How green is my valet?
Designing a hotel that’s different is always a challenge – there are limited ways to assemble blocks of concrete cubicles and make them desirable. One Yogya hotelier is going green to lure visitors.
Peckish guests too drained by Yogya’s delights to descend to the open plan kitchen on Greenhost’s ground floor can nibble a lettuce or pluck a tomato growing just outside their door.
But they’ll be unable to immediately lay their hands on a hairdryer even though their lodgings have all the facilities expected in a modern hotel, like Wi-Fi and cable TV.
“That’s because everything has been designed to use little energy,” said Arbiter Gerhard Sarumaha (right) general manager of the Central Java city’s newest hotel.
“Guests may borrow a dryer, but the rooms are limited to 1,300 watts. If they try to boil a kettle at the same time the circuit breaker will trip.
“The vegetables they can savor will be grown in a vast hydroponic array using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes. The system could produce 1.4 tonnes of fresh produce if all 9,000 plants are harvested at the same time. Excess food will be sold.”
The developers of the three-storey Greenhost that opened in December (2014), believe it’s the first hotel in Indonesia built using recycled materials and following conservation principles.
They say their building is unique because it’s making serious attempts to be ecologically friendly, artistically creative, energy frugal, productive – yet still make a commercial return.
Every room has an original local painting, sculpture, or mixed media piece, while the foyer restaurant doubles as a gallery. “This is an art space which accidentally happens to be a hotel,” quipped Arbiter. It’s billed as a ‘boutique’ hotel, though 96 rooms pushes understanding of the term.
Much of the timber has come from pallets originally used as fork-lift platforms for goods stacked in warehouses. Pine pallets have a rough life and die young, splintered and crushed, destined to depart as heat and smoke.
Snatched from the flames, de-nailed and sanded smooth to reveal color and texture, the wood relives on walls, lockers, furniture and shelves. Contrasting the refined interior is exterior cladding of lumpy multi-sided off-cuts from a furniture factory in nearby Solo. These have been fixed to panels so every façade is different.
It’s the same in the dining area where the square table tops were originally steel scrap from a fabrication plant, smelter feedstock before being rescued for a furniture future.
Neither the galleries wrapped around the hotel’s rectangular core nor the restaurant have ceilings, so the hotel’s intestines are exposed. When your coffee companion starts to bore, lean back and study the entrails of electricity, the color-coded noodles of plumbing and wonder what’s been digested and where it’s heading.
It’s too early to know whether this factory feel and fog grey décor will be softened by the vines cascading from above and sturdy trees in tubs below. Inevitably concessions had to be made. One that will trouble many overseas guests – the hotel’s prime target – is the use of grid electricity mainly sourced from coal-fired generators.
“We wanted to use sun power but the economics didn’t compute,” said founder, Solo businessman Paulus Mintarga (right) head of CV Tim Tiga, the company developing Greenhost.
“In many Western countries electricity is expensive so the capital cost of installing solar panels makes commercial sense. Inevitably electricity prices will rise in Indonesia and photovoltaic cell prices come down.
“When that happens we’ll convert, but at present it’s cheaper to buy electricity from the PLN (Perusahaan Listrik Negara, the state-owned monopoly), even though it’s an unreliable supplier.”
So the hotel has installed a big grumbling generator which takes the edge off the ambience when PLN fails to deliver, as it did for five hours while this story was being written.
Work on the Rp 40 billion (US$3.3 million) project started two years ago on a downtown site, a 15 minute drive from Yogyakarta’s Kraton (Sultan’s palace).
Jalan Prawirotaman has long been backpacker central, but Arbiter claimed the area was changing, with beards and sandals yielding to designer batik as antique shops sprout and hostels morph into hotels. Greenhost’s Internet prices for mid January are Rp 500,000 [US$40] a night, including breakfast and tax – a dive from earlier quotes of Rp 850,000 [US$68].
That’s mid-range for regional city accommodation in Java, though the 19 square meter rooms are more Singapore-size than Indonesian.
“In the future we have to become more efficient and inventive,” said Paulus, who created an eco-green guest house in the nearby city of Solo called Rumah Turi.
“People are moving out of rural areas and into the cities. As populations grow there’s a demand for more productive land. This isn’t just a hotel – it’s also a farm. The plants being grown hydroponically will all be food, not flowers.
“I’m a structural engineer and a former contractor in Jakarta, though my friends are architects, the discipline I like most. But architecture is just a tool, a means to an end.
“We need to take a holistic approach to development and recognize the spirit of the place where we want to build.
“I’ve long been interested in designs that use waste. I’ve seen what has been done overseas, particularly in Japan, but we must do things our way, develop our own Indonesian ideas. I want to use local products.
“I tend to start from the materials and then look at the possibilities rather than beginning with a concept. Because I haven’t been trained as an architect I have the freedom to think differently.
“The challenge will be to get the staff to appreciate that we are driven by the principles of care and creativity, so we have to run our own hospitality school. [The plan includes multi-tasking, so the person who makes your breakfast may also make your bed.]
“This is a commercial venture, and not just motivated by idealism. We have to make money and we will at a rate equal to standard hotels. At the same time we must do what’s right. I hope others will see what’s possible and follow us.
“The future is sustainability.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 13 January 2015)