A Quite Long History of Bali Hotel Architecture Part V: Adrian Zecha and Aman

radit mahindro
10 min readOct 2, 2020


While the design of The Sukhothai Bangkok began in 1987, Adrian Zecha had sold his shares in Regent Hotels & Resorts and began to turn to real estate investment in 1986. He set up his own real estate fund, seeking to acquire and sell high-quality hotel assets.

At the same time, he also found a suitable piece of land in Phuket and prepared it as his private vacation home. When he walked from Pansea Beach in Phuket, he had an idea: why not build this place into a small boutique resort hotels with few rooms? Since he has friends from all over the world, there is definitely no shortage of customer groups, and this group of friends must not lack the demand for watching the sea, spending time on leisure vacations on a beautiful beach in Southeast Asia, and regular vacations and gatherings every year will form a group of friends. A new social lifestyle!

He found his good friend Anil Thadani and the two people began to seek investment. The problem is nobody believes this model will succeed. Banks and other investors only believed in major international hotel group with a 500-rooms. Adrian Zecha and Anil Thadani decided to use USD 4 million from their own pocket to build a small hotel with only 40 rooms. At first, Adrian and Ed Tuttle agreed that the design shouldn’t be just another modern hotel with a square bathroom inside a square room, instead they were hoping the design to be as Thai as possible. Adrian Zecha chose to work with Ed Tuttle to design Amanpuri, the first Aman hotel.

In order to achieve this goal, Ed Tuttle traveled all over Thailand, looking for references and inspirations. He focused on the study of Thai Buddhist temple architecture and traditional Thai houses. In the end, in the design, he chose the style of houses in central Thailand, with roofs of such houses. The slope is steep and the proportions are elegant. The main material is flat timber, and the base structure is an overhead platform. In Thai villages, these houses are often organised on a large platform with a pool. These are inspirations and references for the Amanpuri room.

Based on the prototype of Thai-style dwellings, Amanpuri’s first clear design element is that each pavilion suite is placed on an overhead L-shaped platform, a guest room and a pavilion. The shape of the entire villa can be said to be an abstraction of traditional Thai architecture, retaining the proportions of Thai architecture. In order to prevent termites, the exterior wall adopts a masonry structure, and the entire exterior facade is restrained from decoration.

Due to the large height difference of the site and in order to maximize the landscape, each pavilion suite is arranged along the contour line, and the main public area is placed in the central area with a lounge, two restaurants, and an ocean-facing swimming pools.

Amanpuri site plan

One extraordinary fact about Amanpuri is that not a single palm tree was cut down during the construction of the entire Amanpuri complex and the adjoining villas. This approach was truly visionary, at a time when green initiatives and sustainability were not even part of the world’s vocabulary. Ed Tuttle’s passion for perfection made it a challenge to question his work. He even designed the cutlery, the wastepaper baskets, the stationery, staff uniforms, and all of the pots plus the art work!

The hotel also pioneered a service model where there is no front desk, no TV, no telephone, each customer will have an exclusive butler reception, can check-in privately in the room, and consume in the hotel without signing a bill. In order to establish high-quality service standards, Adrian Zecha even sent the hotel manager to study on the Emerald Coast of Sardinia-where Aga Khan IV founded Europe’s most luxurious and private hotels.

The only complaint is that occasionally customers feel that the hotel lacks elevators. When they go to the beach and forget the sunscreen, they have to run back to the room out of breath and climb more than 200 steps, but most of the guests reacted positively to the concept of this hotel very strongly, they are immersed in the overall luxury, comfortable atmosphere and private environment of the hotel. At the same time, few guests and good service make these guests willing to pay high prices for them. In 1990, the price floated at around USD 200–700, which was 5 times that of normal hotels in Phuket at that time.

In 1988, when a friend of Peter Muller talked to Adrian Zecha that he had a small piece of land in Bali that could be used as a resort hotel, Peter Muller was sensitive to the potential of this land, so he had a deep dive first with this friend to demonstrate the possibility of purchasing more surrounding land and integrating it into a large piece of land. They invited a third Indonesian friend to join in to negotiate responsible local relations. In the end, they successfully integrated the land.

Peter Muller designed a boutique hotel with 30 villas in 8 days, and it was successfully completed in 1989. The whole Amandari complex was designed to reflect a traditional Balinese village, from the alang alang-thatched roofs to narrow pathways and stone gateways. Its location is sitting 129 steps above a 7th-century Hindu shrine and tiger statue, allowing the hotel to blends seamlessly with its surrounding existing traditional villages.

Similar to Tandjung Sari, Amandari shares a connection to its community that’s just as deep and genuine. The resort grounds serve as a venue for children from the nearby villages to rehearse their daily dance routines. Amandari also welcomes those who wish to observe and carry out their religious rituals. Some evenings, seats are provided for guests who wish to watch the children perform a complex traditional choreography to the tune of gamelans and percussions, played none other than by the little dancers’ fathers.

After the completion of Amandari, Peter Muller invited Adrian Zecha to become the fourth partner, and then passed it on Aman to manage it as their third hotel (Aman Hotel Bora Bora was the second before its permanent closure in early 2000s).

Amandari from concept and construction until completion and operations. Peter Muller seen in blue shirt. 1987–1991

In 1989, Aman continued to expand in Bali with their second and third Aman which were assigned to Kerry Hill and Ed Tuttle, respectively. Geographically speaking, Amanusa’s location is relatively weak. There is no sea view, and there is a large golf course nearby. Kerry Hill’s design is relatively ordinary, applying Amanpuri’s logic on its public area and villas. The biggest highlight is the restaurant and large-scale swimming pool. The design of the main lobby fully reflects the influence of Geoffrey Bawa on him and reminiscent of his original design for the Regent Jimbaran Bay.

The location of Amankila is much more remarkable in eastern part of Bali, relatively near to the main inspirations of tropical Balinese hotel in Klungkung. With a literally exclusive private beach, the hotel is located in a rocky high platform and the main public area of the hotel is placed on the side closest to the coast. On the other side are the villas with garden view, sea view, and private swimming pool.

The design of the entire hotel fully absorbs the traditional style of Bali’s traditional houses and uses thatched roofs. The restrained interior decoration gives a better sense of peace, privacy, and majesty. Ed Tuttle took advantage of the height difference to set up a three-tiered swimming pool, inspired by the rice terraces of Bali. Amankila’s swimming pool has become one of the most discussed places and check-in points for high profile public figures in the past 30 years.

Amankila in late 1990s

“Respect for both the cultural context of the location and the potential impact of the structures on the surrounding environment is fundamental,” Ed Tuttle once told Architectural Digest in an interview in 2000. In the first decade of Aman’s existence, Ed Tuttle designed six hotels for Aman: Amanpuri, Amankila, Amanjiwo, Aman Le Mélézin, Amangani, and Amanjena. He consistently applied his design philosophy until his last collaboration with Aman, Amanzoe, opened in 2012.

As Adrian Zecha saw that Aman had achieved small successes, he began preparations for the economic version of Aman — GHM (General Hotel Management) with limited but similar intuitive service and exquisite design to cater to the trend of customers’ increasingly strong pursuit of good design at that time. During the first decade of GHM, Kerry Hill was the key architect just as Ed Tuttle was to Aman.

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.