Meet Gfab, our architects inspired by Sumba - CAP KAROSO

Meet Gfab, our architects inspired by Sumba

Cap Karoso

August 5, 2019

With our architectural plans now set and ready for the start in Sumba of construction of our hotel and villas in August, we finally had the opportunity to sit back and chat with our stellar team of architects.
Get to know Gary Fell, the founder and Principal of GFAB Architects, and Paolo Genova, Director at GFAB, and hear about Cap Karoso directly from their mouths.

>>CAP KAROSO: Why did you originally get into architecture?

G.F. I suppose in reality I grew up with it, or rather with the making of it. My Dad was a carpenter, he could draw, he could design, and as a little kid I was very much encouraged to do art. I used to draw, paint… By the age of 21, I really wanted to do something that involved art, and architecture seemed like the best thing for the range of subjects that interested me – it wasn’t just the art, there was also the academic or intellectual side to it. So I decided to go there and have never regretted it.

P.G. As long as I remember, I have always been interested in buildings and cities. I was already a civil engineer, and so decided to continue my studies in the field of architecture. And here I am now, an Italian architect in Indonesia.

>>CAP KAROSO: And what does it mean to be a European architect in Asia? Did you experience any cultural shock when you first started working here?

G.F. There is an immediacy to it. A lot of the things you learned or expected that you would do as a European architect just don’t function here. You have to be more flexible. Back when I first arrived here, coming from London with a notion of what I expected to be doing as an architect, I felt like I’d been thrown into what seemed like a jungle. Everything was different. How sites are organized, how people interact, the way they construct, the way they work on site… But for me it has always been amazing to see how they can do fantastic things here with zero reliance on technology.

P.G. I started in Europe where I worked for 20 years, and then the last five years I’ve been working here in Bali with Gary. Coming to Indonesia and starting to work with Gary were both shocks (laughing). It was my first time in Asia. I was surprised about the cities here. For example, in Europe, if you need to remember where you have to go, you have reference points like “arrive to the piazza, turn at the theatre, then see the Obelisk…” Here it’s “traffic lights, then MacDonald’s, then the mini-market…” But, on the other hand, they have fantastic nature here. Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world with its 17,000 islands, so the so-called tropical architecture gets its inspiration from this nature. It’s the reason why people like to come here, why hospitality is booming here. Then, there are also differences: Bali is different from Sumba, but both have incredible nature.

>>CAP KAROSO: How did you feel and what did you think when you arrived in Sumba for the first time?

G.F. When I think of Sumba, I always think of the first time we arrived on the island. We were driving in the car, and every time we passed any group of people by the side of the street or a village, everybody waved and called “hello”. Instantly I thought that this is exactly how it was when I first arrived in Bali 20 years ago. This kind of thing just cannot happen in Europe. There’s a magic about it that you still feel like you go back in time. It’s super wild.
We see increasingly that people want to be in those kind of places. In Sumba you’re exploring where no tourists or foreigners have ever been before. 

P.G. Sumba has its own character. It is Indonesia, but all their handicraft, their fabrics, their art are very specific and very different. For a European, in some sense this art, these sculptures, actually look very modern.
For me Sumba was an opportunity to discover a new side to Indonesia. It’s a new place for tourism. When we started this project in Sumba, talking to some Indonesian people, even those in the field of property development, we had reactions like “Why Sumba?… There’s nothing in Sumba”. But for me it was evident that this island has what western travelers are looking for when they travel or when they have a second house. They don’t look for entertainment – they can find that in France, Italy… They look for something more natural, more wild. So in the beginning of the project it was very exciting to feel like we are the only ones. And now, even the Indonesians see that Sumba is becoming a trendy destination.

G.F. And then also, it’s a lovely way of working in Sumba. You’re looking for limestone; you just go to quarry and they chop the samples. Same with the landscaping; you just go around to people who have trees and ask them how much for the tree… There’s a definite paradigm shift with how you’re dealing with things here. 

>>CAP KAROSO: How did GFAB approach the architecture of Cap Karoso?

G.F. There’s been a tendency within the hospitality industry, one that originated in some ways from Bali and Thailand, to say here is the traditional architecture and we will just shoe-horn on to it, and transform it into a 5-star hotel. The story would say it’s inspired by a traditional Balinese house, but it doesn’t really have much to do with it. And I think for us it is a degree of taking what’s there and then abstracting it. Taking the basis of the primitive and defining the relation between primitive and modern. 

Rooftop villa Cap Karoso

>>CAP KAROSO: Were Sumbanese villages an inspiration? And how did they influence the project?

G.F. We visited the traditional Sumbanese village house, and you see immediately that it’s not a particularly practical place to be living at all. You’re expecting to find a room, a kitchen, and there is nothing like that. So I never thought it was appropriate to try to copy traditional houses and adapt them to our way of living. When we came up with Cap Karoso, we came up with the Spa which looks like a traditional house – they are open pavilions. And we wanted it to evoke the feeling of an existing village that we build around.
We use local materials, simple materials, to do what we are doing. We play with a kind of rustication. We accept that there’s a certain level of craft in the way we construct the buildings and enjoy it. There are a lot of good materials here, and that, combined with some of the handicrafts and some of the traditional techniques they use here is enough to recognize that you are in Sumba and conveying the Sumbanese experience.

P.G. Apart from everything, Karoso project is still a resort with its spa, restaurants, comforts and spacious villas; but it is Sumbanese in the « spirit », I think. The way as we used rough materials, local handicrafts, the spatial relationship between indoor and landscape… I would say it is quite crude, free and easy as the character of the Sumbanese people seems to be.

>>CAP KAROSO: What would you like guests to think about your architecture?

P.G. I would like them to deduce about a nice architecture, interesting finishes and cozy interiors only a few days after they arrived in Karoso, after enjoying the place, the sea, good food, the nature and the smile of the people. This would mean that the project is new but it is already a part of Sumba.

G.F. I hope that we will produce something which is enjoyable and that will stay unique for some time to come. 
Isn’t it our responsibility to try to create a new way of approaching and creating architecture which is specific to the place you’re building in? Yes, I think, as architects we do have an obligation to bring something new.