Few names in the world of hotel design are as recognizable as Jean-Michel Gathy. Indeed, the cultured, 61-year-old Belgian has designed for most major super-luxury hotel brands.
But his latest endeavor could just trump them all. With 150 cliff-top hectares to play with on Bali’s southernmost tip, Gathy has conceived a multi-faceted resort — called Bukit Pandawa Resort & Golf — that seizes on its location in the most artful of ways.
Here, Denniston Architects’ principal designer talks about what drew him to Bukit Pandawa, why it will be unlike any other resort project in the world, why he would never eat an entire box of chocolate (seriously) and more ...
Q: How did the opportunity to masterplan Bukit Pandawa Resort & Golf come about?
A: 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. We’re talking 2 kilometers of seafront, with land sloping perfectly down toward a 70-meter-high cliff overlooking a beach and the ocean.
I thought the topography was hospitable for development as every square foot was usable, which is extremely unusual. Also, I could see there would be no major inconvenience, with the rolling hills set between the coastal road and the ocean. No Interruptions, and only glorious views.
Q: What are the key components?
A: There will ultimately be four hotels, including the first Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bali, which our company, Denniston, designed. There will also be a Waldorf Astoria, a Swissôtel and another world-class hotel we cannot divulge the name of yet. They will all be ‘linked’ by a championship-caliber golf course that is already open.
Q: Why is having something that links the hotels together important?
A: With any sprawling property like this, you must have what I call a vector. And the vector here is the 18-hole, executive golf course, which you’ll be able to see from the front or back of the hotels. The ownership group hired an American golf course designer, Bob Moore (of JMP Golf in California), who did a magnificent job in fine tuning our routing concept into an extraordinary, all-par-3 golf design that you are able to play within two hours instead of the four or five hours a standard golf course requires. I think for many people, that’s a very nice amenity.
Then, when night falls and the ocean goes dark, you’ll experience the full effect of a lighting system that is simply remarkable. The developers hired a world-class lighting consultant — Flaming Beacon from Australia — to implement a lighting scheme that will serve both the hotel closer to the cliff and create an extraordinary foreground decor for The Residences. You will not have a high-rise building impeding the view for The Residences. You will have interplay between the 88, one-level room pavilions and nine hectares of tropical landscape.
Q: What other features will Bukit Pandawa possess?
A: 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 proudly along the cliff’s edge and relatively close to the Swissôtel. The village will have absolutely no influence on any of the hotels, though. We’ll have higher density in one corner — but still low density compared to most projects in the world — and lower density as you move away from the village and especially at the other end of the property where a 43-room boutique hotel is to be located. 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.
Q: How did you manage to fully utilize the land’s potential?
A: One of the ways to fully utilize a piece of land is to use topography intelligently. When you design a property where you want every square foot to be maximized, 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 meters of the cliff in certain places. So you drop 20 meters in the front and lift 20 meters in the back, and what you have done is increased by 40 meters the difference in level between the front and the back of the property. This makes for magnificent benefits in terms of views.
Q: That’s incredible.
A: Yes, because it gives everyone a perfect view. We have designed in such a way that each room or villa is five meters above the one in front. So, really, everyone will feel this great sense of privacy.
there are enormous dynamics in the way the lighting is perceived from The Residences.
Q: So there is privacy, and yet transparency.
A: Indeed. There is a transparency throughout the site. We were able to play around at ground level with bushes, small trees, frangipanis, etc. — elements that give you lateral privacy. We have these two languages, if you will — ground level, where you live and have privacy from one room to another, and the privacy is up to five meters high and therefore never disturbs the resident behind you; and, the volume and drama of the site created by the palm trees, which we have selected to be as high as we can.
Q: How have you incorporated Balinese style into this project?
A: 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. If you make me eat the box, I would vomit. It’s just too much!
Q: So what, then, is the right amount of ‘Bali’?
A: We have reached a time in Bali where we have to start distilling Balinese architecture a little better. So what we’ve done is kept and respected all the values of Balinese culture — the ceremony of the bath, the respect for the head of the village, the sequences of entry in the courtyard, the type of double doors, etc. But we’ve used them in a contemporary fashion.
All of the hotels will be extremely respectful of Balinese values and culture. But it is 2017, and we have to have a little bit of a touch from today. We all need our high-speed Internet, a proper shower, etc. So we’ve made sure that the softness of our developed life is included. 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.
Q: How has working with PT. Bali Ragawisata (the developer) benefited this project?
A: There are lots of good developers out there who put together fantastic schemes. I work with many of them, and I love many of them. I tend to draw off the personality of the developer. We become friends, and that’s quite extraordinary. But on a professional basis, I have seldom met someone who would agree, for example, to cut 20 meters of cliff to support my vision. Tjian An would call me and say, “We are over-budget for this or that. What can we do?” In other words, he would ask me to help and not tell me what to do.
Q: It’s a value-for-money proposition.
A: Exactly. For me, that is the secret of a successful and intelligent developer. It’s not just about money. It’s about value for money. If you become too obsessed with money, you become a market-driven product. At Bukit Pandawa, we have become a product-driven product, thanks to the attitude of the Ling Brothers, led by Tjian An. They understand we should be product-driven. It’s intelligent to do that. Because if you spend, say, $1,000 and you make $1 million, well that’s a cheap $1,000. But if you spend $10 and lose $10, it’s expensive dollars. It’s basic to say that, but product-driven is the secret they understand, and for that I admire them. They have passed it on to their management team, which has been acting accordingly.
Q: Sounds like a match made in heaven?
A: We’ve got a great relationship. We’re always working together and we value each other’s opinion. They understand the importance of collaboration, whether it involves the golf course, the hotels, the real estate or the temple even. They understand the value of the temple, not financially but as a symbol of high and culturally rich standards. They even helped to improve the access road and the temple itself. So we have now this gorgeous temple and they even rebuilt the road to it. It upgrades the standard of the entire property.