each other for lunch or dinner to the places we were going to visit or where we lived.
Tell us more about it.
While working on a sponsor/volunteer basis at the United Nations, I travelled to godforsaken places, where people still hunted and gathered and had to find a way to create a “my civilization bubble.” I did that by designing products that allowed me to take the 5-star luxuries with me where I was going. One was a travel-kit with an off-white, Egyptian cotton sleeping-bag, cream-colored mosquito-net, slippers, a silk pyjama, and a kimono. It was an enjoyable experience, so I started to design more products to make my traveling more comfortable. This longing for more comfort grew into a collection of travel products, which I decided to display in a tent. This tent became my showroom, and later when one day, its charm intrigued me even more, the idea of living in one was born.
On the back of Escape Nomade and the current state of global eco-consciousness (or lack of it), you are currently looking to publish a book, Haute Couture Architecture. Briefly tell us:
Haute Couture Architecture, “the Art of Living without Walls,” an influential book written by Anneke van Waesberghe reveals the landscapes of life’s fabric that keep together the threads of life under the canvas roofs of “Living without Walls” in Bali’s jungle. She observed the utter love and hidden concerns of those who visited her handcrafted artisanal tents. These feelings of love and challenges towards the unknown inspired her to share her personal experience living under canvas roofs for more than ten years. She is showing the power we have as individuals when we delete fear and reprogram our minds. With her wisdom, she guides you through her daily life in luxuriously decorated tents with inspiration drawn from surrounding nature. She shows you how to comfortably apply the simplicities of luxury into your own life and how to live a light footprint. When acted upon, we leave behind the fear of not having enough, which pushed us to overconsumption and waste.
Is it architecture as wearable art?
Ach, that’s a good question, no it is not wearable art but a term I use for the golden-like cloth I use to make the tents and drape them over pristine landscapes that remain untouched once they are taken down. The tents are hand-made by local artisans with an eye to the smallest detail. It is the needle with the golden thread that leads us throughout the book into a sustainable future. Once you fit through the hole of a needle’s eye, you have proven to have detached from the material world and left your old luggage behind.
What are you trying to share or encourage us to do/think about when we read it?
Encourage readers to take simple individual actions to change the world if we encourage each other to do it. The first one, for now, is to refuse the use of plastics. Because everything is wrapped in plastic, even vegetables, I stopped buying from stores to avoid their high plastic content. I started making everything on my own and encouraging others to do the same. I started the Coconut Academy, a grand word for the workshops we organize every Saturday, for whoever wants to attend, to show how to make ten different products out of 10 coconuts. We have 16 coconut trees in the garden and an organic garden, for those who don’t, can I’m sure, buy coconuts and vegetables at the organic markets. Individuals’ actions are the way to go. We are not waiting for laws to pass and governments to act. It is for the sake of our personal health and that of the planet, and we have the power because we make choices with our wallets through the products we buy.
Is it a historical view of modern architectural possibilities? Who, in your mind, is the world’s most unrecognized architectural genius?
That question reminds me I wanted to avoid talking about modern architecture because it put us in concrete boxes where spirits can’t reach to enlighten us, and the connection with nature is lost. Modern architecture belittled us with its grandeur, making us feel like dwarfs and puppets of society. Of course, there are fabulous creative examples, but I prefer to look at those as beautiful creations. I recently saw an amazing documentary of a young Indonesian girl who built an underground villa:
What is annoying about it is that her name isn’t mentioned anywhere. Maybe you can help me find it?
The lo-tech, hand-made, reed houses on small floating islands in a village in Al_Tahla; floating islands, hand made by the indigenous people of Ma’dan, Iraq; The living root bridges in Jingkieng Dieng Jri, Living of the Khasis, India. It is by simplicity, where divine beauty has lingered from the day of its creation. It is only now that we realize we have taken her for granted for so long, and naturally, we open our eyes up to it again.
Is this book linked to your experiences designing the range of Escape Nomade products?
In a way, it does because it gives people access to that lifestyle; everything to live that lifestyle are products and experiences I designed over the past 10 – 15 years. As a social entrepreneur, and the reason for starting my company was not to make money because there was a demand, but to make others understand what a sustainable lifestyle was all about. My company has become the platform to promote that sustainable lifestyle. I knew that by living it, I would gain more than talking about it. The International Global Forum conferences I attended and my deep involvement in the Green Cross led me to meet amazing people such as Carl Sagan. Still, it did not influence the general public on a large scale, even though Mikael Gorbachev was the Chairman. All this talking led me to believe that it is critical to take personal action to influence people. I did not start the business because there was a demand for it as ten years ago only a few people were thinking about living in tents, and there was no competition at all. I just lived and just did until an architect friend from NY asked if I was interested in re-creating the sanctuary in the Bahamas for Uma Thurman’s partner, and so I did. This project was the beginning of my business adventure, and it has grown organically ever since. I live it every day and like to share my tent experiences with everyone interested in organically re-creating our planet by looking at indigenous technologies and new technologies. The latter is of less importance in my concept as new technologies involve complexities we as humans can never apply if everything comes to a fall.
How do you hope this book will influence the industry, architects, builders, designers, and the average home-builder?
For sure, it will influence the hospitality industry as those we are reaching out to. We have tents now in more than thirty countries around the world. The hospitality industry are great influencers, as their guests like to live that life also at home. I think it will be a long way for people to understand the advantages of living in a tent as a primary residence as I do, so far it’s mostly for recreation, a second or third home. Residential is growing, and with the book, I like to show and encourage people to live a low footprint lifestyle. I created the Journal of personal intentions, which is for everyone to understand how to reach the energies that are lying there right in front of us, unused. The advice I give in the book is to live without fear and that everything is possible and attainable if you start to channel the energies that are there free to harvest for everyone. I try to open people’s eyes to these possibilities and live outside the box while giving up that feeling of never having enough. Not having enough is a product from the hunter-gatherer season, zillions of years ago when the Nomads roamed around searching for food. It is still in our DNA, so we still think we need to gather as much as possible of everything. It’s about time to start thinking we are more advanced now.
Lastly, briefly and allowed to travel again, name your top three must-visit places on the planet and why?
All places I loved were great because there were only a handful of tourists, travellers mostly. I loved Peking as it was an adventure to get the invitations to get there. The arrival in an antiquated airport with lots of wooden panels, the road driving to the city everybody was wearing the same coats and walking only. We were the only car I could see in the far distance. The vast wide avenues in the city, the Chinese’s curiosity to see you, the hidden secrets of places we were not supposed to enter. Maxime’s was the only restaurant outside a hotel where we could eat. We ventured into a small slippery floor café near a hospital, walked the empty Forbidden City; an old car was sitting in the front where Chinese were taking pictures with their family. We went to an artist village and had lunch with a family and local art critics.
The secret to traveling is to have the privilege to be alone and to experience authenticity. Maybe there are still faraway challenges to reach places like that I would love to visit. I haven’t been adventurous lately as I fell in love with Bali and my sanctuary. It is always best to have friends in the country you visit to recommend you to the real places to go to.
I liked Sri Lanka with its gay designer community in the nineties; Colombia with its guerrillas, adventure and wonderful people too; Belize with its endless forests and its primitive surprises. My motto is: to “Travel through life! It is not the place, but how you visit it, with who you meet, and how much you know and learn from it.”
Thank you for your time, Anneke – we love your “living without walls” home; we want one too!!