Design on Bali : Less is More

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Keeping up with the latest contemporary trends, architectural design on Bali is of course all about minimalism. Or at least, that’s what everybody building a new villa on Bali seems to talk about. Because less is more, you know? Modern minimalist architecture may be trendy, but how does that combine with the architectural traditions known to the island? I discussed these and other questions with one of Bali’s young and emerging architects: Made Dharmendra.

Melasti day. Ceremonial processions block the streets as I am on my way to meet Made in his Denpasar office. Today the annual washing of the temple implements takes place, just a few days before the biggest day of the year on Bali, Nyepi Day, the holy day of silence. I am happy to see that beautiful Balinese traditions, like this one, are very much alive. And so are mine I’m afraid: I will be fashionably late for my appointment.

“My philosophy is to combine local traditions and modern design”, Made takes off as I settle into his modest office. “The traditional Balinese style of architecture is beautiful, but nowadays only the well-off can actually afford it. Land is scarce and so are materials. Of course, as a Balinese and architect, I am afraid that this type of architecture will slowly disappear. But I am realistically optimistic about the future. I think it is up to architects like myself, to keep combining modern architectural design with the traditional one of the island.”

Made Dharmendra, passionate as he speaks about his work, is mentioned as one of the 13 emerging Indonesian architects in the book 50 Indonesian Architects + Emergings by Imelda Akmal. A few years ago, he won an International Design Competition with an Asian Water Villa made of bamboo.

Would he describe himself as a minimalist? “Well I just think I am an architect. And what is minimalism really? Minimalism is often referred to as reducing an object to its essentials. Putting it that way, I do have a lot of designs that could qualify as minimalistic, but you could also refer to the local flavours I put into every design. Balinese architecture is about materials, structure and space. These are the things that are part of my philosophy and define my identity as an architect.”

That identity was formed by early childhood experiences, watching his grandfather go about his work as a constructor on Bali, and his own experiences as a young architect working overseas. As a fresh graduate from ITS in Surabaya, Made got a chance to go abroad to work for several companies. He helped design luxury tourist resorts on the Maledives and enjoyed the futuristic modernism of Singapore.

“My work has brought me to a lot of places. But then, I realized, there is no place like home. I am really comfortable here with my family and in my village. And if I have to go somewhere far away for work, I can easily do that from here.”

Next, we talk about trends. For those who have missed it: this year’s architectural trend is minimalist green. But what is that supposed to mean? “Well, rather than simply creating a garden in a house, this trend refers to buildings that are sustainable and environmentally friendly,” Made explains. “But sometimes the concept of green is just a facade, a selling point, so to say. Green design is a good philosophy, but using recycled materials and solar panels for example, is still quite expensive to do.”

However, being creative in how you design something can enhance a building’s  “environmental friendliness”, too. And again, integrating local traditions can be helpful.

“In fact sustainablity really isn’t new to Balinese design. In a sense, that is what Balinese architecture has always done: using rapidly renewable materials that were locally available and building houses in such a way that they contained a good indoor air quality and a friendly climate, even during the humid heat.”

So does modern minimalism architecture combine with Balinese traditions? Well, I am optimistic: just like Balinese people always accepted outside influences, modern architecture and Balinese local traditions will prove to get along. For that matter, Made Dharmendra will definitely do his part.

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Ed Caffin lives and works in Amsterdam, where he teaches psychology and communication. A born traveller, he is currently based in Indonesia from where he travels through Asia, writing and blogging about his experiences. To contact him email edcaffin@yahoo.com