Bangkok-based American designer, Bill Bensley has been designing hospitality projects for nearly three decades from his studio based out of Bangkok and Bali. His team of nearly 150 is designing properties based on ‘Sensible Sustainable Solutions’ that he has assimilated over last three decades, creating one-of-a-kind experience for people.
More Escapism attempts to capture this journey through twelve selected projects, each set in a different context, scattered across Southeast Asia. This hefty book is a peek into the colourful and mystical world that Bill creates, as he takes the reader on a journey behind these projects. Each chapter starts with an introductory text, detailing the process, and the story is carried forward through captions with full-bleed eye-popping images.
The first project in the book is Baan Botanica — Bill’s own house — that he shares with his partner Jirachai Rengthong and six Jack Russels, since the early 2000s. An experimental laboratory of sorts, Bill explains that the house is changing constantly, sets the tone and context for the projects to follow. Baan Botanica is a reflection of Bill as a landscape architect, interior designer, architect, host, curator, gardener, explorer and collector of everything interesting.
Sustainability plays an important role in each of the projects covered in the book — a collection of ideas of sorts, which Bill has developed over the years in a manifesto, available to anyone on his website. The Shinta Mani, Cambodia project really shines and presents to the reader an incredible story that is as stimulating as arriving at the property using a zip line.
Design City Editor-in-Chief, Vaibhav Srivastava spoke to Bill about his new book as well as his practice, which you can read below.
B.B: I think the most important thing is it’s not just a pretty place. That’s not the point. Most of our work has purpose and meaning.
B.B: A wrong phone number started it all!
B.B: Rather than leveraging Nature, we work hand in hand with it, accepting it as it is, as nothing is more perfect than what Mother Nature presents us. Being a landscape architect gives us an edge on architecture that integrates Nature seamlessly.
B.B: It’s evolved into MORE Escapism - which is the name of my latest book, but also what I feel we all need. These have been some dark years and a bit of beauty, exploration and joy is much deserved.
B.B: High-end travellers – in fact every traveller – are more conscious of how and why they travel. So as designers, we have to be all the more convincing in what we offer. Travellers now don’t just want to travel,they want to participate in doing good where they go.
B.B: Growing up on a small farm in California, I raised bees, quails, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and mushrooms, grew vegetables and composted, and on the weekends we’d go camping, exploring Nature and never leaving behind more than a footprint. We were almost self-sustaining and learnt respect for Nature intrinsically. Sustainability is not a new idea; it’s an old one we need to return to.
B.B: I consider ourselves pretty lucky in that as at this point in my career, the people who want to work with us are already on board with our environmental and sustainable approach, so it’s no longer a matter of having to convince them. The operators that work with us know it’s the medicine they need to take.
B.B: This is a really big question that can be tackled from many sides. The fossil fuel industry is a key – we all know we need to move away from them, but the powers that be cling to the shreds of profit they can make from them tenaciously. For the most part, people are resistant to give up the creature comforts brought by fossil fuels, without realising the doom and gloom that is coming if we don’t change our ways.
B.B: In teaching something new to somebody.
B.B: — How to Avoid a Climate Disaster - Bill Gates; everyone should read this book.
— The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
— King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa - Adam Hochschild; I just finished the first and am halfway through the second, as part of research for a new project in the Republic of Congo. The characters in Poisonwood Bible were so real they almost walked off the pages.
— A Russian Journal - John Steinbeck, with photographs by Robert Capa. It is a fascinating read. Steinbeck and Capa travelled through the Soviet Union as the world was on the brink of nuclear war, and on the way met many kind Russian people, farmers, regular people who were just kicking the can up the road — trying to make ends meet — just like America at the time. It feels reflective of our world now, as it is clear to me that the Russian people are as good as people anywhere else, and Putin’s pure evil and manipulation is behind the horrors we are seeing today.
Bill Bensley's exuberant aesthetic is renowned around the world. Vanity Fair has described him as ‘the craziest sane designer in the world’, while Condé Nast Traveller hails him as a ‘master of fabulation’. Bensley's eponymous design studio, based in Bangkok and Bali, is most famous for its work on luxury hotels throughout Southeast Asia. Featuring detailed presentations of 12 of his most exciting, extravagant, outlandish and award-winning projects, this bold, large-format design monograph reflects Bensley’s theatrical style. In his own words, ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.’
Size: 37.4 x 27.4 cm
Extent: 512 pp
Publication date: 3 March 2022