Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Balinese Architecture:A Home for Body, Mind and Spirit

Information Center Art, Architecture, Music
source : http://hotelwww.net/architecture.htm

Balinese Architecture:A Home for Body, Mind and Spirit Traditionally, Balinese architecture offered not just shelter from sun and storm but provided a commentary on the order of the cosmos. Just as Balinese ritual is directed toward rebalancing the opposing poles of the world - good and evil, order and disorder, right and wrong - so Balinese traditional architecture attempts to balance the relationship between the human body, the world in which it lives, and the unseen world of mystical forces with which human beings are always in constant relation. Traditional Balinese architecture comprises an extremely detailed body of ancient knowledge, called Asta Kosala Kosali, which is inscribed in palm leaf lontar books written in the Old Javanese language of Kawi which few Balinese today understand.
Filling a social function halfway between a priest and an expert contractor, the undagi ensures that the house will be physically, socially and spiritually appropriate for the people who are to inhabit it. The traditional architect who has mastered this lore and knows how to apply it to creating human habitation is called an undagi. But while the theory and practice of building in Bali might be quite complex in its entirety, its basic principles are simple. Because the human body is a microcosmos or a miniature copy of the world in which it dwells, which in turn is a microcosmos of the divine order of the universe, one’s house must be built in harmony with one’s body. By applying principles of balance between opposing forces, traditional Balinese architecture can create a harmonious living space, bringing optimal health and happiness to a house’s inhabitants.
The majority of homes in Bali are constructed not as single family dwellings but as compounds that can house an extended group of relatives, comprising a series of separate pavilions surrounded by a high wall. To build a new house, the undagi first measures various parts of the body of the head of the household, usually the senior male of the family. Using a length of bamboo, he will note such bodily dimensions as the distance between the tips of the middle fingers with arms spread wide, the distance between the elbow and the tips of the middle fingers, the width of the fist, the length of the index finger, the space between the joints of the index finger and the width of the little finger.
These measurements will determine the size of the compound, the dimensions of the individual pavilions and the spacing of the supporting posts, and eve the width and length of the beds. Other factors which the undagi uses to match to house to its future inhabitants include the person’s caste, for traditionally one’s place within the social hierarchy determined the type of house one should build. And, of course, with a variety of building materials and levels of decorative complexity to choose from, one’s budget will also play a deciding role.
The undagi works to make sure that the layout of the compound is aligned not only with the owner’s body but with the powerful forces at work in the worlds of humans and the gods. In Bali, spatial alignment is organized not according to the absolute directions of north, south, east and west, but in reference to kaja, the direction of the holy Mount Agung, which rises up from the center of the island and is said to be the home of the gods, and kelod, the direction of the sea. Towards the mountain is the direction of purity and sacredness, and toward the sea is the direction of impurity, for the sea is where the ashes of one cremated will be returned to the elements. Between the mountain and the sea, sacred and profane, is where humans live out their everyday lives, trying to balance good and evil in all they do.
Likewise, the human body is divided into pure, impure and intermediate parts. The head is the most sacred part of the body, the feet the most impure. Traditional architecture, seeking to align the human body properly in space, specifies the position of the various parts of the house in relation to their relative purity and impurity. In the direction of the mountain will be built the family temple. In the direction of the sea, the bathroom, animal pens, and garbage heap will be placed. In the middle of the compound will be located a number of pavilions, called bale, which are usually semi open structures where the family will sleep and gather to talk and to work. Even the beds will be laid out so that one’s head will face the mountain and one’s feet will point towards the sea.
When the house is finished, ceremonies will be held to bring the house to life and to appease any negative forces that might be lingering around the site. The building materials that have been taken from the earth and “killed” to construct the house are now reanimated by a priest through ritual. The house is now alive, possessing feet, head and body, and it must be taken care of like one would take care of any human being with whom one has a close relationship. On important ritual occasions, the pavilions and posts of the house will even be “dressed” as human beings, wrapped in colorful cloth skirts and sashes. And every day, the women of the house will make small offerings of rice and flowers that she will place in certain spots around the house and yard to ask for the good will of the spirits of the unseen world who are sharing the space with her and her family.
Traditionally, Balinese houses were constructed of wood, preferably the iron hard teak wood that resists high tropical humidity and hungry termites. Roofs were made of thatch, woven tightly to provide protection against the sun and the torrential rains of the monsoon. The walls that surrounded traditional compounds were made of sun baked mud bricks or even, in South Bali, of chunks of coral from the reefs lining the shore. In contemporary Bali, a wide and worldly variety of materials are now used. Concrete and brick are cheap and easy to work with, and ceramic tile has become a must for anyone hoping to appear modern and prosperous.
Many Balinese, in fact, now build homes far from their ancestral compounds that serve as nuclear family dwellings, and the traditional open platform style is fast being replaced by the rumah kantor or “office house,” with enclosing walls, windows and low roofs - a style which may satisfy the new craving for a cosmopolitan modernity but which makes little concession to Bali’s hot, humid weather. In fact, in contemporary Bali it is often ironically the tourist hotels or the grand homes of Bali’s large expatriate community that display the greatest obsession with creating authentic Bali Style. While it is, of course, impossible for a hotel to follow all the tenets of traditional Balinese architecture by matching rooms to fit the bodies of an ever changing parade of guests, today’s hotels try to incorporate elements of traditional architecture in their design.
Lumbung barns used to store the rice harvest provide inspiration for guest rooms. Meeting rooms are done over in the manner of a Balinese wantilan, or public assembly hall. The split gates that guide Balinese into temples and family compounds frame lobbies decorated with coconut wood pillars, carved stone sculptures and paintings depicting colorful characters from local mythology. Statues of gods and demons do double duty as garden lamps, while the temple for the guardians of the land serves as a command post for hotel security. Even if these modern temples to tradition express a more secular relationship with space than the old style Balinese house compound, they nevertheless can still serve to initiate Bali’s guests into some of the beauty and balance that characterize Balinese architecture.


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