Bali Architecture At The Crossroads

Bali has been labelled many things tropical paradise, island of the gods, an idyllic Shangri la, and more but never before have such words as “urban”, “conurbation”, “traffic clogged” and “busy” seemed appropriate. Earlier writers have tended to wax lyrical about Bali’s ruralism, its rice field landscapes, its “otherness”. They’ve discussed its largely intact culture, its traditional architecture, mores and religious practices and its other wordliness that makes such a refreshing contrast with much of the rest of the world.
Rarely has it been referred to in terms of building booms, urbanisation and pollution. Commercialism, maybe, but certainly not rampant consumerism.

That seems to be changing now. Many of the mangroves and rice fields have disappeared in the Denpasar, Sanur and Seminyak areas, being replaced by highways and buildings. Ubud is no longer a sleepy artists’ colony; it sprawls ever outwards. And many of Bali’s sacred spots around its ancient temples have seen large, commercial developments in recent years.
Before this all sounds too depressing, it should be noted that there are still plenty of spaces on the island that continue to follow a quiet rhythm away from the madding crowd, as it were. Kintamani’s slopes are still cool, pinescented and sweet; the volcanoes are largely untouched. Much of the island’s interior is still jaw-droppingly beautiful with undulating rice terraces and the north, east and west coasts (if you travel far enough) are fairly undisturbed.

But, developed and developing, it is. Two previous books, Bali Modern and Bali Houses, Iooked at the changing face of Bali’s increasingly international architectural offerings, and, in many ways, this book continues the journey. All the structures featured herein have been built post millennium, and all represent to some degree the continuing modernist trend. Whether it is encapsulated in a restaurant, a private villa, a mini-hotel, a club, a garden extate or a residential home is irrelevant.
Yesterday’s primitive thatched huts are increasingly being replaced by large hotels, resorts, private villa estates and sophisticated homes that in many cases would not be out of place in more urban surrounds. They employ a certain sophistication in building techniques and materials, and the interiors are more cosmopolitan or designer authentic than rice field ethnic. This is undoubtedly a major attraction for the more discerning vacationer seeking to rent a villa for a tropcial vacation.

Certainly, Bali leads the tropical market in exclusive private villa rentals, but there is another market that is growing even faster: that of the smaller “village” where a series of almost identical rental villas sits cheek by jowl on a fairly small plot of land. Architecturally, these are often fairly “urban” in style and they cater to the growing market from both within Indonesia and from other Asian nationals, such as Singaporeans, Malaysians, Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese and the like.
This market segment is, for the most part, represented by a fair number of stereotyped and standardized units that are less “tropical” than their predecessors. People are attracted to the idea of a relaxing long weekend or week in Bali, but they don’t want to leave their creature comforts behind. Hence, the number of urban box-like residences that are architecturally less creative and more utilitarian in functionality continues to grow. Such homes are also characterised by an increasingly homogenized style of interior design that features furnishings from the must-have imported brands now available island-wide. The general look is more business-like, perhaps a little more in the style of Asian apartment living.

Whatever one thinks about this trend, and the types of architecture it is producing, the island still continues to conceive and construct some buildings that are architecturally innovative, forward-thinking and, indeed, beautiful. For the main part, this book showcases a selection of private residences, but there are also a few public places that merit inclusion. Each is different in style: some retain links with the early tropical forms so beloved of the traditionalists, while others tend to be cleaner, more pared down, even minimalist. There’s also the retro look (harking back to the past but still firmly rooted in the present), the glass-and-steel metropolitan configuration, and the updated rustic trend.
For the most part, the silhouettes tend to be sleeker than those featured in the past. There’s a new sharpness, especially in the commercial venues, that mirrors Bali’s more mercantile outlook. As the island attracts more short-stay sophisticates and less long-term dream-seekers, the environs shift accordingly.

All the properties featured have been selected because of their architectural creativity and their un-hackneyed interior design schemes; they are the perfect repositories not only for the new wave of furniture, furnishings and artworks that continues to be developed and manufactured in Bali, but also for the international materials and brands that are now available. In addition, they are representative of the type of indoor-outdoor living we have come to associate with the island. It could be argued that they epitomise the true essence of tropical living.
Complementing their surrounds and inviting views of ocean, jungle or rice terrace inside, they are, without exception, built from natural, yet increasingly refined, materials and furnished with a cool eye. Even though they may be more complex than their earlier counterparts, they still allow Bali’s environment to take centre stage.

In some ways, Bali is at a crossroads. On the one had, there is the demand for globalized, standardized products, on the other there is a group of tropical visionaries creating ever more artistic offerings.
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