JETPLAN – Bali’s Strange Design and Construction Philosophy

February 11, 2010

I am beginning to suspect that Bali not only originated a unique approach to engineering and construction, but could well be leading the world in its implementation. For months, I have examined how things work here, from aerosol nozzles that squirt sludge to whole villas where nothing works as it should. I now believe that Bali’s ingrained culture of living in the moment and avoiding all responsibility for consequences is reflected in the way all things are designed and built here.

All concepts today must have an acronym, so I have dubbed this phenomenon the JETPLAN philosopy of design and construction. It stands for Just Enough To Provide Lowest Acceptable Norms. Of course, other countries do it too. But they only do it for commercial reasons, such as reducing costs (and quality, so they can upsell consumers to premium versions of the same rubbish) and to ensure that their products expire just after their warranty does. Bali, on the other hand, seems to embrace the JETPLAN idea because the island’s, and perhaps even the whole country’s weltanschauung is totally aligned to it. 

I have seen villas under construction with the thinnest columns in building history supporting massive floor slabs with minimal reinforcing – platforms that are being poured in 2 or 3 stages over several weeks. The tensile strength must be that of a dog biscuit. Scary enough with a slab only half a metre off the ground, but when it’s perched precariously three and four metres up, I am terrified for the subsequent occupants. No diagonal bracing either. What happens during high winds, or the lateral forces during earthquakes? Guess it’s cheap to build …

Then there are the devilish details. My current rental villa has a bath which has its lowest point at the end opposite to the drain hole. Brilliant. The bath drains into a narrow pipe which runs through the floor slab. The last time it leaked through the wall into the next room, workers had to chip away the bottom of a load-bearing wall to get to it. Lucky there was no annoying damp course to impede their progress. They found that the pipe had been merely pushed into the PVC connectors, not glued – and had simply come apart. Makes it simpler to repair, I suppose. The rest of the plumbing leaks too. From what I can tell, mis-matched threads on fittings are just ‘fixed’ with vast quantities of Teflon tape. Mmm … how do you spell capillarity?

I have yet to see a roof that doesn’t leak either. Not surprising when skim coats on concrete roof deckings are thin, porous, rough-trowelled and consist mainly of sand with a token handful of cement. And gutters and downpipes are undersized, or are missing altogether – and don’t have rain heads. Or internal box gutters are so small that they get jammed by cockroaches. Even when roof plumbing is adequate, you have the Neighbour Problem. The immense roof of a hotel adjacent to a friend’s villa has no gutters. The water just pours straight onto her roof, overloading her roof drainage and causing extensive flooding. The hotel owners were totally mystified by her request to channel their water elsewhere. “But why? Why should we install gutters when the water can go down yours?” 

Who does the fit-outs in places here? Lots of different people, none of whom seem to talk to each other. Everyone just seems to do their own job without any attempt to dovetail complementary functions. I have seen power points in bedrooms on the opposite wall to built-in bedside tables. Light switches which turn on lights in other rooms. Light fittings in stairwell ceilings that are unreachable for globe replacement even by pembantus with the power of levitation. Drawers that can not be opened because they foul adjacent door knobs. Unreachable pool filter switches at the back of deep pits containing the pump. Doors that are hinge-bound, or just installed in jambs that are up to 2cm narrower than the door width. Heavy villa gates that have nothing to stop them from running off their overhead tracks and falling on to the dog. Airconditioners installed inside wardrobes, with a few thin, useless slots cut into the doors.  Laundry areas without power, water or drainage – but proudly boasting a washing machine. At least it’s somewhere to put the clothes basket.

JETPLAN forms the heart of Bali construction methods, but as I said, the rest of the world is fast catching up. My brother flew Cathay Pacific on a long-haul flight recently. He said it was without a doubt the most uncomfortable flight he had ever been on. Apparently their new seat design does not recline – presumably so they can fit in more rows. Instead, the seat squab slides forward so passengers can ‘lean’ back, their shoulders against the backrest, lower backs completely unsupported,  knees crushed against the seat in front. Nice one, guys. In-flight chiropractors will presumably be provided – at a price.

While the Cathay Pacific initiative might be a worthy contender for an individual JETPLAN Bad Design Award, I still think Bali should win the grand prize through the sheer number and diversity of its offerings. But you know what? It’s all part of the chaotic, sprawling, anarchy that is Bali. And I love it.



  1. lol. Nice article. It’s funny how you notice these design “features” after you rent your place.

  2. Every day I check your blog, and with every new post I sense that you are becoming as disillusioned with bali as I and many of my ex-pat friends are. This is the first time I have lived in a seriously foreign country and I have to wonder is this feeling of bitterness, disappointment and frustration is just a part of the lifestyle?

    It is surely reassuring that I/we are not alone! and it reminds me of something a friend used to say when things got tough “Dont let the Bast$£&! grind you down”


    • Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am disillusioned with Bali – far fom it! Strangely enough, any “bitterness, disappointment and frustration” I feel is directed more towards the over-regulated, over-governed, socially-engineered do-gooders playground from whence I came 😉
      Bali to me is still a place where the chaos is refreshing and life is wonderfully unpredictable. Plus the blogging opportunities to take a magnifying glass to everyday absurdities is enormous fun.

  3. We are thinking of moving to Bali from Cali (California) with our two children. We are looking for people that have experienced or know about the Green School in Ubud. I have been in contact with them and I am now trying to find out how a US Citizen can make it work in and around Ubud. Like finding a nice inexpensive place to live and even work or teach. Just throwing a dream out into the universe.
    … and I am not sure why that blue frustrated face is next to my comment. But it has nothing to do with how I feel or who I am. Peace

    • Best wishes with your dream. You will need to do much research before the move, especially in regards to residency permits/visas, the thorny question of foreigners working in Bali, the prohibition on ownership of property, and the quality of schools. To the best of my knowledge, while there are many schools, there is only one accredited international school in Bali. Without extensive research, that automatically-generated blue avatar’s expression may well be prophetic! 😉

  4. Hahaha, all so true!!! I must go outside of my house to get in my kitchen adjacent to the house. Both rooms sharing a useless window.

    My sink has no U shaped pipe, and those pvc pipes are not glued. Worst they Placed a T shaped (and unblocked) pipe right there for no reason. The previous tenant blocked it with a yogurt container.

    Same goes with crasy switches configuration, and much much more.

    Great post.

  5. Hi Erica,
    just wondering if you still have your Bali dream alive. Mine is just beginning to form after seeing the Green School online and am just about to start that extensive research that borborigmus suggests. Have you come up against any hurdles or difficulties that you could share. Thanks

    • Interesting that the local papers have pointed out that the Green School does not yet have Regency approval for its operations, nor does it have certification from the Department of the Environment. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it, it just means they have fallen foul of the endless bureaucracy here. As far as I know, BIS is the only school with all permits in place AND the only school that is accredited internationally.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: