A Belgian with designs on Bali

Renowned hotel designer Jean-Michel Gathy takes a unique approach with the latest project, Bukit Pandawa Resort & Golf.
by Bukit Pandawa

As the masterplanner and designer of several components at Bukit Pandawa Resort & Golf, Belgian architect Jean-Michel Gathy has the chance to put his stamp on Bali. Few names in the world of hotel design are as recognisable as Jean- Michel Gathy. Indeed, the 61-year- old Belgian has designed for most major super-luxury hotel brands. But his latest endeavor could just trump them all. With 150 clifftop hectares to play with on Bali’s southernmost tip, Gathy has conceived a multi-faceted resort — Bukit Pandawa Resort & Golf.Gathy, Denniston Architects’ principal designer, talks about what drew him to Bukit Pandawa, why it will be unlike any other resort project in the world, and why he would never eat an entire box of chocolates.

How did the opportunity to masterplan Bukit Pandawa Resort & Golf come about?
A few years ago, a gentleman by the name of Tjian An (President/ Director of Bukit Pandawa Resort & Golf’s ownership group, PT Bali Ragawisata) came to me and said, “We have 150 gorgeous hectares on the south coast of Bali, and we would like for you to come and see it.” So I did, and I adored it.

What are the key components?
There will be four hotels, including the first Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bali, which our company, Denniston Architects, designed. There will also be a Waldorf Astoria, a Swissotel and another world-class hotel we cannot divulge the name of yet. They will all be ‘linked’ by a championship-calibre golf course that is already open. And on the highest part of the property, you’ll have The Residences at Mandarin Oriental Bali.

What other features will Bukit Pandawa possess?
There will also be a free-standing small village near the Swissôtel Bali, which is designed to be more interactive and lively and young and fun. The Waldorf Astoria will be located along the cliff’s edge and relatively close to the Swissôtel.The furthest east corner of the property is adjacent to the Pura Dhang Kahyangan Gunung Payung Temple, one of Bali’s most magnificent and revered temples.

“These properties are sexy and slick in design, but they are all inherently Balinese


How did you manage to fully utilise the land’s potential?
One of the ways to fully utilise a piece of land is to use topography intelligently. When you design a property where you want every square foot to be maximised, you have to have a gorgeous layout or architectural design, but the topography is what actually gives you the edge.To the credit of the owners, they understood that. I suggested that we cut into the cliff in the front so we could fill and lift the back of the site, and they agreed. So from land that was gently sloping, we now have land that is quite steep. We actually cut 20 metres of the cliff in certain places. So you drop 20 metres in the front and lift 20 metres in the back, and what you have done is increased by 40 metres the difference in level between the front and the back of the property.

How have you incorporated Balinese style into this project?
This is the thing. There are so many hotels in Bali, and so many have the same sorts of design elements — such as the thatched roof, because obviously, it is so Balinese.But when you do too much of something...well, let me just explain it like this: I like chocolate. But when I have my coffee, I have just one piece of chocolate, not 10 pieces. It’s just too much!

So what, then, is the right amount of ‘Bali’?
These properties are very sexy and slick in terms of design, but they are all inherently Balinese. After all, you don’t come here to feel like you’re in London.The landscape, the interior, the furniture, the architecture — all of it has been considered with respect and in line to what defines Bali.

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