Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, September 2003)


Last month I wrote on the rise of the ‘Neatnik’ designers in regional architecture; neatniks are the Zen warriors whose buildings look like items from a Finnish Office Equipment catalogue.
This month I’d like to feature two Bali-bred architects of foreign extraction, who, in their ‘Bali Style’ work, have shown that decoration in architecture is not dead.

Mauritius, 2 August 2003: A visit to see Bill Bensley’s latest Bali Style spectacular - The Oberoi Hotel, on the North coast of Dodo-land
Mr. P.R.S. Oberoi, the owner of the prestigious Oberoi group, has long had a love affair with Bali and with Bali-based design. His late father, the group’s founder, spent many hours in the gardens of the legendary Bali Oberoi Hotel, entranced by Balinese garden style.
In the late  1990s, Mr. Biki, as he is affectionately known, embarked on a major empire-building exercise and constructed four immaculate ’boutique palace hotels’: The Udaivilas in Udaipur, the Amanvilas in Agra, the Rajvilas in Jaipur and The Oberoi, Mauritius. The first three are heroic in their adherence to Indian architectural and landscape design and are glamorous beyond belief. It is in the fourth hotel, however, a Bali style hybrid masterminded by Uber-fashionista Bill Bensley, that The Oberoi has made design history.
Now, the Stranger had a tiny role in the rise and rise of Bill Bensley - formerly a designer with Belt Collins International in Singapore, for it was the Stranger who first invited Bensley to Bali, in 1989, to work on a private house project. This talented Californian quickly hoovered up all the local design tips and was soon chosen by his company to work on the pivotal new fun pool at the old Bali Hyatt in Sanur. This project was to be his first major Majapahit ruinscape, modelled, ever so slightly, on the major Majapahit ruinscape I had done for the Hyatt Surabaya in 1985. On this project Bensley started a relationship with a team of Balinese artisans from Sanggar Linang Sayang, a company  based near Borobudur Temple in Central Java. This team has stayed with the Bensley Design Group (founded, with Bangkok-based architect Lek Bunnag's) throughout the group’s meteoric artistic and commercial rise; the Novotel Lombok, the Novotel Benoa (Bali), the Marriott Jakarta, the Regent Chiang Mai, the Swadagon Rangoon, the Grand Hyatt Jakarta, the Sheraton Sanya and many, many others. With time, the Balinese sculptors have been supplemented by Thais, Indians and Egyptians as Bensley’s work changes continents, if not moods.
Bensley cites two great influences in his career:  Maria Montez and Cecile B. De Mille. Ms. Montez (“Egypt, Egypt, always Egypt. What about me?”) was obviously the inspiration for Bensley’s many vestal virgins lounging by Jacuzzis with  chlorinated water oozing from every orifice; the great showman De Mille can be seen in Bensley’s triumphal use of torchères and Ben Hur braziers.
Bensley grew up in Anaheim, Disneyland’s hometown, and it shows in the wholesomeness of his work. “Aggressively sensual,” one pundit called them
“Bali Style on Steroids,” I like to think!
In their Mauritius masterpiece, Biki, Bensley and Bunnag's have exhibited extra-terrestrial passion in creating a fantasy Balinese village- scape that is ethnic.  One sees in the architecture Madagascan, Mayan, Pharaohan, Zulu and Tongan touches; The end result is theatrical, romantic and, most importantly, relaxed. The interiors by H.L. Lim, the grand seigneur of coastal gothic, feature a museum quality collection of South African artefacts beautifully displayed. Lim’s touch has worked wonders; his trademark dark earthy tones and muted hues are a noble spouse to Bensley’s and Bunnag’s polychromatic metrosexual hysteria. The garden art – variously Central Javanese, Balinese-inspired, Neolithic, Malay, African, or just plain Fred Flintstone (the villa gates) all spring from the deft hand of Bensley and his Balinese and Thai crews.
Full marks!
Hats off!
Towel thrown i!

15 August 2000, ‘Tirtha Bali’ Wedding Complex, Uluwatu, Bali: Grounds Kent Architects (Bali) pull of another marvel on the Bukit Peninsula.

It is 15 years since Bali-lovers Martin Grounds and Jack Kent of G.K.A. Perth and Bali, started their heavenly Four Seasons Resort in Jimbaran. It has been much copied around the world.
After this project GKA introduced two young Australian architects Glenn Parker and Guy Morgan to their team and both have worked wonders in the design world during their stay on the island of the gods; to start the century, Morgan did a series of sexually ambivalent F & B and home wares outlets. Parker was the site architect on the Spa renovation at the Four Seasons Jimbaran (voted world’s best resort spa by Conde Nast again this year) and was soon designing dream homes for a glamorous clientele which included I Kadek Wiranatha, owner of Air Paradise International, and Jakartan Coal Baron, Tim Cottew. This month sees the opening of the stunning Bali-Modern ‘Tirtha Bali’ wedding complex, designed by Parker with landscape by P.T. Wijaya Tribwana and elegant interiors by Ratina Moegiyono.
It is an extraordinary piece of architecture by any standards – Bali-Modern or Australian-Tropical – and will be much copied! The complex’s crisp pavilions blend seamlessly with the cliff-side location and the Indian Ocean beyond.
There is nothing Balinese about the jewel-like centrepiece, which is a glass and metal ‘chapel’, but its bold positioning in the terraced water courts reminds one of the grand meru shrines in Bali’s terraced temples, Pura Besakih and Pura Batur.
The interiors of the complex are inspired by the artefacts and ancient forms of the pre-Hindu Bali Aga mountain culture. The landscape is restrained with sculptures by Made Cangker and Dewa Japa. An ornamental gate to the wedding court, realized by Dewa Oka, was inspired by the architecture of both Cirebon West Java and the unique ancient village of Sawangan, near Uluwatu.
Tragically, Sawangan was wiped out by the developers of the Hotel Nikko but it lives on in the memories and work of a few old hand designers.

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“We are judged not by what we take in this world,” said one philosopher recently, “but by what we leave.”


P.S. As we go to press the front pages of all the world’s major newspapers are featuring photos of the demented Amrozi, "the :Smiling Bali-bomber" two thumbs up (left) as he receives his death sentence. "Sick" say the Balinese. I mean, even Martin Bormann showed remorse at the Nuremburg trials!!

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