Green Village Bali is an eco initiative led by Ubud’s Elora Hardy and her team at Ibuku – architects, designers and master craftsmen who pioneer all-new approaches to bamboo architecture and furniture design. Elora invited us to spend a night at the biggest house at Green Village, called Sharma Springs. The 6-storey, 4-bedroom house is newly complete and staying there was a very rare treat indeed. Here’s why, in a two-part blog: his and hers!
Part 1: by RIO HELMI
From the outside, Sharma Springs is unassuming – when you come into the driveway it doesn’t announce itself with great pomp. In fact from the street it just looks like a slightly better off village home. It’s smart that the entrance is so discreet.
There’s great value to being in a Balinese village without creating a jarring presence – you aren’t coming across in great mansion-esque, overpowering, ostentatious way, which is really important. If there’s one way to alienate Balinese it’s by being showy.
You only get the full impact of what has transpired and is transpiring here once you are inside. Once past the gatehouse the landscape drops away into a river ravine, but you barely have time to take that in. At first you struggle to slot this thing in front of you into a convenient box: is it a film set? Is a huge, mad sculpture? Is this simply some outrageous, fantasy indulgence? But by now you’re in a different plane of mind.
The moment you enter the tunnel, a bridge which seems to float in space and bounces a little as you walk across, you feel your sense of space and gravity shift, your concept of what a building is is challenged. It’s almost a gestalt experience. Through this bamboo birthing canal you have arrived in a whole different way of addressing the environment. For lack of a better word, it’s organic, and it’s unavoidable. The forms, the shapes, the overall design. It’s not just about bamboo as a material, it’s about being in a constructed yet interactive reflection of a living, all-natural environment.
Once you’re over the overwhelming design-ness of it, then the details start to hit you. For a moment you’re kind of lost, because there aren’t the familiar light-switches on the walls – in fact there isn’t even a wall! Then you start to notice how clever things are – light switches discreetly poised on strategically placed bamboo mini-columns, air conditioning units camouflaged in bamboo cages. Even the circular doors don’t open the way we are used to, they would just keep spinning smoothly on their axis if you let them.
But there’s no question that all this bamboo is luxury. The house has expansiveness and depth, plenty of space, and in a word it is ‘appointed’. Every detail has been thought about. It’s a far cry from any resemblance to any kind of bamboo structure that you might have imagined, or that you might see in other parts of Bali (or the world). In some strange way it’s almost like a spaceship. A warmly coloured, audaciously designed spaceship made of supergrass.
Part 2: by CATRIONA MITCHELL
Rio and I have been totally overworked the past few weeks: painting walls, sanding cupboards, buying and arranging furniture, sourcing suppliers, designing menus, hanging photos for Rio’s new gallery and café. We’re badly in need of a break.
We pull into the driveway in Sibang, and I wonder where we are. Aren’t we bound for some kind of eco wonderland, a fantastical, rejuvenating, green jungle getaway? Instead we’re in a garage in the midst of a little village: cockerels are pecking about next door and curious children are staring through the closing gate at Rio’s motorbike. I figure Rio must have stopped here to pick something up on the way…
The moment we’re ushered to the back of the garage, I realize that we have in fact reached our destination, and that the discreet entrance has very little to do with the experience that lies ahead.
Sharma Springs is accessed by a bamboo tunnel, suspended across a ravine. We remove our shoes. It shakes a little as we cross, like a home-made rope bridge across a river, in a way that’s charming rather than alarming. Everything is extremely well constructed. The house is colossal; its six levels held up by a complex system of bamboo poles. The front door is a swinging oval window. We step across the threshold and I immediately feel different. The stress leaves my body. It’s that instant – something to do with being in a vast space, surrounded by only natural fibres. We’ve entered a tree house, unlike any other tree house on Earth.
As Rio and I gaze, somewhat open-mouthed, at the open-plan, wall-less rooms before us – we have arrived at the 4th floor, where the living and dining areas are situated, decorated with playful bamboo and wicker objects, some so unusual-looking it takes a moment to figure out their purpose, with the sides entirely open to the jungle and river valley, glimpses of other Ibuku houses peeking out from among the tree-tops – a couple of genteel staff offer us cool towels and coconut water, and show us to the master bedroom. We peel off our sticky motorbike gear and patter around the house and then the extensive wildish garden in bathers and bare feet, before taking a swim in the late afternoon sun. I’m tempted to take a bath in the outdoor tub, surrounded only by the wilds of the garden, with a smooth, river stone to turn in lieu of a standard tap, but we’re due at a screening at Green School.
Green School’s Bubble Theatre is minutes away on a bike, and hands down the best screening venue in Bali: a giant inflatable tent, that can accommodate hundreds of viewers. We lie down towards the back to watch an environmental documentary that’s part of a regular screening series. Young children play loudly behind us – but not so loudly as to disturb the viewing.
After the film we wind our way back to the house in the dark, and fall asleep to the sound of the roaring river below.
Rio always wakes well before dawn and just for once I’m eager to stir with him: I don’t want to miss a moment of the sunrise here, the light picking out the fantastical details of the house one by one, highlighting them for me to enjoy all over again.
It’s as if my spine has decompressed since yesterday; my whole body feels lighter, more airborne, my spirit more expansive. Being here is like living inside someone’s imagination – and it’s vivid and wild.
Wrapped in sarongs, Rio and I go our separate ways in the house: him up and me down the central staircase, then him down and me up, cameras in hand, careful to stay out of each other’s pictures. There is so much to look at. Everything is bespoke, artisanal. The electric power points are hidden in cupboards. The plasma TV is cleverly disguised in a chest that folds closed. Mirror frames, lamp shades, coat hangers, book shelves are crafted from bamboo. I’ve never seen the juxtaposition of so many natural textures. There is no sign of modernization or artificial anything – or straight lines, or right angles.
But modernization does have its practical points. The house is so big Rio has to call me on my mobile to tell me breakfast is ready. Tropical fruits, home made granola, fresh coffee. The yoghurt on the table in a bright green plastic pot seems like a rude intrusion. I’m stunned at how quickly I’ve become sensitized.
After breakfast we spread out, moving from sofa to sofa and chair to bamboo chair just because we can. Writing, reading, taking more pictures, flicking through some design magazines, followed by another dip in the pool, a wander down a set of mossy steps to see wild bamboo growing on the banks of the river, pausing to peek into the damp meditation cave, back upstairs for coffee and more lounging about. The house is an inspired space that gives birth to creative ideas. I can feel them hatching one by one. I’m enjoying catching them and noting them down while finding my gaze time and again drawn to the valley outside and marveling at the ingenuity of the overhanging roof, which protects the house from rains during the monsoon.
The guest toilet is housed in a giant wicker basket. It occurs to me that this is the only time I’ve ever rushed out of a bathroom to grab my camera before availing of the facilities.
Another wander around in wonderment. I can’t help myself. I’m fascinated by the details. Everywhere you look, a master craftsman has been there before you. Up on the second-top level – a kind of viewing platform for taking in the living areas below – my eye falls upon some strings fixed vertically to the bamboo poles that form the central tower. I pluck one, and a heavenly sound, exactly like a harp, emanates from under my fingers. Rio, on the floor below, dashes up to find out what I’m doing. He plays a spontaneous melody for me, using his whole body to move between the poles, maximising the range of available notes. I give his little performance the merit it deserves by capturing it on camera (for a quick glimpse of Rio playing the bamboo harp, see our videos page here).
Returning to Ubud feels like a return to a brash and brutal reality – as if the Sharma Springs experience is the way life was meant to be lived, and everything else is a horrible misunderstanding. Traffic? Shops? Noise? Concrete – really? We put departure off as long as we can.
There are other, smaller houses available to rent at Green Village: River View, and Sunrise.
For more information or booking enquiries, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can see design company Ibuku’s website here.
And the Green Village website here.
Part 1 photographs are by Rio Helmi.
Part 2 photographs are by Catriona Mitchell.
Panoramas by Rio Helmi.