Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, March 2001)

Donald Friend's 1973 painting of Chris Carlisle's beachside bungalow and garden in Batujimbar, Sanur


So much stuff and nonsense has been written about "Bali Style" recently that I'm forced to go public with a renunciation of the movement! Formerly artists with an eye for the excellent-and one thinks here of Walter Spies, Le Mayeur, Jimmy Pandy, Donald Friend - spent time understanding the culture before trying it on for size: the joyous Rustic Charm, Puri Campina, and Amanwannabe architectural movements were defined and nurtured by these pioneers. Talented architects and designers like Peter Muller (Bali Oberoi ), Kerry Hill (Serai), Ed Tuttle (The Amankila), Hadiprana (Bali Intercontinental) and Linda Garland (Handicraft pioneer, herbal suffragette), and Martin Grounds and Jack Kent (Four Season Resort, Jimbaran) all reached their apotheosis after decades as dabblers in Bali Style. Today, Bali-o-philia is a conditions found spread thin across, the tropical world-more of an epidemic than a passing fad.

• • •

Last month I was invited to the Buderim Ginger Festival ("Go Ginger") in Queensland, Australia to talk on tropical Asian garden design. Expecting six housewives in a scout hall, I was confronted with battalions of Bali-o-philes in gold slip-ons (Queensland traditional dress). " Go not forth into the valley of Javanese reproduction furniture" I lectured them "but, yea, verily, remove those Gane?a statues from your bathrooms before you get the piles, and spate your temple umbrellas from the jacuzzi zone. " But, seriously, Bali Style is getting a bad name, like Japanese gardens in the 60's (which ended up under the stairs in bank foyers). For many people a "Bali style" tropical garden means a mallscape i.e. two Cocus palms, a Bali lamp, and three veg . A new book called "Architecture Bali: architectures of welcome," with text by Patrick Bingham-Hall (good photos, pompous archibabble, text riddled with factual errors), has an informative, if tense-making, introduction by award-winning Sanur homeboy star architect Kerry Hill. He writes: "What has emerged is a modern 'Bali Style' as apart from traditional Balinese architecture. Experimentation is rife among the coterie of foreign residents, giving rise to eclectic forms and new materials and I suspect the Balinese themselves derive equal pleasure from this 'other world', beyond the limits of tradition. In my view, this is an acceptable state, perhaps even necessary of a place but also with the creation of new places. The danger lies in pretence to tradition." "PRETENSE TO TRADITION" he says! "Acceptable state"?? " Valid character "?? Has anyone looked out the window of their tour bus lately - Bali Style has gone Ballistic. Now read on:

Walter Spies, 1930

Donald Friend, 1960

Wija Waworuntu, 1970

Peter Muller, 1975

Carole Muller, 1975

Tim Street Porter's wondrous photos of Bali Style houses and gardens fueled the world's appetite for high glamour in the high season throughout the past 30 years. 1990 (Below) The Stranger and photographer writer Tim Street-Porter

Australian Actress Annie Marie Winchester, Putu Sugianta and Terry Stanton, inventor of the big bamboo sofa. 1980

1 January 2001: My beloved sister magazine The Bali Echo, runs a review trashing my latest book. ("At Home in Bali ", five stars on
This is not because they hate this column for trying to be culturally informative, oh no. Nor is it because the book, a light confection with inspired photographs by Isabella Ginannesschi, is intrinsically dull. Without wanting to start a supermarket tabloid war here-fought, perhaps, across the carved and painted homewares aisle from behind sandbags filled with discount coupons?-I must point out that the poor former editor, who couldn't manage to get the title of the book right even, probably felt abused by the plethora of luscious atmospheric images and the provocative text. I mean has anyone ever tried to read any of the other style books?? " At Home in Bali" does not pretend to talk about the buildings or the gardens in a tense academic way but to tell the stories behind the houses, the people, the history, the scandals. Anyway, as I was saying, the history of the Bali Style movement goes back a long way. The early pioneers in the 1930's created the myth of the aesthete gone native, the Bobo, or Bohemian bourgeois, living in rustic splendor. The last masterpiece of this golden era of classic Bali Style was also the first masterpiece of modern Bali Style: Peter Muller's Bali Oberoi (1970) was a stylish adaptation of traditional Balinese architecture for modern western needs. It had a huge impact on many young architects and designers (including this writer) - particularly the innovative garden bathrooms. "The hotel developed as a collection of gradually unfolding spaces " says Bingham-hall in his book " it's a place of discovery-in hindsight, it seems a controlled series of visual events ". Well heaven forbid it should be uncontrolled!! What is it with these architectural historians and all this respect for control and things in rows and tension between members. (No mention, sadly, of the fifteen years I spent battling all the control with artful naturalism.) " My own reading has centered on materiality," says Hill in the book's introduction "and the intrinsic value of one material paying respect to another. This, combined with a pervasive sense of spatial order, is the lesson I have carried elsewhere." But, to be fair, the Balinese sense of spatial order is all pervasive in Balinese architecture and it is something that Kerry has carried forth, like Peter Muller and Paul Rudolf before him, into the wide blue yonder. The building of the Bali Hyatt in Sanur (1973 )defined the start of the Bali's post-modern era: Kerry Hill, Ed Tuttle, Chris Carlisle and this writer( some years later ) all cut their teeth on this seminal project. The "Bali-Style garden", is a hybrid of the Sanur School of gardening for which the Bali Hyatt was a proving ground. (Jimmy Pandy and Donald Friend's gardens (the latter tragically destroyed during the Adrian Zecha renovation ) and the old Tanjung Sari gardens ( by Judith, Tumbelaka Bell and later Tati Wawo-runtu ) were also an inspiration.) With Peter Muller's elegant Amandari in 1990, Bali style architecture, formerly the playground of the romantic, was presented without garnish; it was instantly palatable to the baby-boomers. Developer Zecha insisted on random planting, versus the inspired, the interiors verged on the neurotically bland. But the complex does have a " Japanese-Balinese quality", as Bingham-Hall points out ," a fusion of Muller's two architectural loves." By the time the Four Seasons at Jimbaran came along with its Amandari- inspired villagescapes, half of the island's expatriate homes were full blown Bali Style, derivative of one famous house or another. The Bali Echo's vehement attack on my book perhaps more a cry for help: "Stop the onslaught" they seem to be saying, "for we know not the pearls before the swine, nor the trees amidst the forest " (my Indonesia readers should not attempt to translate this).

Peter Muller's pivotal, seminal Kayu Ayu ( now Bali Oberoi ) on the cover of the latest Bali book. Christoper Carlisle, with hoe, at the ground breaking ceremony for Balian Resort, Tabana

Rio Helmi, 1995


Cristoper Carlisle, with hoe, at the ground breaking ceremony for Balian Resort, Tabanan

10 January 2001: The Real Bali lives on in the north-west.
I travel from Lalang Linga, west of Tabanan , past the still charming villages and countryside of the north-west -Negara, and Menjangan Island National Park?to the heavenly Puri Ganesha hotel in the village of Pemuteran. There, style-maven Diana Von Cranach (now Jero Blantjook) and her husband Gusti Wisnu Wardana have built traditional wantilan villas (two storey halls) on the foreshore of a quiet fisherman's bay. Dolphins frolic at dawn. Gentle masseurs knead away knots (the result of reading too much architectural criticism?) Puri Ganesha's gourmet kitchen whips up Von Granach's trademark dish, Oeufs alla Bismarck. The locals speak and behave locally, the night sky is amazing; even the drive home, via the mountains, is an inspiration. Visit soon.

Back | 1 | 2 | 3 | Next

Subscribe to the Poleng Magazine! Get your hard copy of the diary with large format photos and contributions from some of the island's more talented essay writers, cartoonists and photographers. E-mail your request, and kindly send letters or useful travel tips to: