Sustainable Design and Digital Nomadism
Sustainable Design and Digital Nomadism - BAE Studio


Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences

Role: Course founder, professor

Semester: Winter
Offered: 2015
SUSTAINABLE DESIGN AND DIGITAL NOMADISM is a winter term immersion course focused on the growing brick and mortar and digital nomad startup community in Ubud, sustainable living practices, and community- and sustainability-driven startups. Students explore and develop a point of view on what we can learn from this growing phenomenon in Bali – about startups, digital nomads, sustainable communities, and working at the top of your field from anywhere in the world. They explore which ventures, organizational structures, networks and technologies are context dependent, and which are not, and why?

What can we learn from the growth of the intersection between green design and digital nomadic communities?
In the broader context of understanding what we can and cannot learn from this site visit, we will consider a currently controversial sea reclamation project. This involves reclaiming land that would be used to create a Formula One facility. There are daily demonstrations against the project, and those that back it say that this type of development is important for Bali to ‘catch up’ with ‘competitive’ islands like Singapore and Macau. Those opposing the development, mainly locals, argue that they don’t want that kind of tourism, that it goes against their longstanding cultural values of living sustainably (for which they have been recognized by the United Nations). As with other places in the world, the struggle for ‘who shapes development and how’ is apparent. There are different kinds of ‘development’ developing. Kuta is becoming famous for its beaches and an even more tourism-reliant form of development. Ubud stands in contrast, representing a more location-specific, community- and sustainability-centric longer-term development horizon. Ubud is also home to a rapidly growing startup community, where our group will be based. This long-standing conflict of ‘where we want to go’ (with some believing it is better to become more like Kuta, and some that Ubud-style development is better) forms the backdrop to the program. All on the island are interested in how growth and modernization can continue in a way that provides long-term benefits to locals. This ongoing dilemma, representative of similar challenges elsewhere, combined with the site’s already-recognized leadership in bamboo design, growing reputation for sustainability education, sustainability-driven entrepreneurship and digital nomad culture, provides a rich context of our course.

Schedule and Outcomes

Through morning site visits and afternoon project time, students develop their ideas. Their work on site culminates in final presentations to the local community. Faculty and students collaborate throughout the two-week period in early January 2015. Interested students continue collaborating on this project with faculty beyond the course.

Our program will be based in the Hubud co-working space in Ubud. In the space, students work in a creative, peaceful environment with local entrepreneurs (and reliable internet). Visits will include community projects, sustainability schools, bamboo architecture, farms, factories, hospitality companies. Additional visits will be tailored to specific student interests of those on the trip. Project Visits (ongoing, final list in process):

  • Green School
  • Hubud and over 40 startups based there during our course
  • PT Bamboo
  • The Onion
  • Green Village
  • Bamboo Indah
  • Sari Organik
  • Deus Ex Machina
  • Surf Yogi
  • Kupernik
  • PKP Women’s Collaborative
  • East Bali Cashews
  • Big Tree Farms (chocolate factory and great model of sustainable local business dev)
  • Salty Volt and Little Tree Eco construction centre.
  • Trip to Nusa Penida island and The Gallery business
B a c k T o T o p B a c k T o T o p