Balinese traditional culture is one of the most amazing cultures in the world and probably the most visible aspect of Bali’s cultural treasure trove is its architecture. The elders of Bali are constantly considering how their culture can be preserved and protected and, to this end, have built a series of rules into legislation. Before anyone builds, they must have a building permit (an IMB or Ijin Mendirikan Bangunan), and an IMB will not be issued unless certain conditions are satisfied.
Among these requirements are:
- An IMB must be obtained before construction starts.
- The land is zoned for the function of the building being proposed.
- The land is zoned to permit the density of buildings being proposed.
- Immediate neighbours have signed documents that state that they agree to the building being proposed.
- Buildings are no higher than a palm tree (considered to be 15 metres high).
- The building is properly designed with a structure that will withstand earthquakes.
- The building incorporates elements of Balinese architectural style within its design.
With a bit of common sense, it can be seen that these requirements are well thought out and provide the opportunity to protect the interests of Bali, the interests of the person building the building and the people that live around the building.
Unfortunately, as time passes, these requirements are increasingly being ignored and, make no mistake, we all suffer in the long run.
All buildings in Bali must contain elements of traditional Balinese architectural design.
Note that one of these rules require that buildings “incorporate elements of Balinese architectural style in their design”. Many of us have heard of this rule, but what exactly does it mean? Even architects appear to be confused, and many modern buildings include what can only be described as some “token gesture” to get their IMB application passed. A typical token gesture is the inclusion of a pitched roof with Balinese decorations, which appears in the drawings for the building permit application but does not appear on the completed building. Note that buildings with flat roofs are not permitted in Bali.
So what can we do to incorporate or add elements of Balinese architectural style in our buildings?
Balinese architecture is deeply influenced by its Hindu spirituality.
Balinese architecture is complex and mystical. It is, as with all elements of Balinese culture, deeply integrated with its spirituality and belief systems.
Rules are determined to satisfy religious requirements and the constant need to maintain harmony and balance. These rules have important considerations for the karma of all the people involved, particularly the property owner. These religious considerations are very important for the Balinese and the starting point for virtually everything they do.
The Balinese believe in the concept of Tri Angga and consider a world in which everything is divided into a hierarchy of three distinct parts.
- The higher pure places or Utama where the gods dwell.
- The middle neutral places or Madya where we mere mortals dwell.
- The lower places or Nista where evil and mischievous spirits dwell.
For the Balinese, it is important to continually maintain harmony and balance between the higher and lower places, or there will be problems. In their search for harmony, Balinese builders work closely under the guidance of priests who may consult sacred documents in the placement, orientation and design of their buildings. It is all far too complex for us to understand, however, so let’s keep it simple.
There are four ways we can incorporate Balinese architecture in our buildings:
- Place and orient buildings respecting the concept of Tri Angga.
- Design the buildings respecting the concept of Tri Angga and reflecting the types, shapes and sense of proportion used in Balinese structures.
- Use traditional materials.
- Incorporate Balinese decoration in our buildings.
Village planning, building placement and orientation.
In Bali, Tri Angga is a very important consideration in town planning, and so land zoning, the placement of buildings and facilities must reflect their function and where this function sits in terms of purity. I don’t know if you have noticed, but Bali is a sloping sort of a place. It seems that everywhere you go, there is an uphill towards the mountains and a downhill towards the sea. The higher places or Utama are the mountains, particularly Mount Agung where the gods dwell, while the sea is Nista or lower, impure places where sea monsters and demons dwell. The people live in the Madya or neutral middle ground on the coastal plains and the lower slopes of the mountains.
Balinese placement and orientation constantly refer to four directions:
- Towards the mountains, the home of the gods, known as Kaja.
- Towards the sea, home to sea monsters and demons, known as Kelod
- Towards the rising sun known as Kangin
- Towards the setting sun known as Kauh
Balinese villages are laid out in accordance with these directions. A temple to the gods, the Pure Puseh, is placed at the uphill “Kaja” end of the village. A temple to the earthly spirits, the Pura Dalem, is placed, along with the graveyard (which is considered a dirty place) at the lower “Kelod” end of the village. The people live between the two, and in the centre of the village, you will find the Pura Desa and public buildings.
Traditional Balinese house layout
The principle is also applied in house layout. A traditional Balinese house is not a single building but a collection of buildings within a family compound. All the buildings in the family compound are placed according to their function and how they fit into Tri Angga. A family temple is in the corner of the land closest to Mount Agung. Dirty places such as the bathroom and toilet are placed at the corner furthest away from Mount Agung. The Entrance is also placed towards the “dirty” corner of the compound.
For more information about building design, layout, construction and decoration, go to the three articles you will find at https://www.mrfixitbali.com/building-design/balinese-architecture/balinese-architecture-spiritual-195.html.
Previous “Fixed Abode” articles can be found subject indexed on our website at www.mrfixitbali.com. Opinions expressed are those of Phil Wilson. He can be contacted through the website or the office on 0361 288 789 or 08123 847 852.
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