SEAARC Symposium Abstract 28: “Constructing Paradise: Australian-Asian Networks in the Cultivation of the Bali-Style”

by Dr. Peter Scriver and Dr. Amit Srivastava, University of Adelaide

The dissolving of the European colonial empires in the years following World War II left a patchwork of new nation-states whose boundaries subsumed or were superimposed upon other patterns defined variously by ethnicity, region and geography. Sate-craft in the initial period of postcolonial independence was much pre-occupied, therefore, with mitigating and transcending these internal tensions. Accordingly, as previous scholarship has  emphasised, the development of modern infrastructure was frequently conflated with issues of national identity, and architecture, among other disciplines, was employed both literally and metaphorically as a tool of ‘nation-building’.

With the advent of commercial air-travel, the post-war decades were also marked by a rise in international tourism. The newly decolonised nations of tropical Asia were thereby subjected to a new wave of foreigners, akin to the colonial oppressors that had been so recently expelled yet welcomed through a new rhetoric of economic development. Desiring to modernise but lacking capital resources, tourism was adopted as an increasingly important part of a nation-building strategy in which cultural resources could be commoditised. But such a view of tourism hinges on the perceived value of alterity, extended from the arguments of colonial anthropologists, and has often led to debates on authenticity. Accordingly, hybrid architectural constructs such as ‘Bali Style’ resorts are subject to criticism as forms of ‘staged authenticity’ that cannot be valued outside the context of economic development.

Complicating and partially contesting such a reductive critique, this paper will explore how the development of the original Bali Style resorts in the 1960s and 70s was the result of a particular condition of transnational exchange that arose in the context of concurrent shifts in both the local and the global economic climates which have not been adequately considered previously. Tracing the origins and development of the prototypical resorts in the Bali Style, the paper charts a unique confluence of regional players from Australia, Sri Lanka and India as well as their British, American and Dutch counterparts, which resulted in the development of what was an essentially new architectural typology. The questions of how and why this sub-cultural nexus of transnational aesthetes and professionals came to be centred in Bali in the 1970s are addressed by examining the challenge to organised industrial capital under the patronage of the state that was beginning to be posed by regional entrepreneurs and associated Southeast Asian networks of exchange. Extending the discussion to the expanding sphere of international tourism in this period, the paper further questions the limited understanding of tourism as mere leisure consumption to argue that cross-cultural artefacts like the early Bali Style hotels should not be dismissed as superficial inventions but re-considered as products of a peculiar form of ethnographic research specific to the architectural discipline that offered important insight, little appreciated at the time, into the profound significance of ‘construction’ as the material embodiment of cultural practices, systems and values.


Peter Scriver and Amit Srivastava are both based in the Centre for Asian and Middle-Eastern Architecture (CAMEA) and School of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Adelaide. India: Modern Architectures in History, their forthcoming critical history of modern India through the lens of architecture, will be published by Reaktion Books in 2015. Over the past twenty-five years Peter Scriver has published widely on colonial and contemporary issues in cross-cultural architectural thinking and production. His previous books include After the Masters: Contemporary Indian Architecture (Mapin, 1990) and Colonial Modernities: Building, Dwelling and Architecture in British India and Ceylon (Routledge/Architext, 2007). Amit Srivastava is joint-author of The Elements of Modern Architecture: Understanding Contemporary Architecture (Thames and Hudson, 2014).



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