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Bangkok-based architect Bill Bensley

The human-centric view of the universe has been filled with folly after folly, like the once widely believed idea that the sun rotates around the earth. No matter how outdated such views seem the thinking behind them persists: Nature is still a means to humankind’s ends, a dangerous idea that has given rise to global warming and the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the planet.

The famous and Bangkok-based architect Bill Bensley wants to turn this kind of thinking inside out by creating a resort in Wuchuan, China where people will live in an opulent zoo looking out over a wildlife sanctuary where beasts roam free.   

No need to make a booking just yet. The project will only break ground this year and is slated to open in 2022. This is only the first phase of the World Wild project, expected to take eight years, which will include other resorts with green themes in Australia and Africa.

Already the project has garnered a lot of hype for the scope of its ambition and the depth of the ingenuity behind it. Scheduled to be built on what is now a duck farm, the grounds of the first resort will house exotics animals from all over China and travelers from around the world who will stay in 2,400 rooms. Around one million dollars has been allocated for each of these palatial suites.

The two resorts in China will incorporate elements of Tibetan splendor and Bhutanese folklore, while the Australian property will meld frontier influences from the country’s gold rush and one of the African hotels is based on termite mounds.

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These group of private oasis villas are part of the Bensley Collection Siem Reap, located near the magical Angkor Wat temple complex.

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Thinking outside the box is the American designer’s forte and raison d’etre. After all, this is the man who masterminded the Shinta Mani Wild resort in Cambodia where guests fly in by using zipwire over the jungle.

But there’s a deep appreciation of nature underneath the surface of his idiosyncratic designs. The Cambodian resort helps to preserve the South Cardomom National Park by contributing money to the Wildlife Alliance anti-poaching patrols. Many of his other designs like The Siam in Bangkok are rife with natural elements. 

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Set along the banks of the Chao Praya River, the Siam is a private 39-room luxury retreat with an art deco inspired design.

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Similarly, the new resort in China will included and draw attention to the plight of endangered species like pangolins, the world’s most trafficked mammal, just as it will serve as a safe haven for animals rescued from deplorable attractions across China.

This is Bill Bensley at his best: an agent provacateur of change who entertains while he edifies.

To make sure that the first resort is fully sustainable and animal-friendly he has hired a full-time zoologist who will also participate in the train tours around the animal sanctuary to stop at eight separate spots. Each stop will impart a different lesson about environmental responsibility and wildlife conservation.   

With big-time hoteliers on board, like Hilton, Conrad and Hyatt, to manage the properties, World Wild promises to be a game-changer in eco-hotels.

During this time of social distancing, Bill Bensley answered these questions via email. 

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Bill Bensley has built up a reputation for being the ‘Willy Wonka’ of hotel design.

What do you think will happen to the industry following the pandemic?

I think following COVID-19 we will clear away the junk when we approach travel – completely rethink it in terms of where we go, and why we go there. I am sure that I will travel less post crisis, and I am sure that I am not the only one; I hope people will see the impact that less travel has on the natural environment and be more selective about where they go – it is a plus. The more “monied” people have for a long time already been seeking places that are more remote and lost in deep nature. I think this will become more sought after and perhaps more accessible – hopefully not at a detriment to those places. I think social distancing will remain with us for years.

Will there be any wellness facilities/spas at the hotels?

All hotels will have absolutely top-shelf spas – the details are still in the works but they will follow the outlines I set in my white paper Sensible Sustainable Solutions. We will not be importing products from all over the world, but rather using local techniques and ingredients, infused with the character of each hotel depending on the zone it is in.

What do you think people's response will be to this concept?

So far it has been very positive! CNN recently wrote an article on World Wild, our “human zoo” and we received a lot of positive, very excited feedback both online and on Instagram – people are ready for an idea like this! I think the tide is definitely turning, especially in light of COVID-19, and more and more people are understanding the importance and sheer necessity of such projects which put nature and animals first. That sentiment will only grow following this pandemic, after which the mood will be all the more anti-wildlife trading as this is where the virus came from.


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