A Quite Long History of Bali Hotel Architecture Part I: Wija Waworuntu and Donald Friend

radit mahindro
14 min readOct 2, 2020


The tourism industry in Bali had not developed before 1950s. During World War II, it was occupied by the Japanese army. When the war ended, the Indonesian government demanded independence, which was finally realized in 1945. The independence of Bali, as part of Indonesia, also attracted some foreigners with adventurous and open spirit.

Sanur is located in a quiet area in southeastern part of Bali. A small wave of European artists live in this area and even established an art shops and practices. However, the tranquility of the island was broken in 1965 when the Indonesian government built the first international resort hotel, the Bali Beach InterContinental Hotel, funded through the spoils of war in the Japanese colonial era.

Bali Beach InterContinental Hotel in 1970s (now Grand Inna Bali Beach)

The hotel is a 10-storey hotel with air conditioning, which is based on the modern hotel architectural model along the coast of Miami at that time. As soon as the hotel was completed, it caused strong protests from local residents. This building completely offended the local homestays, aesthetics, and traditions.

Local residents protested at the gate of the government office to protest the completion of the hotel, and the Indonesian government had to issue a law, explain and guide-the future hotel buildings cannot exceed the height of the nearby coconut and palm trees. The government vowed to maintain the architectural style and aesthetic traditions of Bali ever since.

When the construction began on the Bali Beach InterContinental Hotel, the management leased four bungalows for their staff at a small housing owned by local businessman, Wija Waworuntu, not too far from the construction site. However, Wija was not a fan of the Bali Beach InterContinental Hotel. His own home, called the Tandjung Sari, was built in 1962 and follows the principles and paradigms of Balinese architecture.

The earlier buildings of the Tandjung Sari were constructed by a team of Balinese craftsmen, headed by I Nyoman Cekog and I Wayan Puger. They worked with very simple tools, and the building were designed largely through conversation. Although drawings of the building exist, the craftsmen who built most of them did not read drawings. Instead, Wija would talk the chief craftsmen through the concept and specifications, walking through the imaginary buildings, drawing doors and windows in the air, and discussing particular weaves of bamboo or mixtures of pigment

In 1967, the unwilling Australian painter Donald Friend traveled to Bali for the first time, and he was immediately fascinated by the charm of Bali. While in Bali, he stayed in a small hotel that is Wija Waworuntu’s Tandjung Sari.

The acquaintance and collision of Wija Waworuntu and Donald Friend has since profoundly affected the development and aesthetics of Bali’s resort hotels for decades to come. After the Bali government issued relevant laws and regulations, Wija thought, why not upgrade my residence to a boutique hotel that truly represents Bali. This idea got a strong response from Donald Friend.

Donald Friend’s interest in architecture and landscape comes from his friendship with Bevis Bawa in 1949. Bevis Bawa is one of Sri Lanka’s most prestigious landscape architects, and of course, he has a more famous younger brother, Geoffrey Bawa.

Since 1957, Donald Friend accepted Bevis Bawa’s invitation to live in his own home in Sri Lanka Brief Garden for a period of time. Donald stayed for four years. He even established his own studio in Brief Garden during that time. During the most productive time in Sri Lanka he fully explored handicrafts, sculptures, paintings, and also began to practice integrated material art. However, his works were very different from the mainstream art aesthetics in Australia at that time and he had not been recognised by the art circle which made him depressed. He decided to continue to travel throughout Southeast Asia.

Getting along with the Bawa brothers fully cultivated Donald’s interest in architecture and landscape, and he began to use this interest to transform Wija’s home. He and Wija started to buy old doors and windows to install on new bungalow buildings of Tandjung Sari, install hand-made clay tiles on the walls, replace floor tiles, arrange artwork in the interior, and so on.

Tandjung Sari quickly became a resort hotel with a very stylish and holiday quality. In countless documents, countless travellers and international publications rated Tanjung Sari as the first boutique hotel with local flavour and style in Southeast Asia, attracting high profiles celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, Ringo Starr, Ingrid Bergman, and Annie Lennox.

One guest, David Robert Jones (David Bowie), was so impressed so that he eventually built a Balinese-style house in Mustique, wrote a song about the beauty of East Bali called “Amplapura”, and requested that his ashes be scattered in Bali.

Tandjung Sari was also a gathering place for expatriates from Sanur and Ubud, who would come for lunch or dinner. Its bar was the inner sanctum. Aman’s founder Adrian Zecha says of the Tandjung Sari, “it was the social centre of the foreign community. You’d go there because everyone else was there. If you needed something — say, to make a phone call or whatever — you’d go to the Tandjung Sari.”

Projects seemed to unfurl from the heart of the Tandjung Sari. Adrian Zecha recalls, “I remember one evening when Wija introduced me to Starr Black and Hans Hoefer, and said, ‘they’re doing this book.’ It was the first guidebook to Bali.”

This was the Apa Guide to Bali. Starr Black was its principal writer — with editorial help from Donald Friend — and Hans Hoefer, a German artist, was the principal photographer with Werner Hahn. Hahn also designed the Tandjung Sari logo, and ran the first advertisement for Tandjung Sari in the first edition of the guidebook, published in May 1970.

Adrian Zecha continues, “the man who sponsored the guidebook was a guy called Siegfried Beil, the general manager of the Bali Beach Hotel at the time, managed by InterContinental. He eventually became my partner. We bought land together that eventually became the Bali InterContinental Hotel (InterContinental Bali Resort) in Jimbaran.”

Tandjung Sari

Through the cooperation in Tandjung Sari, Wija and Donald Friend have become close business partners. With Wija’s encouragement, Donald agreed to move to Bali. When Donald visited Bali in the second year, he bought a piece of land in Batujimbar not far from Tandjung Sari and began to build his own villa on that land, by exploring and adopting the Balinese architectural style.

Throughout his lifetime in Villa Batujimbar, Donald Friend began to collect copperware, handicrafts, and paintings, and began to collaborate extensively with local artists. He cooperated more deeply with Wija and took another piece of land nearby. The cooperation model was also very simple. Donald invested and designed while Wija was responsible for business negotiations, agreement signing, etc. Soon they found a Frenchman named Sidoté and together customised a residence for their first plot of land in Batujimbar.

Through this project, Donald and Wija further explored the possibility of Balinese architecture: traditional Balinese houses are single-storey, but generally a household is composed of several single-storey houses, arranged according to a certain form and order, each has its own functional requirements. For example, the bedroom must be inside a small house enclosed by a solid wall with a dedicated small gate or entrance.

Another inspiration taken from the Balinese architecture is wantilan, a public building used for communal purpose such as village meetings, cockfighting, and cultural performances. This wantilan form is characterised by double eaves, 8 columns inside and 16 columns outside, and the entire space is semi-open. This kind of building is not used as a bedroom in Balinese tradition.

When Donald and Wija designed the Sidoté House, he flexibly combined the two forms to create a two-storey Balinese building. He placed the living room, kitchen, and bathroom on the first floor, while the second floor was made into an open space. However, the height difference between the two floors needs an indoor staircase. The swimming pool was one of the first Bali projects of designer Bill Bensley.

Donald and Wija are not a professional after all. Although he has studied various indoor spiral staircases during his previous trips in Europe, he can also draw them effortlessly, but when he When the sketch was shown to local workers, no one of the local workers knew how to make a spiral staircase, until one time an Australian architect named Roy Grounds helped him make a large-scale accurate model when he lived in Tandjung Sari. This problem was finally solved — the final design of the Sidoté House looks very similar to Tandjung Sari’s two-storey beachfront bungalow. So far, the first generation of Bali hotel building prototype founded by Donald Friend and Wija Waworuntu has been built.

The Sidoté House (now Wantilan Lama)

After that, Donald and Wija successively designed two houses nearby. In 1969, the two conceived a magnificent project-they wanted to build a Balinese-style village hotel in a bigger scale that would later named by Peter Muller as Hotel Matahari.

In 1970, when Donald returned to Australia for recuperation due to health reasons, he mentioned this project to his architect friend Peter Muller. Peter immediately became interested in this project and offered to help find some investors in Australia. Peter Muller was already a very successful and prestigious architect in Australia at the time, and he was looking for new challenges in his career. Naturally, Donald invited Peter Muller to be the architect of this project. In this way, Peter came to Bali for the first time. After examining Donald’s previous architectural practice and local architecture in Bali, Peter quickly came up with a proposal.

First of all, the design of the hotel adopts the form of thatched houses of Bali traditional houses. Six or seven villas form a group, surrounded by walls, paying tribute to the group layout of traditional Balinese families. Each villa is placed at an angle of 45°, which can effectively reduce the pressure of the sea breeze during the tide, each cluster is connected to the main complex. There, he set up the main lobby, dining space, and other public facilities.

This proposal made Donald and Wija very satisfied. After Peter returned to Australia, he further refined the plan and translated it into a sales brochure, which was sent and distributed to some powerful investors. The hotel’s fund-raising continued until 1971, but due to the Australian financial crisis and local investors’ uncertainty about the situation in Indonesia, the entire fund-raising progress was very slow.

Sketches, site plan, and brochure of Hotel Matahari by Peter Muller, 1970

At the same time, Donald and Wija also gradually realised that they lacked the experience and control to manage such a large-scale project, so they sold the land to the Texas oil company Wincorp. Wincorp has many connections with the Hilton Hotels & Resorts and they found Palmer & Turner, a Hong Kong-based architecture firm that they had a good cooperation with the Hong Kong Hilton before, to participate in this project, but due to some cooperation disputes, Hilton withdrew from the project. Then the Hyatt Hotel Corporation happened to expand its territory in Asia, and they quickly took over the project and it was officially launched as Bali Hyatt. The architect in residence sent by Palmer & Turner is a 28-year-old young architect who has just joined their company: Kerry Hill.

The Indonesian government put forward a very tempting arrangement for the owners of Bali Hyatt. If the hotel project can be completed in mid-1973, there will be a considerable tax relief from Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), so the entire project is launched quickly before PATA conference in Jakarta in 1974. Kerry Hill and his wife Ruth Kerry first temporarily rented a house in Batujimbar area. Later, Palmer & Turner bought a piece of land on Lot 9 of the Batujimbar Estate next to the Sidoté House. Kerry Hill designed the house by himself and moved in. This house was later called Palmer & Turner house.

The entire hotel’s big plan was completed in Hong Kong, and Kerry Hill still needs to complete the details of the public area on site. The room part of the entire hotel is very raw and modern with three big building blocks surrounding a bougainvillea courtyard, a cascading setback on each storey, and vegetation is arranged to appear falling on the facade to soften the sense of volume.

Although the guest room area is not Balinese, the public areas have a Balinese feel perhaps due to the collaboration with Geoffrey Bawa: starting from the lobby, the large space formed by the huge thatched roof, to the wantilan-like appearance of the restaurant. Another successful factor of Bali Hyatt is its landscape. Because of the efficient guest room organisation and the retreat to the coastline, the hotel has a large number of interesting public areas, plus various water features and elaborate plant design.

Bali Hyatt was completed in October 1973, a year before PATA. After its completion, Palmer & Turner describe the hotel as “the first international hotel to use local materials and crafts as well as traditional building forms, such as pitched roofs, open courtyards, and pavilions.”

Bali Hyatt in 1979 (now Hyatt Regency Bali)

If Tandjung Sari is the first boutique hotel in Bali, then Bali Hyatt has created a model of a large-scale resort hotel combining both Balinese and modern aesthetics and atmosphere. It has also established the standard for all subsequent large-scale international resort hotels in Bali especially in Nusa Dua’s BTDC tourism complex.

Although the Hotel Matahari project of Donald Friend and Wija Waworuntu did not succeed, they indirectly brought up a good hotel and trained good architects. He and Wija soon began to invest in another more project. They acquired the land around Villa Batujimbar, which has a coastline of about 500 meters. They divided 15 plots of land and planned to customise 15 oversized individual bungalows. The original plan also includes the expansion of Donald’s own home, Villa Batujimbar, with a museum needs to be added to store Donald’s collection of local sculptures and paintings, and an open-air theatre for cultural performances.

Batujimbar Estate brochure designed by Donald Friend with illustration by Balinese artist Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai and a site plan by Geoffrey Bawa. Lot 5 is the original Villa Batujimbar owned by Donald Friend and later transferred to Adrian Zecha. Lot 6 was owned by Ong Beng Seng, who would later open two Four Seasons hotels in Bali while his wife, Christina Ong, established Como Hotels & Resorts in 1991. Lot 7 is the Sidoté House (now Wantilan Lama). Lot 9 was the Palmer & Turner house occupied by Kerry Hill in 1970s

To ensure that the realisation of this project, it must be aesthetically and financially well-planned. They needed to find the best architect at the time to implement this Batujimbar Estate project.

Room inventory and facilities mentioned on this post are based on the actual situation during the opening year of the hotels.

A Quite Long History of Bali Hotel Architecture

This ten-part 130-minute blog story is made as a tribute to the hospitality world of Bali, and to the people who love and live it.

The story, more or less, chronicles the milestones of Bali hospitality and hotel architecture from 1930s to 2010s, celebrating the works of renown hoteliers and architects Wija Waworuntu, Geoffrey Bawa, Peter Muller, Kerry Hill, Adrian Zecha, Hendra Hadiprana, Jaya Ibrahim, WATG, John Hardy, Ketut Arthana, and Andra Matin among others.

A Quite Long History of Bali Hotel Architecture (video trailer)

Each part is illustrated with images, sketches and site plans, including old photos of Tandjung Sari, Batujimbar Estate brochure, photo series documenting the construction of The Oberoi Bali and Amandari, Kerry Hill’s original design for the Regent Jimbaran Bay (eventually came into being as the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay).

There are also footages of Ronald Reagan’s meeting with Suharto in Nusa Dua Beach Hotel, Geoffrey Bawa’s unused site plan for the expansion of Bali Hyatt, TV commercials, World Bank’s proposal for the development of BTDC extracted from a 400-page BTDC-World Bank document containing mail correspondences, bills, and researches, and thirteen volumes of GHM’s late 90s publication: The Magazine — A Style to Remember.