Almost two decades after his death, the name Geoffrey Bawa still holds an important place in the history of architecture. Bawa was widely regarded as the father of Sri Lankan Architecture and was the flag bearer for the architectural style of Tropical modernism and was the driving force behind its spread in Sri Lanka along with India, Indonesia, Mauritius, Japan, Fiji, and Singapore. Bawa’s entry into the field of architecture was rather late as he had earlier practiced law as his chosen profession. His personal experiences caused his life to take a drastic turn that directed him to architecture. He went on to work on a wide range of projects such as hotels, schools, clubs, offices, and government structures throughout his career.
Here are 15 iconic projects from the vast array of Bawa’s works:
1. Lunuganga | Geoffrey Bawa
A rubber plantation spread over 15 acres of land was bought by Bawa for his country home, which he developed throughout his life, which he would go on to call Lunuganga. This vast landscaped paradise was an experimental canvas for him. The landscaping had a striking influence on the Italian Baroque gardens, Japanese garden art, English Landscape Gardens, and the ancient water gardens of Sri Lanka. This amalgamation of various landscape styles is spread on a combination of flat and hilly terrain with a spectacular water interface. The gecko roman statues and other installations placed all over the estate draw the eye through the string of built forms woven through the landscape.
2. Parliament Building
Bawa had envisioned the parliament building surrounded by water on all sides. The structure was built on a manmade lake with staggered and asymmetrical planning. The structure has a cascade of roofs with the centrally placed main pavilion having the highest elevation and five satellite pavilions. The floating island structure and the copper-clad pyramid roofs create a sense of grandeur that the parliament building demands. Having a man-made water body in a tropical country with high humidity poses the challenge of adding to it. The structure, however, counters it by the efficient ventilation and the large no. of range smaller openings in the façade. The entrance of the building is a long road called the ceremonial drive which later on splits towards the two entrances for the parliament members and the staff.
3. Bentota Beach Resort | Geoffrey Bawa
The benchmark of luxury five-star hotels was set by Bentota beach resort. The hotel is located between two beaches and near the Bentota river. This design is quite simple yet receives the praise of architects all over the world due to the subtle structural elements. The design derives inspiration from Buddhist temple architecture, retains the dutch fortifications, and also incorporates elements from Sinhalese traditional architecture. The main plan is a simple square that evolves into a trapezoid as we progress vertically due to the cantilevered edges on the top floor. The planning is done around a central courtyard which is entirely occupied by a reflection pond. The pond has a Champa tree on a small island in the middle.
4. Kandalama Hotel
Kandalama hotel is yet another luxury facility built on uneven rocky terrain as the chosen site was on the rock surface atop the ancient Kandalama tank. The simplistic design focused on minute details. The structure was designed in such a manner that it hangs onto a cliff while facing the monumental Sigiriya rock.
5. Ruhuna University Campus | Geoffrey Bawa
The university campus was developed on hilly terrain. The campus consisted of over 50 blocks and the campus was planned on an orthogonal grid aligned in the north-south direction. The structure and the materials incorporated were from the Porto-Sinhalese architecture. The blocks were connected with covered loggias or corridors. The numerous pavilions in varying sizes are placed around the garden courts and verandas in succession. The circulation despite the grid is designed along varying contours.
6. Anne De Silva House
A.S.H. de Silva was a young doctor who wanted his residence and medical practice on the same campus and had chosen a steep site for it. Bawa designed a deconstructed version of a classic colonial villa. The planning employs a chequerboard/chessboard pattern by connecting segregated pavilions linked with each other while creating pockets of garden courtyards throughout the campus. At the foot of the slope sits the doctor’s consulting room beside an open loggia that served as the patient’s waiting room, connected to the house via a long staircase tunnel. This residential project is often compared with Mies Van der Rohe’s Brick villa project.
7. Seema Malaka
Seema Malaka is a Buddhist temple complex constructed on lake Beira. It was originally constructed in the 19th century and redesigned by Bawa after the original structure slowly sank. It is an architectural monument devoid of flashy ornamentation that serves as a place for rest and meditation. The campus comprises three overwater platforms connected to each other and the land by bridge-like boardwalks. The entire structure has a coral white base and signature blue pyramid roofs. On one of the man-made islands, there is a Bodhi tree.
8. Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel
The lighthouse hotel is built at the rocky edge with one side of the structure facing the thrashing waves of the sea. The view is magnificent as the southern tip of the hotel faces the Galle fort across the sea. The lounges and restaurants carry memories of old rest houses and planters’ clubs, while the furnishing of the terraces and verandahs is solid and rugged to withstand the impact of the southwest monsoon. Various zones of the hotel are connected to adjacent blocks with linkages. This hotel’s design is muted in nature and derives inspiration from the ancient Moorish palaces, ocean liners, ancient manor houses, and colonial villas.
9. Number 11
Number 11 is the result of acquiring and developing multiple small cottage-like residential units. It began with three units from a series of four small houses. He, later on, acquired the fourth as well. The residence as a whole developed into a magnificent labyrinth of spaces with a range of landscape pockets of its own. This space, later on, went on to house Bawa’s private practice. Number 11 on the 33rd lane also experienced Bawa’s experimentation in interior design and indoor landscaping.
To date, the Geoffrey Bawa trust functions out of number 11.
10. Gallery Cafe
The structure was designed as a residential home project for a client who dropped the project right before completion. The same space was then used by Bawa as his personal office and is now the famous gallery café. This café was built on a narrow land parcel of size 15m x 70m and yet managed to incorporate numerous narrow landscaped courtyards consisting of green patches and also a lotus pond. The alternating open spaces throughout the structures allow the outer landscaped areas to bleed into the built form.
11. Bluewater Hotel And Spa | Geoffrey Bawa
This is yet another beach hotel from Bawa’s works, however, unlike the other sites, this land parcel did not have topographical features to offer uniqueness to the design. The architect used one of his unbuilt designs to create a unique accommodation facility. He has opted for a more resthouse-type vibe for this facility. The design possesses subtle elements such as the large entrance porch and the linear arcade running across the garden courts all the way through. The ambiance is also impacted by the small landscape elements that connect the interior with the adjacent coconut groves.
12. Heritage Madurai
The structure was built for the Madura Club based in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. It is a ground-level structure segregated into two parts by the colonnade walkway from the entrance. The two zones are such that one consists of the residential rooms for all the club members and on the other side are the amenities such as lounge, library, bar, restaurant, etc. The structure was designed in a way that it retains the hundreds of years old banyan trees and other existing vegetation on site while making it a part of the building.
13. De Saram House
Geoffrey Bawa was commissioned for the renovation of two small houses for Druvi and Sharmini de Saram. The musical and artistic parts of the two owners are reflected throughout the structure. The de Sarams art collection is adorned by the walls throughout the structure and the Druvis musical room is centrally placed in the house. The signature Bawa courtyard makes a feature in this project as well. The living room has dutch doors on the entirety of the long face and they open up to the reflective pond in the courtyard. The narrow corridor would run around the outer periphery of the bungalow.
14. Steel Corporation Office and Housing
The steel mills on the outskirts of Colombo required the main office along with accommodation on the same campus which was commissioned to Bawa. It is a G+3 structure with yet another land water interface. In the structure every floor is cantilevered over the floor underneath, thus acting as a shading device and weather protection within the structure. The staff housing was developed towards the west of the steel mills which is in the form of cottages placed along the contours.
15. Grand Oriental Hotel | Geoffrey Bawa
This hotel is situated in the business district of Colombo. It was originally the mansion of the Dutch governor and the military barracks. It was later converted into a hotel and renamed the grand oriental hotel in 1857. In the 1960s the property was taken over by the Bank of Ceylon, the Colombo hotels company renamed it as Hotel Taprobane and allotted Geoffrey Bawa for the redesigning of the monumental project.