I’m often saddened when proudly showing friends around Bali, to be asked, “Why are the buildings in Bali so ugly?” Living here for so long, one tends to become numb to the pain of countenancing constant architectural eyesores. When I’m hit with the “ugly buildings” question, therefore, I have a difficult time coming up with a suitable answer for my guests. I’m not sure I know the answer. It’s an excellent question, in fact.
Isn’t this the Island of the Gods, after all? The Last Paradise? The fabled isle where everyone is an artist? So why all the ugliness, then?
Today I stumbled on an interesting answer to this tough question. I happened to hit on the blog of a Polish expat with a post headlined, “Piracy in Indonesia,” which makes some very salient points. Here’s an excerpt, with a few grammatical corrections by me. (Don’t take offense, Marek, you do extremely well for a foreign speaker of English, admirably, in fact.)
“There is, no doubt, a common lack of respect for copyrights in Indonesia. This problem not only affects the music or movie industries. Other business areas, while less noticeable, are also heavily affected by copyright piracy.
“One such area is architecture, which causes a very big problem in Indonesia, resulting in serious employment problems among Indonesian architects. I myself know several locals holding architecture degrees (a few of them from prestigious overseas universities) and unfortunately none of them makes a living out of architecture. In my home country, Poland, being an architect is one of the most profitable professions, which guarantees a very high income, while here in Indonesia being an architect is almost unprofitable. This was very surprising to me, so I tried to understand why, and I got a pretty clear answer from one of the local architects. He explained that it very often happens that he designs a house or office for a client, makes a really great design, that even he is proud of, and after presenting this design to the client, the client just takes the plans and drawings and asks some student or fresh graduate to change a few elements. Sometime later he can see his design as a real house, with a few changed windows. This actually happened so often that it made him seriously stressed, gave him so much disappointment, that he decided to give up architecture and pursue a career in trade.
“I think this partially explains why architecture in Indonesia is so ugly. Some may think it is about money, but surprisingly even in the extremely rich villa areas, there are houses featuring extremely ugly architecture.