A Quite Long History of Bali Hotel Architecture Part VI: GHM, Alila, and Contemporary Design

radit mahindro
20 min readOct 2, 2020

General Hotel Management (GHM) was set up in 1992 to implement an ambitious philosophy. The aim of the Singapore-based company’s visionary founders, Hans R. Jenni and Adrian Zecha, was to provide elegant, environmentally friendly accommodation in a classy, uncluttered atmosphere that also afforded intimacy, oozed style and guaranteed unparalleled customer service. The result was a group of the world’s chicest, most individualistic hotels of characteristically Asian design.

GHM took where The Beaufort Hotels left: designing, developing, and managing a distinctive array of exclusive, stylish hotels, and maintaining each hotel’s individualistic identity. Each GHM property is an original, reflecting symbiotic relationship between the hotel and the local culture to provide guests with a genuine, close-up experience of the best each destination has to offer — pretty much similar to Aman but with lower price point and bigger count of rooms.

GHM developed three tier of sub-brands. The first one is a “brand-less” collection of high end hotels with individual names, adopting the naming system of The Beaufort Hotels. The most well-known hotels from this category were The Datai Langkawi, The Legian Bali, The Nam Hai Hoi An (now Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An), The Lalu Sun Moon Lake, and The Setai Miami.

The second one is The Chedi. The word “chedi” typically refers to place of meditation. In the same, way, the Chedi hotels are created as tranquil settings where on their journeys, travellers rediscover the peace of solitude and stillness amidst environs of beauty. The Chedi hotels were positioned below the earlier-mentioned individual hotels. Some Chedi hotels were The Chedi Ubud (now Alila Ubud), The Chedi Bandung (now Padma Hotel Bandung), The Chedi Phuket (now The Surin Phuket), and The Chedi Chiang Mai (now Anantara Chiang Mai Resort).

The last and least expensive sub-brand was The Serai. The term “serai” is taken from “caravanserai”, used to describe large inns found along trade routes in central and western Asia. The Serai brand was developed to provide quality accommodation for discerning travellers in a destination with limited luxury offerings. There was only one hotel built under this brand, The Serai Manggis (now Alila Manggis).

In 1993 Kerry Hill laid the foundations for GHM’s exceptional architecture by designing The Datai Langkawi in Malaysia, which gained him a prestigious Aga Khan Award. His proposal to set the main building on a forest ridge 40 metres above sea level and 300 metres back from the beach was initially met with bewilderment. Surely, a seafront resort with direct Andaman Sea views would attract many more visitors? But Kerry Hill stood his ground, determined to preserve the pristine beauty of the coastline and unveil the hidden treasures of the rainforest.

Rather than using heavy machinery, trees were felled by trained elephants and the wood reused in the construction. Where a clearing had to be made, new trees were planted immediately. The construction materials were chosen to align with Kerry Hill’s vision for the architecture, celebrating Malay, Chinese and Indian cultural heritage but, primarily, to give the resort a sense of belonging to the jungle.

The Datai Langkawi, visually looks like the combination of The Chedi Ubud (now Alila Ubud), The Serai Manggis (now Alila Manggis) — all designed by Kerry Hill. While the main building reminds us to Geoffrey Bawa’s the Bentota Beach Hotel

GHM entered Indonesia with partners Franky Tjahyadikarta and Mark Edleson. Mark Edleson was holding a senior position in Citibank and resigned in 1983 to pursue his passion. He went into corporate advisory work for about 10 years, where Aman was his biggest client for the last five years. An Italian friend and Australian architect were doing a little hotel near his house in Ubud and he was helping them with corporate structure and bank financing — one of them knew Adrian Zecha and said: “we’re building this little hotel in Ubud and it is sympathetic to Amanpuri in Phuket perhaps you want to come and have a look?” Mark Edleson told Jaelle Ang of The Great Room in 2019. This project eventually became Amandari.

Mark got to know Adrian, and Adrian left him on the board after it opened. After that, Mark would organise the joint ventures, board of investment approvals and bank financing for the next five Aman openings in Indonesia, and became so enamoured with the boutique hotel business that he, and Franky Tjahyadikarta, eventually went full time into GHM in 1993 through a partnership with Adrian Zecha.

In Bali, Franky Tjahyadikarta fell in love with the island’s east coast on diving trips and soon bought a 2.3 hectare beachfront coconut grove near the village of Candidasa. He engaged Kerry Hill on the recommendation of Adrian Zecha with whom Tjahyadikarta was also a partner in Amankila and Amanjiwo.

The only instruction Kerry Hill was given was to work around the coconut trees and give every room a view of the sea. “It was important project for us at the time because it was our first three star hotel,” says Jason Hill to Habitusliving in 2015, director at Kerry Hill Architects. “In this project, design was intended as part of the attraction for guests” — it is important to note that GHM’s version of “three star” still costs more than USD 150 a night.

Overwhelmingly, the emphasis of the design is towards outdoor living. All but two of the 55 rooms are 28 square meters. Ground floor superior rooms feature a terrace with a day bed while deluxe rooms on the upper level feature a shaded balcony. As prescribed in the open design brief, each room faces the sea as well as an oblong pool at the centre of a lush lawn dotted with coconut palms. This is where most guests spend their days.

Opened in 1994, Kerry Hill’s design for The Serai Manggis is a marriage of traditional Balinese architecture and modern design. The structures are anchored in the local landscape by alang alang thatched roofs, the same long bladed grass used in the thatching lines the water features that surround the hotel lobby and restaurant. “The design is restrained, uncluttered and simple. It is a contemplative place for people to go,” comments Kerry Hill in 2016. GHM and partner Franky Tjahyadikarta went on to develop one more hotel in Bali under the Chedi brand. The Chedi Ubud, also designed by Kerry Hill, was opened in 1996 with perhaps the most famous infinity swimming pool in Ubud.

The Serai Manggis in 1997

In Bali’s west coast, Seminyak had a single 5-star hotel on offer, Peter Muller-designed The Oberoi Bali. When newly-formed GHM sat down with seasoned Indonesian banker Robby Djohan a vision was conceived: to design a timeless icon of understated luxury, unlike anything else out there. Original and memorable. The Legian Bali brief was quite the tall order and a challenge not to be met by just anyone. The task befell upon a duo who combined tradition with innovation, experience with freshness — celebrated architect Hendra Hadiprana and then newcomer interior designer Jaya Ibrahim, both Indonesia’s own.

The project was at first a problematic one for GHM, owner Robby Djohan, and architect Hendra Hadiprana. Hendra once mentioned to GHM’s The Magazine, ”it was always my dream to build luxury hotels but my first commission came about rather by chance. The owner of the world-famous The Legian, Robby Djohan, initially approached me to build an apartment complex. However, just as the construction work was nearing completion, opposition from the local authorities meant that the design had to be changed from apartment to hotel — no easy task, since apartments and hotels are two completely different beasts! Part of the original design was retained, though, meaning that The Legian Bali has no lobby as such; instead guests are welcomed into a unique ‘compartmentalised’ area which is always a source of intrigue! The hotel’s stunning seafront location also affords spectacular ocean views.”

The Legian Bali is the first, but not only, GHM project for both designers, though Jaya once admitted that The Legian Bali was his most memorable project. “It was memorable because my first commercial project and its design is absolutely simple but it still dominates its surroundings and allows this energy to be a part of the interior. And it’s a masterpiece precisely because nothing was done to impress!” he told Indonesia Design.

As the year progressed, Jaya was involved in multiple GHM and Aman projects including The Setai Miami, The Chedi Milan, The Chedi Muscat, and The Nam Hai Hoi An, Aman at Summer Palace, Amanfayun, and Amandayan. His other projects include Capella Singapore and the refurbishment of Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay.

In the other hand, The Legian Bali architect Hendra Hadiprana allowed GHM to manage his private residence in 2004 as The Chedi Club Ubud (later renamed to The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah — a GHM Hotel). It has since won numerous awards and accolades from around the world for its design and services.

The villa was originally built in 1984 on a huge land surrounded by rice fields near a historic Goa Gajah site, Bali. For years, he and his family enjoyed their quiet and secluded property whenever they visited Bali. The serenity of the place was magical and it can’t be found anywhere else. Hendra has even made an impact on the surrounding community by employing locals to work on the property, training them personally about hospitality and service.

Hendra Hadiprana, a serious art collector and one of Indonesia’s preeminent architects, took influences from Java’s and Bali’s past for his villa, starting with elaborate sculptures in the lobby. A big pond and a long, green-tiled pool, neatly flanked by a phalanx of sun loungers and parasols, a nod to Balinese water palaces. During his lifetime, Hendra designed some more hotels in Bali: InterContinental Bali Resort, Banyan Tree Kamandalu Ubud (now Kamandalu Ubud), Rumah Luwih, Mövenpick Resort & Spa Jimbaran, and The Kayana Seminyak.

The Legian Bali, designed by architect Hendra Hadiprana and interior designer Jaya Ibrahim

Since its inception in 1992 and with many beautiful hotels opened in and outside Asia, GHM’s name has never been in the spotlight. Instead, the names of the hotels have quietly established themselves, forming a brand whose reputation for designing, developing and managing a distinctive array of exclusive, stylish hotels and resorts has spread across the globe.

An important milestone happened in the year 2000 when Franky Tjahyadikarta and Mark Edleson, then partners of GHM for their Indonesia operations, decided to take over the management of The Chedi Ubud and The Serai Manggis. “At the time I was too busy witn Aman, and Franky wanted his land back,” Zecha said to Travel + Leisure. Franky Tjahyadikarta, Mark Edleson, and Frederic Simon launched Alila Hotels & Resorts in 2001 with the newly renamed Alila Ubud (formerly The Chedi Ubud) and Alila Manggis (formerly The Serai Manggis).

The same year saw the opening of Maya Ubud Resort & Spa, designed by Budiman Hendropurnomo of Denton Corker Marshall (DCM). Budiman joined DCM Melbourne in 1981 right after graduating from Melbourne School of Design at the University of Melbourne. In 1983 he relocated to Jakarta to lead DCM’s projects in the city. Four years later he was named the Director of DCM Jakarta and the company was formally incorporated under the localised name Duta Cermat Mandiri.

The design of Maya Ubud Resort & Spa’s leisure areas and rooms give the impression that it is suspended somewhere between the sky and the river valley below. Modern Balinese style is reflected in the “blocky” architecture combined the use of thatched roofs, blending the buildings into the surrounding environment. A central ceremonial walkway along the central ridge connects important public spaces from the porte-cochere, through the lobby and down to the spa. The villas or dwellings are then positioned on either side creating a village like axis that follows the contours of the land. All the materials used were obtained from sources located less than 20 kilometres in radius from the site, greatly minimising its the project’s carbon footprint.

Maya Ubud Resort & Spa in 2004

Budiman were also involved in Alila, designing their third hotel, Alila Jakarta, a twin tower hotel with modern and minimalistic interior design, opened in 2002. His second project for Alila was Alila Solo, opened in 2015. His other projects in Bali are Anantara Uluwatu Bali Resort, Maya Sanur Resort & Spa, and The Apurva Kempinski Bali.

From 2001 until Hyatt Hotel Corporation bought them in 2018, Alila launched three more hotels in Bali. One notable project is Alila Villas Uluwatu, opened in 2009, spectacularly perched on the edge of a sheer sandstone cliff, one hundred metres above the Indian Ocean.

“When we first saw the site, we felt it was wild, open, dry and rough, and quite unlike the rest of Bali,” says Richard Hassell to Habitusliving in 2015, who co-founded Singapore-baed architecture firm WOHA with Wong Mun Sun in 1995. “The cliff and surf were very powerful, while the scrubby hills were quiet and peaceful. We tried to incorporate a synthesis of many ideas in our design, drawing connections between traditional Balinese and Majapahit architecture and modern architecture, between palaces and pavilions, courtyards and landscapes.”

A unique design language was developed for the project. Rather than the typical steep pitched Balinese pavilions, which would have blocked the views on the gentle slopes, and which are not local to the area, the buildings are instead inspired by the local farmers terraces of loose piled limestone boulders. A terraced low pitched roof was developed using Balinese volcanic pumice rock, which is a natural insulating material and can also support local ferns and succulents. These terraced roofs blend with the landscape, keeping the original wide open panoramas that make the site so unique.

A respect for the natural environment is expressed in the design of the 11 hectare, 54 villa resort through numerous conservation strategies, many which are integrated into the landscape design. The lush green lawn that lines the cliff edge is nourished with recycled water. Locally sourced basalt rock has been integrated into the design. Arranged on rooftops it serves multiple purposes of promoting vegetation growth, absorbing both heat and water and heating hot water pipes.

Materials are all sourced locally — stone walls are using stone from the actual site from the road cuttings, while all other materials are either from Bali or the neighbouring island of Java. After much searching, the owner and architects were able to source recycled timber from railway tracks and telephone poles.

WOHA and Franky Tjahyadikarta also co-curated the resort’s interior art pieces . Over numerous sourcing trips, they were able to amass Indonesia’s largest collection of Batik stamps, used to create textile patterns. Each wall of the resort’s wine room is lined with 1,200 unique stamps. Craftsmen in Java and Bali are making the interior furniture, lamps and accessories. This strategy makes the development unique in terms of its materials, supports local skills and gives local materials prestige, promoting their use with the locals rather than them aspiring to expensive imported products.

Alila Villas Uluwatu in 2009. The site plan shows an extension that includes The Cliff, an all-suite boutique hotel, and Omnia Dayclub Bali, and a private residential located at the very top of the entire complex

All of the painstaking effort was a vision shared by hotel owner Franky Tjahyadikarta, who have a working relationship with Richard Hassell and Wong Mun Sun that stretches back to when they worked for Kerry Hill, designers of Alila Manggis in 1994 (Wong Mun Sun and Richard Hassell worked for Kerry Hill from 1989 as fresh graduates until 1995).

Similar to Richard Hassell and Wong Mun Sun, Malaysian Cheong Yew Kuan spent six years with Kerry Hill until he formed his own studio AreaDesigns in 1996. Two years later his project in Bali was completed and launched as Begawan Giri Estate, spread out over eight hectares of lush tropical gardens with five uniquely styled and appointed residences comprising of 22 suites.

Named after the natural elements of fire, wind, water, forest and earth, the residences provide elegant facilities with interior designs that combine European and Asian influences:

  1. Bayugita: Named after the airy breezes that caress the residence throughout the day, this residence houses four suites. The simple lines of Balinese architecture fused with that of colonial Java create a unique ambience. The golden warmth of the old teak wood panelling, the carved Batavia furniture and the woven coconut shell ceilings demonstrate the fine details this residence possesses. Materials such as: 150-year-old Javanese teak, terrazzo, porcelain and brass combine under traditional thatched roofs, while Victorian antique basins and fittings give the Bayugita its colonial flavour. An infinity-edge pool, seemingly stretching to the rice fields, lies on the second level of the residence surrounded on two sides by an ironwood deck. On a lower level, a spacious, private deck with adjoining guestroom looks out across the emerald tropical gardens to the terraced rice fields that are synonymous with Bali. From the Bath, guests may enjoy unobstructed views of the gardens or complete privacy by closing the frosted, sliding glass windows
  2. Tirtaening: This residence greets the visitor with the serenity of a water palace as the sight and sound of water can be sensed throughout the formal pavilions. These golden pavilions of 150 year-old Javanese teak reflect a meditative simplicity as they float out over sheets of water reflecting a mixture of oriental cultures and styles with a Zen feel. The water gardens surrounding the residence reflect the intricate beauty of the white stone entrance. The highlight of the residence are the many hand-carved doors and stone carvings throughout, fashioned exclusively for Tirtaening by a local artist trained by Donald Friend. The expansive master suite with its floating bathhouse features a six ton, single stone bath, an outdoor shower, a jacuzzi set amidst a water garden pool and meditation pavilion. From every corner of the deck, the muted sounds of cascading water in the valley below add to the water element.
  3. Tejasuara: The distinguishing feature of this bold, primitive residence is the fire pit located at the very edge of the pool, lit every evening to symbolise the essence of its existence: fire. A primeval ambience depicting a sophisticated/primitive feel rooted in the island of Sumba, emanates from this habitation constructed from 1,2 tons of stone transported from this island. Adorned with tribal cloth furniture and antiques in line with its rugged Sumba architecture and thatched roofs, Tejasuara marks a return to the elements of nature and all its primal power.
  4. Wanakasa: This residence is set amongst the trees overlooking the river and valley one hundred metres below. Its fresh, young atmosphere is closely integrated with the forest with pockets of trees found throughout the buildings, maintaining a feeling of the forest within. The main living pavilion is supported by huge tree columns which stretch to a height of two storeys. The impressive width of the bingkirai trees, 40cm in diameter, and the seemingly unending teak floors and ironwood shingle roof give guests the dramatic feel of living in the ultimate tree-house. The holy tree, which stands before the entrance, sits beside an altar blanketed with offerings. Its existence on the land before the creation of Begawan Giri and the importance of its mystic history, dictated the entire design and building of the residence, which was literally built around the tree.
  5. Umabova: The classical, rich, formal style of this residence owes its origin to the Majapahit palaces of long ago. Pleasure gardens, bodies of water and an extravagant elegance befitting royalty were its inspiration. From its perch on the edge of the Ayung River valley, Umabova sits beneath roofs of ironwood shingle lined with mats from Kalimantan, offers the most spectacular views of Mount Batu Karu and the long river valley from both the north and the south. The ironwood decks, constructed from recycled telegraph poles, run around the entire Residence.

Occupying the western slope of the property, the villas in Begawan Giri Estate have been ascribed names in celebration of the aspects of the natural world — Karas Kanaka (Golden Stone), Pita Linggar (Golden Space), Chandra Murni (Pure Moon), Giri Antara (Distant Mountain), Sukma Taru (Spirit Tree), Gesing Kanila (Bamboo Whispering), Sapta Akasa (Seventh Cloud) — and relate back to the elements that name the original five differently themed residences on the estate.

Como Hotels & Resorts acquired Begawan Giri Estate, renovated, still in partnership with Cheong Yew Kuan, and relaunched it as Como Shambhala Estate in 2005. Cheong remains a close collaborator for Como in multiple hotel projects in and outside Asia.

Begawan Giri Estate (now Como Shambhala Estate) in 2006

In 2009, Alila also opened Alila Villas Soori (now Soori Bali) in Tabanan, West Bali, designed by SCDA. In Tabanan, one of Bali’s most fertile and picturesque regions, the landscape ranges from volcanic mountains and verdant rice terraces to beautiful black-sand beaches overlooking the Indian Ocean. The location of Alila Villas Soori provides for a complete hideaway and offers numerous quality views of the surrounding beach, ocean, mountains, and rice fields — quite unique to the usual single-option view of most hotels in Bali. A mixture of villa types were sensitively designed to respond to the local climatic conditions and to maximise the numerous options of view.

The exterior designs are intended to create a seamless transition between the interior and exterior spaces, with the specific goal in preserving the natural topography. Built elements are planned to sit “lightly” on the land. Due to the relatively severe coastal conditions which exist during certain periods of the year, the landscape design also incorporates a variety of indigenous local plants and coastal species. This selection identifies and responds to the need for less long term maintenance and reduced water requirements for irrigation.

In general, Alila Villas Soori was designed through a collaborative process which included the study of the local environment and consultation with the neighbouring communities to also incorporate age-old social and religious customs. Processional routes were conserved throughout the site, allowing the locals to tend the rice fields and descend to the beach during religious ceremonies.

Traditional irrigation systems of the nearby rice paddies were extended through the site to allow for proper drainage. Following the architecture’s carefully studied forms that promote natural ventilation, planters, low shrubs and taller trees were also positioned to maximise wind flow through villas and common spaces, avoiding the creation of wind barriers.

Alila Villas Soori (now Soori Bali)

Alila Villas Uluwatu and Alila Villas Soori heralded a new era of modern-looking luxury hotel with sustainable-minded ethos in Bali. A trend that evolved throughout the years in Bali, especially in Ubud and Tabanan.

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 1960s 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.