Nested in the dense jungles of Ubud, Bali; Capella is Architect Bill Bensley’s perfect tropical playground. Words cannot do justice to how surreal and phantasmagoric the Capella experience is. With multiple canvas tents and occasional artefacts; Bensley manages to blur the lines between surrealism, maximalism and the very organic reality. He masters the art of storytelling through architecture and interior design.
The Capella resort spans over nine acres of paddy fields and the Ubud rainforest. Planned to celebrate the tropical habitability with the Balinese flora and fauna, it focuses on sustaining 100% of the natural plantations and revolving the entire design organically across the jungle.
The Design Curation And Philosophy
The resort was to be designed for the famous industrialist Suwito Gunawan; whose idea was to build a hotel with 120 rooms. But then, Bill Bensley was brought into the picture with his statement, “ If we design a hotel for everyone, it will appeal to no one” with which the Flamboyant and extravagant Capella was built.
Bill Bensley revived the story of the ship-wrecked Dutch immigrants in the forest from the 1800s with his boyhood recollection of a jungle camp. Unlike many hospitality projects, The Capella in Ubud focuses on highlighting the purpose and importance of the living experience rather than making a profit-making plan. This is the reason why it was adopted as a small but flavorful settlement with only 22 luxury tents; crafted to perfection.
Bensley and his team consciously kept “minimal intervention” in their minds to create the hotel while honouring the Balinese philosophy of “Tri Hita Karana” which translates to the 3 causes of well-being; pointing towards creating harmony with God, Nature and people.
When we talk about the design curation, we observe how; leaving the biome undisturbed must have posed a problem for the design team. To establish the planning and blocking of different tents in the retreat, the team created mockups using bamboo. This helped them in nesting the resort in the jungle’s lap without disturbing the ecology while providing the best possible views from every tent.
Capella is like a fantastical narrative. We reach the property through a busy market on the outskirts of the rice paddies. We arrive at the main station after walking through the immensity of the tiered terrain. The walls of the ornate entryway are decorated with deer head sculptures festooned with sepia and bead garlands. The narrative of a jungle festival begins here when we encounter segregated public places such as the officer’s club lounge, the armoury, which is the gym, Api Jeeva, which is the restaurant, or the Cistern, which is the common pool. Many spaces across the resort are built as interactive zones.
For instance, the campfire, the open-air cinema which showcases silent black and white movies, the poolside bar etc. We notice that the site planning is such that every tent, be it public or private, is provided with a magnificent view of the paddy fields, the forest or the Wos river.
Furthermore, every tent has an organically designed entrance and is themed to different stories. For instance, the carpenter’s tent, architect’s tent, voyager’s tent, horn collector’s tent, princess tent, java tent, cartographers tent etc. It is like every living unit has a personality of its own just like different settlers who camp in a jungle to share stories of their individual lives.
The Mads Lange restaurant is another example of such design profiling which is named after a Danish explorer who was famously known as the white rajah of Bali. Blending into the terraced landscape, these canvas tents are highly functional, luxury rooms, which provide the guests with a splendid view of the Wos River, or a personal show of the Balinese dancing birds or even the magical tranquility of the Ubud rainforest.
The Maximalist Interiors
Working per his extravagant style, Bill Bensley leaves no stone unturned when it comes to embellishing every corner of every tent. He works with multitudes of materials to create a luxury experience with every element adding detail to his Capella story. Handcrafted ceramics, copper monkeys jumping and sitting on the roofs or by the salt pools, stone and glassworks, wooden detailing etc. create a sensory safari for the guests to enjoy.
Bensley also explores tactile materials, which pays homage to Balinese culture and history. Some subtle instances include the black and white checked fabric known as Saput Poleng, Batik and ikat design fabrics for wall ornamentation, retro-style red enamel tins, intricately carved mirrors, roll-up tent windows, indigenous puppets, multiple hand-painted artworks and extremely well-crafted wooden post beds, hand-beaten copper bathtubs, toilet seats designed as thrones, and so on.
The contrasting but very interesting colour scheme of the resort is indeed remarkable. Exteriors are focused on earthy neutral colours with greyish black canvas tents settling in the jungle. Whereas the interiors have blasting colours like blazing reds, yellows, greens and blues in upholstery as well as wall and roof suspensions.
The Capella resort, with all its luxuries and splendours, works equally hard on making it a sustainable settlement. They incur produce from local farms, have their sewage treatment plants and even have self-sustaining waste management systems. The resort is extremely focused on ecological conservation and has tents with wooden decks focused on minimizing footprint. They even have home brewed and barrel-aged alcohol that is produced in house!
Capella Ubud has managed to set a benchmark in the design industry by becoming a unique yet beautifully crafted experience. It has won multiple design awards and has become nothing less than a well-thought phenomenon. Bill Bensley’s brainchild has given the world a man-made, intentionally hidden gem.