“The Bale resort is one of the most meaningful projects for Studio TonTon because it is the first project we’ve been entrusted to make a public space,” says Liu.
“We really appreciated the existing site. For us it’s very important to appreciate the existing land or the site, for example the existing trees, the existing contours.”
Therein lies the je ne sais quoi of Studio TonTon’s projects: the ability of the architects to embellish the existing natural elements or restrictions of a space without muting them. For The Balé, the team painstakingly arranged villas so that guests could experience the property’s singular sea panoramas without detracting from the view of others.
Along with tactics like preserving existing trees, Ridwan says their Bali projects almost exclusively avoid air-conditioning in public areas, instead creating spaces that harness natural breezes. For materials, the team looks to source locally, reducing the environmental impact of their construction.
Studio TonTon’s buildings, admittedly, have not been certified as green structures by any outside organization. An Indonesian branch of the World Green Building Council does exist, but at this time has certified less than 10 buildings because of a lack of traction from the government and perhaps a lack of knowledge in the architecture community.
In 2002, The Balé resort went on to win the Ikatan Arsitek Indonesia (IAI) or Association of Indonesian Architects award for the public building category, a moment of astonishment and humility for the studio. They have now won a total of eight IAI awards and citations.
“The Balé was quite a breakthrough and new at that time, it gave confidence to other Indonesian architects that you could apply minimalist techniques in Indonesia,” says architect Ahmad Djuhara, who served as the former chairman of the Jakarta chapter of the IAI.
Djuhara does note that their work is not without criticism.
“Their architecture style is not purely their authentic ideas and may apply to other places in the world, but to apply in Indonesia, to apply to Indonesia’s weather and climate, it is quite shocking.”
While Liu’s studio is seen as the purveyor of tropical minimalism in Indonesia, at times his designs seem otherworldly, and not of Indonesia at all.
“I’m not focused on traditional Indonesian form but actually my architecture language is more about how to take advantage of all the potential in climate in Indonesia,” says Liu.
“I don’t want to copy one project to another, so I want to feel that people, when they feel and they see our project it is like a sequence and unpredictable space.”