Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, April 2000)

Neo-Fascist or Militant Hindu?
The original Garuda Wisnu Kencana Park Design


So much has happened since I last wrote on this subject in the Sunday Bali Post in 1979. Despite the island now being swamped with ribbon development of an art shop kind, modernist gems do keep popping up. A new book "Bali Modern" (Periplus) celebrates new age marvels with a tense architectonic text, but doesn’t go near doing the subject justice.
Balinese culture has always loved the latest trends from overseas. Since the 1970s various indigenous movements have arisen—the "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds " and the "Ghost-train Gothick" the most famous. Recently, under the cover of darkness (the Soeharto years), "Megapolis of Megalomania" began to appear—typified by the GARUDA WISNU KENCANA (photo right), the world’s tallest statue, theme park and convention centre.
Architectural arrogance has reached epidemic proportions in Bali in the last 30 years. Hundreds of Frank Lloyd Wright wannabees have flooded in (where angels feared to tread; and zoning regulations could be bent), and left their footprints on the land. It was the great Krisnamurti who once said: "No matter how great and mighty-seeming a regime—its corruption would always be visible in its-architecture."
Pioneer foreign architects such as Geoffrey Bawa (Batujimbar Estates), Peter Muller (The Oberoi and the Amandari) and Kerry Hill (the Serai and the Amanusa) have spawned disciples like Malaysian Cheong Yew Kuan (Begawan Giri (photo left)), and Jakarta-born Oni Sutaryo (the new Jenggala megastore in Jimbaran Permai). But for every gem there are, tragically, many monsters.
Old hands may moan, but first timers are still regularly entranced by the island’s mix of fast-food and rubber-time—the funkiness and the follies. Where else in the tropics, you may ask, does the Grey Line Bus office look like the Bride of Frankenstein’s ski lodge (top left)? Who shot the sheriff? "Who paid the architect," more like it!

Truly exemplary works of the ever-popular "Going for Baroque" movement continue to pop up, despite the economic downturn. Edifices to architectural inefficiency (no light, no air, no space) seem to be gaining not waning in popularity. "Design something big and then coat it with equal portions of carved brick, black glass and chrome" seems to be the Bali modernists’ design ethic. These ‘concrete carbuncles’ come replete with Bambi-scape bonsai gardens, rows of kneeling maidens and poor drainage. "Let’s promote a City Tour" said Bali’s diplomatic corps last month.
Please don’t.

What does come across, however, in this plethora of the paranormal is the irrepressible spirit of Balinese creativity: a "Treasury of Balinese Kitsch" would be a thick volume indeed. But that’s another column.
The following page showcases a few of the finest gems by the leading lights of the Balinese design world.

This building is often mistaken for the U.S. Embassy
but actually houses delicate ceramics from the house of Jenggala. The building sits proud on a
restrained tropical 'apron'(parking lot) beaconing to all who pass to admire its handsome neo-Deco, two-tone stone facade. This is architect Oni Sutaryo's most ambition work to date, since his giftshop for Ubud heartthrob-photographer-guru Rio Helmi. For the Jenggala showroom the German-trained Sutaryo designed in the"Albert Speer meets Hindu Holiday" tradition with obligatory New-age sloping columns, following in the footsteps of other Ubermench architecture like Kerry Hill and Ed Tuttle (Amankila) i.e.military issue severity in architecture mixed with minimalism in the garden.

Architect Cheong Yu Kuan lists amongst his hobbies Tango-dancing and dried flower arranging. It is therefore not suprising that his architecture is often a mixture of high kicks, and high cozy. In this house for jewellery czar John Hardy, Cheong reworks classic Balinese pavilion style in stretch fabrics and telephone post. The resultant gnome-home is part waterworld part Fred Flinstone. Cheong cut his teeth on the Amanusa Hotel and The Datai, in Malaysia, while still working for Kerry Hill in Singapore. Perth-born Hill is the region's undisputed champion of Balinese Pavilion Style: one imagines Cheong learnt a few tricks, about economy and integrity, from his years with Kerry Hill Architects. in Bali he has blossomed: he stands today as the most innovative interpreter of Balinese traditional architecture(visit Begawan Giri). He is presently working on a number of projects for regional mogul ong Beng Seng.

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