HAILED AS A MASTER of resort architecture and exotic landscape design, Bill Bensley is known around the world for infusing properties with soul and surprises.
The California-born designer moved to Asia in 1984 and started his own landscape architecture firm at age 30. Some 180 signed projects and a slew of design awards later, he now heads a team of 100 architects, 30 interior designers and 10 landscape architects from the firm’s base in Bali. From terraces and lighting to staff uniforms and lobby music selection, “we design
resorts in their totality,” Bensley says.
Bensley can boast a growing legacy of enviably successful projects, like Cambodia’s recently opened (and already lauded) Park Hyatt Siem Reap. “For 25 years we have consistently been very busy doing just the projects that are both fun and challenging,” he says. Yet he is firm in the belief that the best is yet to come and that despite continual honors by the international press, “nothing we’ve done is that good.”
THE DESIGN GURU spoke with Hotelier International about his roots as a landscape designer and about some of his favorite, and most challenging, garden projects.
Hotelier International: What’s your definition of a great design?
Bill Bensley: One that looks even better 50 years on.
HI: You’ve said ‘never do the same thing twice.’ How do you accomplish that?
BB: I never have had a lack of ideas as they come easy. In fact I have never had enough work to sop up all of the ideas!
HI: What’s more enjoyable to design, expansive gardens, or smaller spaces like terraces or patios?
BB: I prefer to design expansive gardens with a myriad of smaller spaces that lead to even more intriguing interior spaces, housed in breathtaking architecture.
HI: Where is one area you’d never skimp on in a landscape design?
BB: The quality of the soil. Nobody sees it. But all can distinguish a healthy garden from one that’s poorly maintained.
HI: What can urban hotels learn from ‘exotic’ resorts when it comes to outdoor spaces?
BB: Urban hotels so often ignore their bits of gardens, but even the tiniest spaces can breath fresh air into the interiors. Look at the tiny pocket gardens of the Suzhou Gardens.
HI: Why do hotel projects appeal to you?
BB: I prefer to design hotels as opposed to homes or offices because hotels are generally maintained better than a home. Hotels have to be professional in the way they are kept up. I often
return to the hotels that I have designed and offer maintenance suggestions ad infinitum.
HI: What’s next?
BB: We are just finishing up the Shintamani Resort in Siem Reap and while not 100 percent complete I think it is going to be a stunning 4-star affordable hotel. We have also been involved in a hotel school for young unfortunate locals.