Popo Danes: An architect with a conscience
In 1981, Nyoman Popo Priyatna Danes, who was 17-years-old, was challenged to design his house in Banyuatis, Buleleng, and so he built it. The house is still in good condition now. Five years later, when he was studying in Udayana University majoring in architecture, he started his own architect studio.
Popo Danes, as he is fondly called, is one of Bali’s noted architects. His projects have characteristics of merging with cliffs or hills and combining traditional Balinese elements with modern ones. His works can be seen not only in Jimbaran, Ubud and Karangasem, but also in Dubai, Hawaii and India.
Being an architect made him concerned about the massive changes taking place in Bali, especially in the south. It encouraged the husband of Ni Wayan Melati Blanca to actively contribute to cultural activities in Bali, including being the committee head of the Bali Tourism Development Center (BTDC) Nusa Dua and honorary consul to Tunisia.
Popo Danes talked to Bali Daily contributor, Anton Muhajir, about his career and his worries about the massive developments on the island. Below are the excerpts.
Question: Why did you choose to be an architect?
Answer: It has been my interest since I was young. My late father liked to build houses. It started as a hobby, but then he turned it into a job. It was not his original intention, but it has been his passion. He is the one who introduced me to architecture. I am familiar with seeing people building houses. That is why I decided to be an architect when I was 7 years old.
What is interesting about architecture?
The real process of turning a vacant plot of land into a building. It takes a lot of effort from many people to make a building. A home is one of our primary needs. That is something that attracts me. Architecture also has many cultural aspects and Bali has a specific culture about it. As I began my studies and then started my job, I found out that architecture was very interesting. It involves discussion on how someone wants his building to be. I like to discuss with others about their need for space.
But architecture is not just about sketching and building, is it?
No, there are many aspects and responsibilities to the culture, to the environment, to the budget we spend, and on how we educate our user to build a good space.
Which is the main aspect?
Our excitement in doing the work. An architect is a portfolio builder, we build up our portfolios with work we are proud of. The main aspect in doing the work is how we develop ourselves. It’s very personal and keeps changing from one generation to another. In this generation, environment is the most sensitive point. Have we done enough toward going ‘green’? Are we using too much timber? Have we used the water effectively? Those were not issues in the 1980s.
When did you start to be a professional?
Since 1987, but I actually started to be an architect since 1981 when I was still in high school by designing my own house, and I’m very proud of it. Even now, I still see it as a proper building.
In 1987, I was still studying in college, but I already had employees. I ran a design business. That’s when I learned about paying salaries, knowing the other side of the architecture life.
I never wanted to work for another architect. I’m just doing my own work, starting my own business, exploring the field by myself.
What is the good thing about working by yourself?
There are many good things, but many consequences too. We have absolute freedom, but we are the one who should pay the bills, pay for the luxuries, be responsible for everyone else, be in the top position.
What challenges have faced architecture from the previous decades until now?
When I worked around the 1980s to 1990s, there was no burden. But since the 2000s, we should really consider a lot of things. In Bali, our responsibility is to manage the land because the condition is getting worse. As an architect, I witness the changes intensely. Every day we see Balinese selling their land, and see rice fields being buried with limestone to make way for buildings and roads.
What do you feel about that?
It’s saddening to see a Balinese begging to work on [a project that used be] his land. I feel that the Balinese have been alienated in their own land.
My deepest concern is that the changes in south Bali have happened so fast that even the government could not anticipate it. The government should have improved infrastructure first.
Is it because the government is too slow to respond to the changes?
I don’t want to blame them, but it is obvious that they are too overwhelmed to control the changes. This is an issue of a spatial master plan. I always avoid making a project around rice fields.
Is that the reason why you choose to build in broader, more open spaces?
It is not an easy choice. As a Balinese, I am very concerned about productive land because I eat rice. I’m proud of subak, and we always worship Dewi Sri. I don’t want to ‘evict’ the goddess and ruin the subak monument. That’s why I prefer to build on slopes and cliffs, but it is also not easy because those areas are ecologically critical. Therefore, we should be very careful in doing any project. I don’t want to destroy the environment. We should improve the environment instead.