- Bawa’s Gem –
When speaking of Sri Lanka, one often thinks of a small country located south of India. Thais have long been familiar with the island because the two countries share the same school of religion, Theravada Bhuddism. Amongst the circle of designers and architects however, Sri Lanka is home to the masterpieces of the father of tropical design, Geoffrey Bawa. He was a Sri Lankan architect who is considered to be the founder of an architectural style sensitive to both site and context, as seen in his perfectly integrating raw materials and building techniques, with the local traditions of Sri Lanka and South Asia. All this is done with a contemporary flair, creating awell balanced spatial and visual experience. It wasn’t until a decade after his death that he was recognized as the “hero” or the “true expert” in this style of architecture. Nevertheless, the works he has left behind serve as monuments for the world to appreciate.
During my 10-day visit to Sri Lanka, I chose to familiarize myself with Bawa by going back to his roots, his “first home” and “final resting place” as well as paying a visit to his old office and some resorts he designed.
The first home - 33rd Lane, Colombo
In 1959, Bawa rented 3 small building units located on Bagatelle Street. He merged the three units and created a small home which included a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room, a dining room and a small room for the housekeeper. He later purchased the 4th unit connected it and turned it into a dining area and gallery. It was amazing how it seems that every personal article of his is kept intact in this house, almost as if Bawa was still living there and perhaps having a smoke while reading one of his books. Although 33rd Lane may not be Bawa’s most impressive work, it was without a doubt the place he had the most connection to as it took him several years to acquire and complete. Bawa transformed the 4 units into a mini maze with light wells allowing in natural sky light, but at the same time still preserving the basic structures of the buildings’ walls and ceiling. This style of design later became very popular.
Lunuganga - the peaceful garden
Another place very close to Bawa’s heart is Lunuganga in Bentota, a city just south of Colombo. Bawa spent over half of his life developing what he called “The English Country House and its Landscape Park.”Bawa purchased this house in 1947 where he stayed until falling ill in 1998. The country house, which was built before Bawa became an architect, is surrounded by a lush European style garden with a beautiful pond and the Lunu River running through it. One could assert that Lunuganga paved the way for Bawa to become an architect. One can clearly see that the techniques he would use in his designs could only come from the mind of an architect which took into account the spacial relation between a building and its surrounding landscape, as this house clearly does.
Reading what was written in the guestbook at the property, like me, there were so many other people from all over the world who came to have a first hand experience of Bawa’s treasure at Lunuganga. I can only say that my visit was nothing short of impressive and that Geoffrey Bawa has captured the true essence of Sri Lanka with stylistic splendor.