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.
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.