Alexis Dornier’s meandering residence in Bali sparks discovery and curiosity
Known for its fertile volcanic soil, artisanal farmers, colorful rituals, fascinatingly complex irrigation systems, and stunning, sustainable landscapes, Bali is a lush tropical paradise. Traditional philosophy of life in Bali —Three hit karana– Roughly translated as “Three Reasons for Prosperity,” it states that harmony between humans, nature, and God is paramount. This belief seems to resonate in their traditional way of life, as well as their local architecture. Bali’s famous natural beauty provides a break from the pressures of the fast-paced modern lifestyle, which is shifting more to the cities, while architecture takes on the role of facilitator rather than hero. While the principles of architecture that promote harmony between humans and nature have persisted, the influx of modern architectural styles and technology into a deep-rooted fascination with traditional Balinese materials and craftsmanship has given rise to more subtle renditions of tropical modernism. Despite originating in Germany, under the continuing influence of the aviation industry, Alexis Dornier’s “The Loop” is an eccentric example of his disconcerting intuition in the use of local materials, which is reflected in his interpretation of modern Balinese architecture.
Bali – one of Indonesia’s 17,508 islands – is among the most popular tropical islands for tourism globally, attracting not only temporary visitors but also slowly becoming a haven for cruise holidays or ‘second’ homes. The genesis of the project concept came from one statement from the clients: “We have lived all our lives in boxes, and now we are striving for the opposite.” With a simple yet profound brief, the German architect’s attempt to show a residence that fulfills the client’s desire resulted in a shape that almost resembles a lemniscate – a symbol of infinity. While this solved the conceptual problem of nonconformity, it created new challenges. Speaking about the design challenges, Dornier explained how the project presented “unique challenges that require innovative solutions” in an official statement. “Bending materials in two dimensions and solving complex geometric situations required careful planning and collaboration with skilled craftsmen. It was a journey into uncharted territory, pushing the boundaries of architectural possibilities.
A long road – located on the edge of a forest and a couple of small farms – leads to the dwelling. At its entrance at the end of the path, its curvilinear form is immediately apparent, along with the vernacular principles it adheres to, which bear the flair of modernist tropical architecture in its ability to age gracefully. The figure is located on a steep slope, and does not conform to the lines, but floats above them with the help of columns. While this floating nature is present in one of his previous projects, “Birdhouses,” its manifestation in “The Ring” is distinctive. The suspended form contributes to the structure becoming a canopy where winding stairs lead into the forest, allowing an increased sense of intimacy with nature.
The cornerstone of the design is its outdoor nature, with a 360-degree view of the luxurious setting. The textures and materials used in the project – concrete, wood and natural stone – were chosen to seamlessly integrate the structure with the greenery, while describing the abstraction of the design language through shapes and details. The natural materials used in the construction of the residence were designed to be experimentally centrifugal, acting as a sensory bridge between inside and outside.
Arousing curiosity through its sinuous form – curved corridors juxtaposed with rising and falling levels, rooms set apart from the normal rectangular shapes – it creates a new experience for the residents, satisfying their desire for unconventionality. Full of dynamic character from the curved lines, the house allows for a sense of movement that drives its synergy with its immediate environment. Dornier describes the residence’s relationship with its surroundings: “The strategic design of the home ensures that every room offers stunning views and a sense of discovery. From the intimate bedrooms to the public areas, each space becomes an oasis of peace and tranquility, immersing the occupants in the tranquil beauty of the forest.” Wooden panels and stone steps aid visual movement through linear textures that run diagonally or vertically – depending on the orientation of the surface – forcing residents to see outwards. There is a stunning view close to even most of the spaces inside the residence.
Continuous collaboration with the client throughout the project development became a defining factor of the project’s identity. The client’s active participation in the selection of materials and design enriched his connection to the residence, fostering a sense of shared ownership and a deep connection to the end result. Expanding on the brief, Dornier expressed the intended outcome, “The unique radial design provides a captivating and immersive experience, freeing residents from the constraints of their past and inviting them to embrace a vibrant new lifestyle.”
One of the fascinating aspects of Dornier’s work was his ability to tap into the nerve of critical regionalism mixed with modernist sensibilities that were so crucial in putting Bali’s architecture on the global map. Even with the strong individual identity of each of his projects, they do not necessarily contrast in visual, even spiritual, language with regional vernacular architecture. In contrast to the way architecture is woven into the environmental – and even social – fabric of traditional Balinese architecture, Dornier’s projects, seen as a compendium of work, possess a cohesive identity of their own, through which nature flows.
name: the ring
location: Bali, Indonesia
region: 762 square meters
Year of completion: 2023
structural engineer: Alexis Dornier
Landscape architecture: Adiputra landscape
building: Adi Jaya Utama