Tag Archives: Bali

Bali Kite Festival


My favorite festivals are multi-dimensional. We had found some scarce information about the Bali Kite Festival, but it really surpassed expectations. We knew it was going to be good when our driver’s face lit up when we told him we wanted to go to Padang Galak.

As Beth mentioned in her post  the kites came with teams: 20 people to manage the incredible forces on the rope (not kite string) of these huge beauties, and 20 more to play the accompanying music. The camaraderie was readily apparent, and the fun was purely infectious. It reminded be a little bit of the NC State Fair, except that the main entertainment was provided by the creativity and enthusiasm of the attendees. Food and drink were on the side, not the main attraction.


Each kite style had its own competition and performance objective. The Bebean (fish) kites were put into the air for 20 minutes and judged by the pace and evenness of their “swim” from side to side. Meanwhile the Janggan (bird) kites have monstrously long tails and are judged by the flow of the tail. We missed the Pecukan (leaf) kites but did see some special creation kites, which included human-sized gods.

Equally impressive was all the logistics required, which included building large bamboo structures on the field launch them from, and driving them back and forth to each Bali village down narrow roads with oncoming traffic driving under them. It seemed like the festival gathered all the energy of Bali in a compelling grass-roots activity. And the whole thing started with the simplest of natural assets: wind.


The Mind Behind the Skull

Lee Downey is an inspiring man. With over 20 years of working in Bali, he has seemed to embrace everything about it while maintaining a world view.

Lee has a significant following for carving skulls. He and his crew carve them out of glass, meteors and bowling balls. They carves them out of things you never heard of, and do so expertly in painstaking detail. At first I thought it was a skull thing. And certainly there are enough skulls, including giant rodents and weird pigs whose lower teeth grow long enough to puncture the top of their skull. But as creepy as skulls can be, they always represent the mystery of creatures: what’s in that head?

But then we gazed onto a large chunk of amber glass. It looked like maple syrup sitting on the table. Lee mentioned it was a next big project: carving a

We sat down for some of his delicious homemade chai and the conversation developed. What was this Eisenhower thing about? What am I about? What’s our biggest problem in this world? In my personal working experience, it’s been shoes. We also discussed the perils of cars.  But then we gazed onto a stunning chunk of amber glass on the table. It was from the Manhattan Project. The more we discussed nuclear energy and bombs, the more I realized that he was extremely knowledgable on the subject and that these skulls weren’t just about mystery, but were also about sending out warning signs.

Lee is world-renowned for his craft. In fact Sting’s wife bought a piece from him for Billy Joel’s birthday. I believe it was from the “Bones and Stones” series below. Schwarzenegger was photographed for a Time Magazine cover wearing one of his skull belt buckles. But his mastery extends into metalsmithing and sculpture from fossilized mammoth tusks. 


His home is located within the studio. Perched on the peak of a magnificent and unspoiled valley, his home is a sliding giant glass wall.

Lee has extensive travel experiences. Finally I asked him “why Bali?” He quickly responded that there is nowhere else in the world where people can carve so well. This only affirmed my conversation with Cynthia Hardy.

But Lee’s personal story speaks volumes for integration with a community. He is highly knowledgable about proper documentation for wildlife artifacts. His Balinese business partner became a priest and now Lee’s home adjoins the temple. Lee still works with his original craftspeople, who live in this compound and enjoy health insurance. He has trained their children and is now witnessing a third generation coming. He integrated a local cafe/bar to share the valley view. He has a great Macaw keeping him company as he designs, manages, creates and researches. He also has a plan in place to reintroduce a nearly extinct bird population into the adjoining valley. There are few people in this world that leave me so inspired. Cynthia and I discussed this on the rainy scooter ride back and I felt I had witnessed a person who exemplified a poem by Whitman. At first I could only bring back the compelling excerpt: “…dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem…”

I got back to Ubud and found the whole work:

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

― Walt Whitman


The Ride to Tegallalang

I first met Cynthia Hardy on the Yoga mat. I am not a yoga practitioner but it was being offered for free by Annie in the centerpiece bamboo yoga structure of Bambu Indah. If there was a place for me to learn yoga, this was going to be it. I didn’t hear any cackles from the small group while I struggled which put me at ease, but then Cynthia volunteered to lead us in a squat pose twisting and pushing our arms side to side. After my muscles started burning, I realized this was a strong and graceful woman.

We talked at breakfast about our interests and she immediately put together an agenda to see Lee Downey later that day. The middle of the island has the smallest of roads, and are increasingly filled with busses and cars. So to get from Ubud to north of the Tegallalang region by car was going to double the 1 hour trip. This was not going to work for Beth, she had already done some scooter time the day before – without traffic – and that was enough. So I jumped behind Cynthia on her scooter and Annie followed on hers.


We had a brief stop at Tegallalang to see the magnificent vista of cascading rice terraces. I understand that the water for the top tiers comes from an extensive upstream canal system that feeds into these terraces one by one. There are elders who will adjust the water needs of each field by corking one terrace and unplugging another. It seems like it would be quite a tricky math problem to model.




The petrol stations were unique: just an oudoor shelf system of glass bottles of fuel. Jus pick it up and pour it in. Of course it was fun to think about how much of a full liter you were getting, but you could also pick your own.



Along the way we also passed a multitude of craft shops. Its inconceivable to think about how many artists and crafters live in Bali. It certainly feels like the whole population is inordinately skilled. Cynthia suggested that this was related to their religious ritual of making offerings. From exquisitely arranged flowers to delicately peeled and folded leaves, there are always fresh offerings within sight – on a dinner table or on the ground at the entrance to a store. I loved the idea of these offerings. They were not offerings of flowers, leaves and food as much as they were offerings of labour and skill. And this offering had a reciprical effect in making the Balinese the craftspeople and artists of Indonesia.

From Green to Great

I can’t properly state how thrilled we were today. Not only did we see some of the most magnificent architecture of my life, but we spent the whole day with John Hardy to get the first-person perspective on how it comes together.

The first stop was the “factory.” In one building, you can see the design team create models of the homes they intend to build, with the iterations hanging upside down from the ceiling. Outside is a bamboo processing operation, where the massive 40′ trunks are treated with Borax, pressure washed and stacked for sale or use in their own projects. Many different types of bamboo come into the facility, each with its own use: the straight ones become structural components for buildings, while the curvy ones make great railings or furniture elements. Some pieces are ripped into small strips so they can be reassembled into flooring or counters. Some larger pieces are scored so they can become matts. Then there are the beautiful cross-sections which make up headboards or railing posts.

Interspersed with this variety of operations is a small clue into John’s creative thinking. In almost every corner there is an experiment: combining bamboo with tires, ceramics, or glass and with other bamboo components in a variety of constructions. Each one looked like a whole new business was ready to start.

Our first stop was to look at a bamboo home in process. The entry was through a fully round tunnel – apparently the concept came from laying a tower down. The workers made it look like it was a fine idea.

In Bali the climate is quite friendly: temperature is moderate, bugs are nothing like NC, and the rain falls vertically. So this means walls are optional. For the most part, the Hardy’s opted out.

Of course some spaces require some privacy, so bathrooms were created as large baskets deployed in corners of the open spaces. The undulating walls created some layers of separation and in some cases obviated the need for doors.

When doors and windows were needed, they found appropriately creative ways to address them.

Countertops, floors, railings were all part of the vision.

Even the headboard… and some ideas on how the young man might use it…

It was stunning to see how the designs worked with the existing topography and barely disturbed it in construction. Clearing an architectural site is always a highly disruptive activity that consumes massive amounts of energy, destroys lots of foliage, and creates runoff problems.

But in many ways it all clicked when I saw the footings. Generally a footing needs to be purely compression-bearing. Shear forces at the base is an engineering no-no, especially without tensile structures in place. So columns are always built straight up. However the Hardy’s have come up with an ingenious footing system that allows their main columns so meet the ground at an angle. I won’t give away their system, but as an engineer, I see this footing system as a “secret sauce” (I think they have many). Once liberated of that, the design opportunities opened up exponentially. But it’s not like it happened by accident.

In my experience the best creativity emerges when new constraints are imposed. The Hardy’s committed to sustainable design and bamboo. This then pushed them into finding ways to design and work with the material, which led to a nice innovation in footings and freed them of perpendicular architecture. This in turn opened up an ocean of new design possibilities. What sells anyone on their bamboo system is not the sustainability, but the fantastic designs that emerge because of this commitment. Sustainability is clearly in the DNA of these buildings, and this manifested into some gorgeous forms.

See Beth’s post with way better pics here.

Expat Workshops

Today we spent most of our time with John Hardy and exploring architecture. John gave us a warm up by sending us to two workshops in Ubud on the way to his office. The first was to Gaya Ceramic.

This shop produced wonderful clay pieces – both artistic and commercial.  The Italian founder, Marcelo Massoni, had commissions from Bulgari, Donna Karan, and a variety of other fashion brands. Their gift shop showed off some of their artisans, and then a school across the street gave 3 month courses on pottery. Beth has some great photos on the workshop, but I was taken with this way of organizing a collection: vision piece on the outside of the cabinet and developing designs behind.

Next we went to Horizon Glassworks, which is led by another ex-pat, Ron Seivertson from  California. The same model applied, fine art, prestigious commissions, and glass blowing classes. We were particular taken by one of Ron’s collaborations with an archaeologist to produce a glass Java Tiger Skull – done by hot drawing method. Beth has a more detailed post on how we compared & contrasted these shops to Penland in NC.

Interestingly enough, most of the clays, glazes, glass, colorants, and even masters were all from outside of Bali. Somehow this became the place to set up shop and experiment – including for Spanish painter Antonio Blanco, which I will cover later. The resulting tripod business plan of art, commercial commissions and education is one to think on for a bit…


Bambu Indah, Bali

I’m jet lagged and stalking a shrimp under my bed.

The villas at Bambu Indah are re-assembled antique Javanese teak bridal homes…with some adjustments. Ours was put together with glass panels inset between the timbers and positioned over a natural pool. The green glow of the underwater light provides a wonderful night light for us above the glass and a magnet for insects in the water. The shrimp have figured it out but are too shy for a picture from above…so far.

Bambu Indah is but one testament to the sustainable design philosophy of its founder, John Hardy. Upon arrival to this bamboo architecture oasis, he scootered into the parking lot and had me sit with him to discuss my program and interests. He quickly took some voice memos, sent them to his assistant by his iPhone (in bamboo case), and I had compelling details waiting for me in email by the time I arrived to my room. He moves fast.

The accommodations at the Udang (shrimp) House are as much outside as inside. Glass tiles allow dappled light in through holes of the thatched roof, and teak panels swing out in a variety of ways to create enough windows as to make the room disappear. The food of the outdoor restaurant is all organic, locally sourced and excellent. In the middle of the small compound is a raised outdoor structure made from black bamboo which serves as a lounge and yoga space. Most of the space between the structures is comprised of running streams and vegetable gardens. I’m hard-pressed to find a piece of plastic in the whole place.

John joined Beth and I briefly for dinner conversation which quickly enjoined on Biennale in VeniceBurning ManINKtalks (the TED of India), and men wearing sanitary napkins. What’s clear is John’s intense commitment to sustainability. We plan to see his Green School and Green Village tomorrow before meeting his talented daughter, Elora. Special thanks are due to Stefan Sagmeister for linking us together.