A Quite Long History of Bali Hotel Architecture Part VIII: Béton Brut, Food & Beverages, Art, and Music

radit mahindro
16 min readOct 2, 2020

In 2009, a pet project by Indonesian entrepreneur Ronald Akili with his business partner Jason Gunawan began as a casual restaurant in Jakarta before branching out to Bali, where the two acquired a beachside plot in Seminyak. “We thought Bali would be a perfect stepping stone, so we decided to open it as a larger-scale beach club. That’s how the company started. We were just having fun, but I fell in love with the industry,” Ronald told Hashtag Legend in 2016.

The dream, Ronald Akili says, was to create an international lifestyle brand out of Indonesia, starting with the launch of Potato Head’s now-legendary beach club, which opened in 2010 below a Colosseum-like facade of 6.600 vintage teak shutters collected from all over Indonesia. Its arresting design was conceived by leading Indonesian architect Andra Matin, whose long working relationship with Ronald Akili began with their collaboration over a residential project in Jakarta.

“He thinks out of the box,” told Andra Matin in 2016, Akili’s friend for years and the architect of both Potato Head Beach Club and Katamama, Potato Head’s first hotel. “He works with no limit, and he won’t stop after he’s decided what he wants.”

The work of some architects are often best experienced first-hand. Andra Matin is one of them. Google his work and basic, monolithic structures will populate — at least that is what they seem from the outside. Spend enough time inside his buildings, and they unravel in layers.

“Things that are ‘straightforward’ but ‘in-between’ often attract me,” said Andra Matin to Indesign Live in 2016. His expression reveals the utmost consideration for spatial quality, deeply entrenched in enriching the human experience. Raised ground levels are not uncommon, implemented to maximise natural views. There is also the compulsion for balance in flow, which sees Andra Matin favouring the ramp over stairs for fluidity.

Andra Matin developed his skill after university by working at Grahacipta Hadiprana, an architectural and interior design firm established by Hendra Hadiprana, who was involved in various luxury hotel projects in Bali. In 1998, after 10 years of working, Andra finally decided to go out on his own.

“The economic situation was, to put it mildly, bad in 1998 and, honestly, it was a tough choice for me too,” Andra recalls in his interview with Prestige in 2019. “Prior to resigning, I was asked to let go some of my colleagues in the firm because of the economic downturn. So, after thinking about it a lot, I decided to let myself go instead of my colleagues.”

Katamama, his second collaboration with the Potato Head, was built to complement the beach club. His “one-material” rule is present in both buildings; where the beach club incorporates a thousand of antique wooden shutters that formed its modern Colosseum-like structure, the 58-suite Katamama employs more than 1.5 million handmade bricks (traditionally used in building Hindu temples), as an effort to adhere as closely as possible to the Balinese culture.

Bricks continue to dominate inside the building, and have been left exposed wherever possible. But there are also decorative floor sourced from nearby Java, as well as terrazzo flooring that was made on site. The main spaces of the suites are designed to be as open as possible with the bathroom separated by a set of decorative sliding panels that can open to make the bathroom part of the main space. Each bedroom looks out onto a balcony terrace with a day-bed, table and chairs and becomes an extension of the suite, with the same hand-made brick material extending out from the suite wall.

Singapore studio Takenouchi Webb was brought in do the interior design, in partnership with Ronald Akili himself. The furnishings they chose include vintage pieces from Ronald’s own collection, as well as some Danish mid-century classics, including rocking chairs by Hans J. Wegner and seats by Arne Jacobsen.

Many of the other additions were created especially for the hotel, ranging from textiles to ceramics. For instance, the table runners are the work of Bali-based husband-and-wife team Tjok Agung Indigo. Local textile workshop Tarum produced the natural-dyed, hand-woven rugs and bed throws in the guest suites, while the woven storage boxes in the suites are the wooden of orchid-vine weavers in Tenganan, east Bali.

Similarly, Japanese designer Hiroshi Fujiwara worked with Ubud-based Gaya ceramics to create the reed diffuser bottle that features throughout the interiors, while Jenggala designed the ceramic ware for its restaurant and bathroom. All joinery was built using Indonesian teak, overseen by Surabaya-based carpenter. There are also over 100 original artworks on show within the building, from artists originating from across Southeast Asia.

“The idea behind Katamama was to represent Bali. It should feel Balinese, but modern at the same time. The main concept is actually the ‘modern’ architecture of 60s and 70s. It’s very geometrical. And these days, when almost every hotel in Bali is planned with the curved lines, it’s quite unusual,” says Andra Matin.


When invited to create a new 22-room hotel and cultural centre in Ubud, Andra Matin realised that his assigned plot didn’t offer direct access to the street. Set further aback, the building was to be created behind an existing gallery that was taking up the obvious place where a “grand entrance” would be. Yet when asked about the project’s “main challenge’” this unorthodox situation didn’t quite make the cut; shifting plans that led to budgetary and timeline changes were the project’s key obstacles to overcome, says the architect.

The hotel’s lack of street frontage was seen more as an exciting opportunity, an architectural puzzle, solved by creating a vertical entrance, as the visitor goes up and into a 45m-long, high bridge, on the other side of which is the main Titik Dua complex. ‘The bridge connecting the main road to the site creates a special experience to welcome the guests and at the same time establishes a visual connection with the surroundings,” says Andra Matin.

Opened in 2020, Titik Dua comprises several functions; conceived as a creative hub and hospitality hybrid, where the arts, film, architecture, graphic design and music can find a home on the ground floor, and hotel guests can stay in rooms on the upper level, the project combines the private and the public. There’s also an amphitheatre, a multi-functional room, and a bar, as well as a restaurant right under the scheme’s pitched roof — “a space often unused in many Balinese buildings,” Andra Matin told Wallpaper.

Originally intended to be created in reused shipping containers, the project eventually features natural brick and a timber roof in forms that blend modernity and the traditional Indonesian vernaculars. Steel was also used to “add a modern palette”, but at its heart, the architecture was designed so that guests can enjoy the island’s pleasant climate, merging inside and outside, and allowing the breeze to go through and cool down the interiors naturally where possible.

Five years earlier, or around the same time with the completion of Katamama, Bisma Eight was completed by architect Ketut Arthana, who previously designed Fivelements Retreat Bali, and interior design by Singapore-based Fuur Associates. The 38-suite hotel was conceived with a series of interconnected communal areas, which connect the journey of the guests to the surrounding landscape and views.

The building was designed as a low monolithic structure marrying modern elements such as raw concrete, steel and glass with iconic Balinese elements. Beton Brut (French) or “raw concrete” material was chosen for its strength, functionality, and how well its appearance evolves over time when nature starts to mature around it. The decision in using pre-cast concrete architecture is bold, progressive, and daring to do something different. Pre-cast concrete is more comfortable, safe, healthy, durable, ecologically sound, sustainable and fully recyclable.

Other materials and details provide a contrast to the modern brutalist structure. Stone tiles and masonry available from locally sourced suppliers are reinterpreted in an interesting manner, for instance, the boundary wall terracotta bricks are also used for the interior café walls and stairwell, hence creating a slight ambiguity between the exterior and interior.

Architecturally, in order to fit the suites into the long narrow site, a forested alleyway had to be carved out in between the two blocks of accommodation, leading into a plateau where the pool and poolside bar capture the panoramic view of the valley below. The remaining 18 suites were tucked below the pool level.

Suites are completed with rough wood salvaged from old Javanese homes. Floors are lined with southern walnut and copper strips throughout two sections in the living room. Beds were designed to act as both a headboard and a desk, mixing style and function and an ample amount of sockets are lined up throughout the suites to ensure that guests are always connected.

All joinery such as closets are trimmed with traditional anyaman motifs. Lighting frames have been made from banana resin fibres and bed skirting out of the same jute from the bathroom. The highlight of the suites however, is a Japanese-inspired cedar soaking tub made from sweet smelling Canadian cedar wood.

Sourcing of local crafted materials also gives the surfaces a meaning and dimension, so to speak — one that creates the cultural moment for the project, a moment between the traditional and rawness of the construction. Spatially compact, it tries to redefine what a hotel provides for the modern holidaymaker — a cool bar, a café for reading working , a pool with a view, a small dining hall, and a compact gym — the essentials of the city nomad.

Bisma Eight co-founder Suraj Melwani says,“Bisma Eight is an amalgamation of all of our sensibilities under one roof; from my love of the craft that goes into food and drink, to Sunil’s (Sunil Alwani, co-founder) appreciation of pragmatic tropical modern design, to my father’s (Suresh Melwani, co-founder) absolute respect for the community of Ubud, its people and surroundings, Bisma Eight is special.”

“It’s a projection of who we are as people and how we think and act as a group. Everything at Bisma Eight is done with intention. Even the smallest details are curated with care and pride, creating an experience that speaks for itself.” The hotel broke even within its first year and its occupancy averages before the pandemic was 80%.

Suraj Melwani oversaw the conceptualisation and execution of the design and brand story of Bisma Eight. He holds an associate’s degree in fashion design from Parsons The New School for Design in New York and a degree in business administration from Northeastern University in Boston, was behind most of the aesthetics and brand conceptualisation. Suraj Melwani is also the founder of Sifr, a men’s clothing brand, and runs food & beverage outlets Copper, Embers, No Más Bar, Folk Pool & Gardens, and Liap Liap, all located in central Ubud.

Bisma Eight

In the laid-back village of Canggu, just north of Bali’s heaving Seminyak strip, The Slow is proof that there are still genuine surprises to be found in the island’s humming hotel scene. The project of fashion designer George Gorrow and model Cisco Tschurtschenthaler, the property — initially intended to be his personal home — is now a 12-suite bolthole that is something of a cross between a brutalist manse and tropical tree house.

Bali-based architecture firm GFAB led by Balinese Rieky Sunur used local materials including stone, timber and bricks dried on site, to create the capacious suites with slatted-wood walls that channel in the tropical breeze. Inside though, is Gorrow’s vision, from his art collection that grace the walls to the gallery and the store stocked with his menswear line. Even the soundtrack — adjustable via in-room dials — has been curated by friends at Los Angeles-based Reverberation Radio.

It’s clear to see where the design takes inspiration from. George explained to Habitus Living in 2017, “brutalist architecture, tropical minimalism and even Brazilian architecture were strong inspirations for us. Including references to Japanese furniture designer George Nakashima, Japanese architect Tadao Ando, and artists Brett Wadden, Rostarr and Richard Serra. It has allowed us to encompass all aspects of our previous passions, and careers, giving us the freedom to collide all these aspects harmoniously and to work as one entity.”

The Slow offers much more than boutique accommodations, steeping guests in a curated experience that blends art across several disciplines — it combines art, fashion, music, and food for an immersive experience that blends Indonesian and contemporary surf cultures.

Stepping up all aspects of its Canggu original which entered the scene in 2017, The Slow is currently planning to open their second hotel in Uluwatu scheduled to open in 2021. It will be another creation of the award-winning duo, George and talented local architect, Rieky Sunur of GFAB. This project will also marks the first collaboration between George and SRF World Pte Ltd.; a Singaporean company which boasts impressive portfolio of invested interests; including diverse sustainability in the field of renewable fuels, waste management and fashion.

Expect the same “brutalist” aesthetic that come to define the original The Slow in Canggu, with strong use of industrial materials softened by natural elements and ample greenery. The same focus on sustainability will also remain, with the design hosting abundance of local materials; limestone structure, recycled timber screens, bamboo furnishings to solar power, adorned by personal collection of George and his wife, Cisco.

What sets The Slow apart from the rest is their ability to transform space with a clear identity, pairing traditional local elements with a classic take in their “tropical brutalist” design. George adds, “our suites don’t have TV sets or desks. The project is designed with what we think is relevant to our generation, and to this constantly evolving island. Things shouldn’t just exist due to tradition, they need to make sense to also have a purpose to remain relevant.”

The Slow

Entering the second decade of the 21st century, Potato Head opened their second hotel, Potato Head Studios, sharing the same location with Katamama and Potato Head Beach Club.

While the essence of Bali lies in interaction between different cultures, the ubiquitous hotel typology currently in Bali and other tropical destinations paradoxically emphasises hotel guests’ exclusive enjoyment, detached from the life of the local community. Located on one of the last remaining unoccupied beach front sites in Seminyak, the Potato Head Studios challenges the typical hotel typology: the notion of “exclusivity” is abandoned; the hotel is open for the general public and built for interaction rather than private consumption.

Restaurants, swimming pools, spa, an exhibition space, and a bar are all located in the main structure, alongside the series of identical guestrooms. On top, there is a large public rooftop with views to the sea that is accessed by a zigzagging concrete stair. The project, which was led by OMA partner David Gianotten, aims to reference the typical materials used in Balinese culture.

“We worked with a large number of local people to handcraft the textures of some concrete walls and also create the woven recycled plastic ceiling panels,” David Gianotten told Dezeen. Other details include handcrafted breezeblock walls with geometric patterns, terrazzo made from waste concrete and a traditional thatched roof material called ijuk. The concrete is also marked with reclaimed wooden boards. “To reduce waste in construction, we used reclaimed wooden boards for concrete formworks,” David Gianotten added. “These wooden boards also led to unique textures of the concrete walls.”

In the guest rooms, the textured concrete informs the hues of the other features. Among these are a series of built-in wooden furniture, which form wardrobes, cabinets and bathtubs, and pinkish terrazzo flooring. Faye Toogood combined scrap from local weavers to create pillows and throws. “They’ve been an amazing client to work with,” she told the Wall Street Journal, “so forward thinking in terms of a beach hotel.”

Potato Head Studios

Room amenities set the tone after check-in. Guests are supplied with a “zero-waste” kit featuring a water bottle, bamboo toothbrush and sunscreen container that’s refillable in the hotel’s store. “You don’t need to bring anything to Bali,” says Ronald Akili. “Just travel as light as you can.”

Ronald Akili has signed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and, again, Andra Matin for Potato Head’s next project in Tabanan, Bali, an eco-retreat with modular huts in the jungle, slated to open up the tranquil coast late next year.

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 renowned 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.