Nirvana Magazine, December 2002

TEMPTING TRADITIONS
Architecture of Bali:
A Source Book of Traditional and Modern Forms.

Archipelago Press/Wijaya Words, 2002. 224 pp.

By: Gregory Churchill



Gregory Churchill perused this recently publised reference work, equally at home on the drawing board as the coffee table

At the entrance to the temple complex in the village of Kepawon, there is an elegant candi bentar, an split gate of red bricks, tapered to a point on each side of the passageway in strict adherence to an ancient architectural tradition tracing back to the Hindu kingdom of Majapahit in 15th century Java. 
Twenty meters or so in front of this gate, alongside the main road to Denpasar, stands another gate recently built with gray volcanic stone blocks decorated with geometric ornaments of cement – a brash statement that this village is as prosperous and as modern as any other village on the road. 
Now, it transpires that the village elders plan to demolish the old temple gate and replace it with a larger, more modern, gate in the new road-side style, to the consternation of many villagers proud of their handsome red gate. 

A few miles to the south, in Kuta, at the crater left by the October 12th bombing, another controversy rages over how to define modern Bali – should new bars be built where the old bars once stood or should the site be made a shrine to peace, – should the new buildings be ultra-modern, since the world is watching, or should they be kept traditional to help Bali recapture its soul.
In the midst of these controversies over form and style and meaning, the voice of Made Wijaya resounds with increasing clarity and growing authority.  On November 23rd at the Neka Art Museum in Ubud, Made Wijaya launched his new  book, Architecture of Bali: A Source Book of Traditional and Modern Forms. 
Over twenty-five years in the making, this magnificent work combines a reverence for the continuity of Balinese traditions with an openness to innovation and local genius and will, no doubt, inspire all future architects in Bali, whether they are building village gates or resurrecting tourist havens. 
In 1982, Made Wijaya photocopied and distributed a folio size compilation of his early research and photography on Balinese building traditions, entitled Balinese Architecture: towards an encyclopaedia.  In the intervening years, he continued to collect and compile notes, drawings and photographs on the architectural wisdom of the Balinese, while at the same time earning a reputation as one of the world’s most creative designers in tropical architecture and landscaping.

In 1999, Made Wijaya published Tropical Garden Design, which, unlike the scores of tropical garden picture books that had preceded it, contained a series of detailed tutorials on the conception, design and execution of gardens in the tropics.  Friends told him he had given too much away – spilling his trade secrets to an ungrateful audience. 
But these tutorials marked the emergence of Made Wijaya – the guru, master of words and maestro of design, who not only photographs the beauty of the tropics for all to see, but also holds our hand and guides us, step by step, towards understanding how such beauty is constructed and maintained. 
In Architecture of Bali, Made Wijaya continues to teach us how the buildings of Bali, which so many have found so exquisitely beautiful and inspiring, are put together, piece by piece.  With a rigor like an architectural plan itself, his latest work leads us through villages, into courtyards and onto pavilions, showing us the essential elements of each and the effects of various materials and techniques.
In each lesson, he reminds us of the need to integrate every structure with the surrounding environment and to pay homage to local traditions and materials.  Into this tapestry, he winds the threads of his own personal quest for the origins of Balinese culture, pointing out to us the influences of Java and China, borrowings from the Dutch and the art deco movement, and remote sources of forms and motifs in India and Tibet.

Here and there, the playfulness he is known for in his Stranger in Paradise columns and Poleng magazine shines through and we find ourselves chuckling at the foibles and faux pas of would-be architects and designers. 
But his openness to respectful innovation leads him to be inclusive, welcoming the attempts of many other architects and chroniclers to join in the ongoing elaboration and development of Balinese architecture and pointing out to us the genius in their results.  Although more beautiful than many coffee-table books, this book belongs on the draftsman’s table or the planner’s desk. 
By leading us feature by feature to designs that will fit authentically with Balinese culture and landscapes, it serves as a manual for any aspiring architect, home-builder or hotel planner. 
When so many young architects in Southeast Asia, weary of the blight of eclectic ornamentation spreading over their cities, have turned to glass, steel and concrete, designing buildings that look like plastic cubes in a modular closet ad, it is refreshing to receive Made Wijaya’s lessons on how clean modern lines can be achieved using traditional elements and materials. 
His careful consideration of each structure and material used in Balinese architecture also serves as a model for the documenting of an unwritten tradition previously passed on only by craftsmen.  Hopefully, students of other architectural traditions in Indonesia will be inspired to document their own local buildings and styles using this book as a template.

Judging from the scope of Made Wijaya’s early photocopied work and tracing his development as a teacher through his work on garden design and this latest tour de force on Balinese architecture, he undoubtedly has more lessons in store for us. This book will certainly not be his last. 

Made Wijaya has become the most knowledgeable arbiter of style in Bali; Architecture of Bali teaches us how he does it.

 

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