Today Mendy Laoda, Jakarta born structural and earthquake engineer talks with us about her recent work on the island of *Gili Air. In August this year, an earthquake struck the main island of Lombok and was the largest and the strongest earthquake to have hit Lombok in recorded history. In the evenings Mendy is a home decor designer for her brand Mortier which she established as a means to ‘refresh her brain’ ….
*Kenalkan Mendy Laoda:
Please tell us a little about your background – Where did you grow up and study?
I am a true Jakartan. Born and raised. Slowly but surely, I expanded my perimeter and it shows through my education journey.
I went to St Ursula’s High School, an all-girl type education in Central Jakarta. Then I moved to Bandung to study Civil Engineering at ITB (Bandung Institute of Technology). After that, I pursued my Master’s degree in Civil Engineering with Seismic Design at the University College, London.
Now, I am back to where it all began, Jakarta. Currently, I am occupied with my own brand, Mortier, which I established in 2017. It is funny that I spend most of my time doing home decor creation, even though there is no artistry running in my family.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Since I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to be an Engineer. Though I did not know which field. Numbers have always been my sweet spot. No surprise that Maths & Physics are my favourites.
Why did you choose to be a Seismic Engineer?
Earthquakes are one of the interesting topics in Civil Engineering. Earthquakes don’t kill people, but buildings do! It is a challenge for us as Civil Engineers. It’s controlled by nature and the scale is unpredictable.
‘As we all know, Indonesia is indeed in the ring of fire. The study of earthquakes has existed for more than 50 years, but still many buildings are damaged. It motivates me to dive deeper into this topic’
A magnitude 6.9 quake struck Lombok Island on 5 August this year killing more than 500 people, injuring more than a 1,000, damaged tens of thousands of homes and displaced several hundred thousand people. In her position as a Seismic Engineer, Mendy traveled to *Gili Air which is positioned at the start of the string of 3 Gili islands closest to the Lombok mainland to offer her professional help.
Mendy’s work on Gili Air Island
At first, I went to Gili Air specifically to support the Gili Shark Foundation office, to assess and retrofit the building which was damaged by the 6.9 magnitude earthquake. This association is a partner of BKKPN (one of the divisions of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries). It is focused on promoting shark conservation and collecting data from around the three Gili Islands. Besides this office, there were also schools and mosques that needed to be fixed. Retrofitting the Gili Air will help the recovery circumstances, which has had an impact on tourism also affecting the local economy.
Can you share with us what you saw in Lombok in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes?On our way from the airport to Gili Air, we passed through Mataram. It looked fine in some areas, but as we drove to the northern part of Lombok, badly damaged buildings were the only view. It was so sad to see that. There was one area that were full of tents for the victims. Some people stayed in tents in front of their houses regardless the minor damages. They were still traumatised and refused to stay inside a building.
What I am doing is nothing compared with what other volunteers have been doing. Here are some pictures of the damaged buildings in Gili Air.
How are the people of Lombok coping with the devastation to their homes and community?
By the end of August this year people have started to return to their villages. Some of them back to their broken homes, while some still stay at the campsite. It really depends on the area. In the Gilis, people are in good spirits to bounce back. In some remote villages in mainland Lombok, they really rely on help and donations. So many have not only lost their homes, but also their jobs since Rinjani national park will be closed for a year. Mount Rinjani has been closed to visitors following a 29 July earthquake that killed 16 people, triggered landslides and stranded hundreds of tourists on the mountain.
In your opinion, how might small communities prepare better for natural disasters like which occurred in Lombok?
It needs to start with education through school and government. Clearly, people of Lombok lack natural disaster knowledge and mitigation. It must be a continuous education-practice from primary school to university. It is insane how people here are believing so many fake news/hoax stories.
Mendy’s home and design brand MORTIER
I got into handmade goods in a very unplanned way. I am first a structural and earthquake engineer with no sense of art. I love to enjoy the artworks, but I never imagined my self as a maker. However, I am very happy to have this fun business. I don’t consider Mortier as my job, since I am doing it as a method to refresh my brain. For me, Mortier is a fun activity which surprisingly can earn some money.
‘I got into handmade goods in a very unplanned way.
I am a first a structural and earthquake engineer with no sense of art. I love to enjoy the artworks, but I never imagined my self as a maker’
What are you working on right now with your handmade Mortier products?
Most of our products are planters. Our true vision is a whole spectrum of home decor products. Besides planters, we are also developing other designs for lamps, coasters, clocks, even furniture. In terms of material, we don’t only focus on a single type. We don’t want to use cement anymore, now we explore environmental-friendly material.The name MORTIER came about in the beginning when I was using cement as the main material. Cement + Sand + Water is Morter. Morter in French is MORTIER.
Where did the idea to create this brand come from?
A good friend of mine asked for some decorations for her bedroom made from concrete because she knew that I was a civil engineer. So, I did it and posted it on market place and even joined a local university bazaar. Just for fun. Surprisingly, we got a good response. We got orders and so on until now.
How many hours a week do you spend on Mortier? Do you design and make them yourself? What materials do you use?
Besides Mortier, I am an office goer. I am a structural and earthquake engineer in a company. It’s a 9-5 Mon-Fri type of job. Usually I concentrate on Mortier after office hours, around 6-9 pm. Mostly Saturday, I do the brainstorming for the designs. Sunday? It’s a refreshing day!
I collaborate with a friend and do all the designing, while I have my brother and an assistant to run the production.
We started by using cement as the main material. It is cheap and easy to source. But then, I went to a talk show that pointed out the negative aspects of cement. Since then, we researched eco-friendly material. Currently, we are using ‘Jesmonite’. We must import it due to unavailability in Indonesia. It is 2-3 times more expensive but the quality and results are much better, and it is kinder to the environment.
What is your best seller?
Mortier Signature planters. It is a planter that looks like a normal cylinder but not quite like it. It is not a perfect circle That is the shape of our logo which is an imperfect an circle.
The philosophy of the design shows perfectly ‘imperfection’. All Mortier products are handmade, each and every one of them. There is no identical product. They are all unique in their own way.
3 words to describe your Jakarta?
Traffic, Diverse, Complete
What are your favourite Apps? Pinterest
What’s your favourite Indonesian book? Supernova
What’s your favourite Indonesian Movie? Dilema / Band ? Efek Rumah Kaca/ Singer ? Adhitia Sofyan
Who is your favourite Indonesian artist? / creative? Whisnutama
Where’s your favourite place to eat in Jakarta? Sup sum sum Pak Bustaman
Tea, Coffee or Juice? And where? Teh Tarik, Sabang 16
Where do you go to relax in Jakarta? I prefer my own bedroom to relax. But I will recommend Bersih sehat Reflexology to other people :p
What’s Jakarta’s best kept secret? Thousand Islands
Please finish these sentences:
Every visitor to Jakarta should eat : Martabak, especially the coklat-kacang-wijen martabak!
Every visitor to Jakarta should visit : National Monument of Jakarta (MONAS)
Every visitor to Jakarta should experience : Car free day
What’s your favourite place to visit in Indonesia? : Bangka Belitung Islands. Good food, good views!
Thank you for your time Mendy and for sharing your story.
*Kenalkan – introducing
How our readers can follow you and your work on social media?
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Words : Liz McClean Photography : a journey bespoke and Mortier