The 15-Meter Building Height Limit and Bali’s Cultural Preservation

The fear of cultural degradation was sparked by the building of the ten-storey Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur in 1966 – this monumental project was initiated by President Sukarno and was managed by Pan Am’s subsidiary Inter-Continental Hotels Corporation (IHC).

From this arose the controversy over building heights and the 15-meter limit. This height limit was imposed with the iconic statement “no higher than a coconut tree”, a policy made after the recommendation by a French firm, the Societé Centrale pour l’Équipement Touristique Outre-Mer (SCETO) in 1970, and legalised under Surat Keputusan Gubernur Kdh. Tk. 1 Bali, Tanggal 22 November 1971, No 13/Perbang 1614/II/a/1971.

SCETO was appointed by the Indonesian Government in collaboration (funding) with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as part of President Suharto’s plan to make Bali a world-class tourism destination – this mega project is located in Nusa Dua, it was dubbed “the Nusa Dua project” before a new name, Bali Tourism Tourism Development Corporation (BTDC), introduced as its official name.

SCETO themselves appointed another firm, Japan-based Pacific Consultants, K. K., to do field survey and technical study. The initial recommendation from the Pacific Consultants was to limit building height to 45 meters or 55 meters (even higher than the Bali Beach Hotel!).

But considering the environmental impact of tall buildings (water supply, erosion, seawater intrusion, etc), the cheap price of the land at that time, and fearing that tall structures might ruin the beautiful skyline of Bali, the final recommendation was to limit building heights to 15 meters instead. SCETO also took reference from exotic destinations that maintain similar building height policy such as North Africa, the Carribean, and Hawaii (outside Honolulu).

Some hotels however, managed to find a workaround by creating its building downward on a side of a cliff, so on the top surface it doesn’t exceed the 15 meters height rule. And one building even managed to break this rule: Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue, with a total height of 122 meters.