All well and good, but given humankind’s propensity to make the same mistakes over and again, what makes him believe we’ll continue with these good habits? “I think in 2040 we’ll look back at 2020 as the year when the Titanic shifted [course, averting disaster],” he says. “It was already happening before Covid, with the kids protesting in the streets. Social media had a hand in that, because you can share information much more easily. It used to be that you were relying on a journalist to get the story out there. Now, you just do a post and it gets shared.”
As much as he believes in the power of social media, Bakker believes in the next generation even more. He takes his particular brand of inspiration into schools, where he finds the greatest concern coming from students in the upper high school years. “They blame us for screwing it up,” he says. “I’m trying to tap into that sense of rebellion and I want to inspire them to think that the solution lies with them. I say to kids, ‘Don’t protest. There’s no point in protesting because politicians don’t force change. You force change.’ Politicians will never do anything until they know that the people want it.”
With so many projects happening at once, where does Bakker find the time and energy? “I work efficiently. I’m zero waste in time as well,” he says. Then, turning the question around, he adds: “I can’t imagine how exhausting it must be to do something that you hate. I just love the creative process and I don’t do any project without pushing myself creatively. If someone comes to me, a commercial company, for example, and says they want me to do this, I’ll go away and think about what I want to push creatively, to do something that I haven’t done before. I crave that.”
Hard as it is to believe, Bakker can’t understand why the world sees him as a disruptor. “A disruptor is some dude who invented a new technology,” he says. “All I do is harp on about ideas that are often quite old. I read things that were written 150 years ago and discover that it’s what I’m into right now.”
It is a theme he returns to often. “We know all the answers,” he says. “There are plenty of solutions. They’re all there. And none of this stuff is my idea. I’ve just brought a whole bunch of stuff together. Some of these ideas were created 2,000 years ago. Sometimes I just stumble on it from a different point of view and ask, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’ ”
It turns out that Joost Bakker may be human after all, or so he says. At the end of last year, he reached a level of exhaustion that prompted him to step back a little and promise to take things easier in 2023. As you might expect, Bakker’s idea of relaxing is anything but relaxing. This year, he will, for example, reimagine and refit the Greenhouse and install it on the Mornington Peninsula where he hopes 50,000 schoolchildren will visit it each year. And he plans to build many more homes. “For the first time, I want to do something commercial: a flat-pack house,” he says. “I really want to have the world’s first certified-organic housing system, so that you know you’re in a non-toxic home where the air’s clean.”
He’s also been asked by Geelong Grammar School to prepare a sustainable master plan for its iconic Timbertop campus at the foothills of the Victorian Alps and to build five classrooms for Woodleigh School, south of Melbourne. At Woodleigh, Bakker plans to add a complete future-food, water-positive system using aquaponics and all-natural building materials, all while aiming for energy and food self-sufficiency.
Between all this, he plans to again reimagine the David Jones flower show, continue to visit schools, take on a sustainability project in London and maybe even redesign Ye’s home. Oh, and in his spare time he will remodel his mother’s home, grow flowers and create larger-than-life art installations, with enough time left over to challenge us all to be our best selves and keep pushing alternative ideas until they become mainstream.
“We haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s possible,” he says. “Melbourne or Sydney could be dripping with food if we just looked at all the potential surfaces, catchments and the amount of people who are under-utilised. We can create such amazing places.”
He thinks for a moment. “I believe in utopia, I really do.”