A green house of harmony and balance in the heart of Ubud, Bali

A composite of bamboo and ferro-cement done by locak craftmen create a lighter roofing structure

A composite of bamboo and ferro-cement done by local craftmen create a lighter roofing structure

Inspired by traditional Balinese philosophy of life called the Tri Hita Karana that is about keeping harmony and balance between human to God, human-to-human and human to environment,  Michael Huffman built his house in Ubud to be an embodiment of such philosophy. He soon, with architect Eric Hawkins, embarked on a quest to build the greenest and the most eco-friendly house in Bali.

Eschewing the usual materials such as energy-intensive concrete block; unsustainably-harvested tropical wood; roof tiles, Huffman, an American who is based in the island set himself a goal to use all natural materials from within a 50 mile radius of the house project. What he did not want was a house that takes a lot of energy to build and to maintain.

One of many green features of this house is the eye catching rammed earth walls. The walls are made up from a mixture of mostly soil for the job site, limestone, some pigments and only 5-8% of Portland cement.  Using the soil from job site to build the walls meant that there was no need to transport soil balance from the cut and fills activity somewhere else.The rammed earth walls were built with the help from Clifton Schooley, a Bali-based rammed earth expert.

Huffman also employs Balinese local ferro-cement sculptures artists to build the house interior ceiling. Ferro-cement is a commonly used sculpting material, here it is reinforced by bamboo poles and hold together by wire mesh. The result is a lighter ceiling that is a strong as regular concrete.

Huffman’s house is a good example of a green house that is essentially more architectural design and less technology. It is an example of accessible approach toward sustainability.

Michael Huffman’s house green features:

Energy efficiency:

  • The architect created a roof cavity between the concrete flat roof and the ceiling by designing the ceiling to be curving upward to ensure the thermal performance of the house. The cavity acts as a buffer to prevent strong sun heating up space underneath.
  • The house is mainly naturally ventilated. Air-conditioning is used only in master bedroom.
  • The semi-opened house ensures maximum natural daylight thus reducing energy used for artificial lighting during the day.

Water efficiency:

  • Installing rainwater harvesting tank to reduce water uses for gardening purpose.

Environmental protection:

  • Setting up a sub-surface grey water filtration with constructed wetland (with local kaladi plants)
  • Installing grease trap in the kitchen so fats and oils from cooking activities do not go to sewerage.
  • Utilizing earth from job site to build rammed-earth walls.
  • Using local treated bamboos for structural (columns, flat roof) and non-structural purpose (wall paneling ,flooring and also furnitures).
  • Using earth from excavation work to create adobe-effect walls instead of using high VOC paints for the perimeter walls. Such finishing is known as tanah Taro finishes.
  • Using reclaimed ironwood (ulin) steps.
  • Opting for permeable paving when paving is necessary.
  • Promoting green transport, as the location is relatively in central location. Habitants can cycle or walk on foot to central Ubud.
  • The house was built on a vacant land that was not producing rice or vegetables prior to construction time.

Indoor environment quality:

  • This house use very minimal paint for wall finishing.
  • Wet areas such as kitchen, shower and toilet are semi-opened thus ensure free-flow  air circulation.
  • Adequate natural ventilation and daylight in the house through semi-opened design.

Other green features and innovative:

  • Inclusion of old joglo (traditional knock-down teak house) to accommodate master bedroom.

By: Devisanthi Tunas

Credits: images courtesy of M.Huffman

More details:

MHuffmanHouseSite Plan


About the author

Devisanthi Tunas is the co-founder of www.greenasiaforce.com, an online platform which promotes sustainability awareness and green building solutions in tropical context. She is a Singapore based architect.