Meet Oliver Gehlen, a quality driven ethical architect

Oliver Gehlen from OG Architects in Sanur, is someone who believes in ethical business, something he is able to achieve by being honest and developing trust through delivering high quality architecture; key components necessary to make his clients’ dreams come true.

WILLIAMS MEDIA sat down with Oliver Gehlen from OG Architects in Sanur, recently to find out why he describes himself as a ‘clean architect’ with a clear philosophy about doing business in Bali and Indonesia. He believes every project is unique and needs an individual solution. There are no cookie cutter options in OG, who pride themselves on making dreams come true by incorporating environmentally friendly materials and sustainable energy concepts into their projects, as much as budgets and building regulations allow.

What attracted you to Bali?

I’m originally from Munich and I didn’t come to Bali with the intention of settling down and starting a company. That was the last thing on my mind, but when I got here in 2001 it didn’t take me long to see the opportunities! I felt challenged by seeing so many cheap (and to be honest, nasty) villa developments being built and I knew I could do better, so I decided to stay and create a better way of doing things.

How did you first get into architecture?

In short, because I find it exciting and challenging. I’m not one of those people who always wanted to become an architect though. I first got the bug doing peace service in France where we were tasked with building a community house. I thought ‘Hey, this is pretty cool!’ I didn’t think it was too difficult and I was genuinely interested to learn more. I’m always interested in learning more.

What do you enjoy most about what you do? What’s your ‘big why?’

Great question! I’m a Sinek Why guy so I’ve actually thought long and hard about why I do things. I want to leave people feeling happier after having met me. I want to give and add value to people’s lives. I want to make their dreams come true when it comes to designing a space to live or work. It’s that simple. Making people feel they’ve actually received something valuable from me, both professionally and personally, is a real driving force in my life. Architecture really allows me to do that even though the profession itself can be very ego-driven at a particular level.

Functional, minimalist designs are OG Architects’ specialty.

Where do you see Bali in the next 10 to 20-years?

I’m not a visionary but I do know things are changing. That change can’t be stopped and isn’t always beautiful, but I can facilitate change with my input into a better situation for the future. Bali has changed radically in the time since I’ve been here. It’s certainly busier and there are fewer examples of beautiful, open spaces, but that’s part of it all. I’m not one of those people who remember the ‘good old days’ and complain about how bad things are now. Change happens and within that context I see a shift in the political will with this new government. I like what they’re saying about focusing on quality tourism and being green. Imagining Bali as a plastic-free island is something I believe will happen. Not only will it be very good for business here but Bali could be a great example to the rest of Indonesia and the world.

What would you like to see change in the property business in the next 5-years?

I’m in a business that directly impacts property and real estate and I think architecture has the opportunity to become the beacon for going green. We can create low-energy buildings not just in their use, but also in how they’re actually built. Unfortunately, clients don’t always share this vision, but that’s largely due to the costs associated with going green. If it was easier to do and prices were more realistic I think we’d see more and more people opting for a green building alternative.

You’ve designed private residences, restaurants and boutique hotels. What’s been your most rewarding project in Bali? And why?

Interestingly enough, it’s a project that hasn’t been built yet! It’s a hospitality school for under privileged kids in Buleleng in North Bali. It’s a different kind of concept for a school and includes a permaculture facility. It’s a great design and I’m working with some great people. I’m really proud to be involved as it will give access to better jobs and a brighter future for an area of Bali that really doesn’t get the same attention as the south does. Hopefully it will go to tender at the beginning of 2019.

Natural light and comfortable spaces.

One other project I’ve found to be very rewarding is Robin Lim’s Clinic Bumi Sehat in Nyuh Kuning in Ubud. It’s a non-profit organization that focuses on natural childbirth and providing quality medical care for local people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. Robin is an inspiring woman and I’m honoured to have been involved.

What are your greatest business challenges?

Regulations! I’m all for rules and regulations, after all I’m German(!) but some of the existing building regulations restrict what we can do, especially when it comes to being greener. I also find it annoying when regulations get bent because of who someone knows or how much money is paid to make something happen that has a negative impact.

What sectors are giving you the most business right now?

About 70% of OG’s work is in the residential space. The rest is hotels, commercial, renovations, clinics and others projects.

Private residence in Sanur.

What advice do you have for people looking to buy real estate in Bali?

Take your time to learn. And find good, reliable, honest partners to work with. If you don’t have time, make it! Due Diligence is critical and finding a safe partner who can help you do this is very important. You really need to use someone (or a company) who knows the business and the regulations around land titles and building permits (IMBs.) If you have the budget and the time I’d recommend building yourself. You’ll get what you want and if everything is done correctly, with the right people, it comes with rewarding results.

What opportunities do you see in the property market? Where’s hot right now?

NTT. Especially Flores and Sumba. There is so much natural beauty there it’s truly breathtaking. And because there hasn’t been much development yet you’ll get the chance to create something wonderful. But again, my advice would be to find the right partners who know the rules and regulations and who have the same vision to do the right thing with minimal environmental impact and the best interests of the community at heart.

What advice do you have for those looking to set up business in Bali?

Give yourself time (again.) Learn the language and learn about the culture. If you don’t you’re not going to be able to understand things properly, especially the subtleties and nuances of how things work socially and doors just won’t open. When I first decided to stay in Bali I spent a complete month learning Indonesian full time and it was the best thing I did!

The other thing to remember is that Bali is a small island where everyone knows everyone else. If you do something wrong everyone will know. So always have the mindset of doing the right thing.

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