Five Questions with Visionary Architect Bill Bensley

The self-described “Baliophile” and mastermind behind the sweeping new Capella Ubud shares his drive to protect the island’s beauty.

Capella Ubud, Bali Resort Krishna Adithya Prajogo

The visionary architect behind Capella Ubud—not to mention hundreds of other out-of-this-world hotels (the new Rosewood Luang Prabang and Shinta Mani Angkor among them)—might just be a mad genius. But Bill Bensley’s far-fetched projects come with a purpose, too: to save the natural environments in which they reside. Here, the design disruptor and self-described “Baliophile” shares his longtime love affair with the island that inspires him most.

You first came to Bali 35 years ago. What keeps bringing you back?

I like the intense connection most Balinese have with Mother Earth—it is unique and alive. I love the languages, both spoken and architectural. I love the fine arts and have collected a good number of pieces over the last 35 years. But most of all, I love the Balinese ability to laugh even in the most difficult circumstances.

How has Bali shaped your work as an architect?

In more ways than I could possibly describe. For example, today I make a big deal about preaching minimal intervention and retaining the beauty of nature. I love this island and champion the way it once was. There is too much built now, and the buildings being erected are visual eyesores.

Capella Ubud, Bali

Capella Ubud’s 22 fantastical tents are chock-full of homegrown design and drama  Photo: Krishna Adithya Prajogo

That belief played a big part in your design for Capella Ubud.

When I started to work on Capella, I had a contract that called for 130 keys and pretty much the destruction of the forest. I convinced the owner to build less, spend less, and make the room rate higher. Low volume, high yield is a main principle of many of my projects. I am so proud of making the hotel disappear into the landscape. It’s hidden in a jungle, and we didn’t disturb even one tree. We built one of Bali’s most unique hotels—and no one can see it!

What are your go-to island design shops?

Philip Lakeman Ceramic is my favorite. I am also a champion of upcycling vintage, antiques, and what most consider “old junk,” so I have for the past three years scrounged the junkyards and old shops of Kerobokan.

What’s the first thing you do when you come to Bali?

I close my eyes, drive to the north, then open my eyes to the rice paddies.

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