A big building on the corner of a puri, Balinese royal palace, bonds with the big strong border wall, and stand monumentally, which demand people who are passing by to give respect to it. This building has a large width and there are 8 pillars supporting it. “The king used this building to see the activities of his people outside,” says Tu Rah, one of the members of the puri who is the witness to the dynamics of it. “Only a person who has power owns this building,” he adds.
Now, the only view that people enjoy is the crowd and the business of the intersection. A concrete state in the middle of the traffic, stores in the middle of the traffic, store and government offices that are in a row grab people’s attention. It fact, that big, stately building has become a decoration; as if a sign for someone that they are at the intersection of Bali. Even the people who are from the neighborhood do not know exactly what the big building is. “Many people called it a bale kulkul, but it is not. It is a bale bengong,” Tu Rah clarifies.
Bale bengong is a building in the compound area of a puri which is architecturally placed as extra space. Based on its function, the position of this building in the design of a puri in on the outside border of the palace area, if it is related to the power, is immense seeing how great the power of the palace is. The building has a simple design, an open air building without walls.
Seeing this monumental building on the intersection in the area of a puri, of course, the concepts of the building represents the political will of course, the concept of the building represents the political will of the king. Tu Rah explains more, “Those stores on the south of the bale bengong were a market, the center of people’s activities at that time. And on the west side was a wantilan, an open air building for entertainment.” It can be imagined that a bale bengong was a monitoring tower that the king used. If a prison has a tower to watch over the prisoners, the bale bengong in a puri is a facility for the king to keep an eye on the political stability of his region.
The world knows that Bali is known as one of the tourism destinations for the beauty of its nature and the exoticism of its culture. And, of course, Balinese architectural style is a part of the exoticism which has to be protected and conserved. No wonder a bale in Balinese architecture is adopted into modern architecture in order to conserve the exoticism. It has also happened with the bale bengong. Peter Muller, a famous architect chose to place a bale bengong in the pool center in an area of Amandari villa. Starting from there the image of a bale bengong was exposed world wide.
The adopting technique like Muller did is always needed in order to conserve an exotic image. The concept of a bale will transform if it exists in the tourism area and building such as hotel and villas. However its concept is still as a supplementary facility of the main building even though it does not match with the main building which is too modern; on the other hand the purpose of this unit still offers exoticism.
The activities in the adopted bale bengong do not show us the king’s activities as the owner of power from a long time ago anymore; but still represents the life style of a king in his palace. The bale bengong has been transformed as an outdoor Jacuzzi, a private massage spa room, a private dining room for a couple who are on honeymoon or even as a big daybed at the pool side. All those activates are the effort in spoiling people as the king.
The migration of bale units is part of the local government intervention in the name of culture conservation and protecting the identity of Bali. Although there is no written rule in the local government laws, most architects are willing to present the image of Balinese building in their designs. In this case, it seems that architects agree with and obey the idea of the local government. However, all of those aspects are only to fulfill what the tourists who graduated form University in Java, says, “I don’t’ know much about the concept of Balinese architecture because I am more interested in modern tropical architecture, but it’s important for me to adopt bale bengong into designs, because it bring exotic value to the area”.
The principle of transforming bale bengons into modern architecture is still in the frame of satisfying the local council. In the beginning, the existence of the bale bengong was used as a monitoring tower for the king. In today’s modern era, the bale bengong now exists in hotels or villas to satisfy the power of tourism. However, what is the meaning of bengong itself ? Titi Kamal, a young Indonesia actress who is also a rising new star, said that bengong is the art of doing nothing. You might agree or not with her statement; but it is interesting to see that in the past “the king” bengong in bale bengong reflected how his power and his people were, and also to show his power. And now people use bale bengong so they can bengong like a king.
+This article has been published on FRV Magazine