Geoffrey Bawa is one of the many influential and inspiring people one can come across, especially in architecture. As a lawyer turned architect, Bawa has designed many places that people will remember until the end of time. He has contributed a ton to the architecture community, and his practice has always had a unique and down-to-earth style that makes you stop and admire the beauty and serenity of the place. It mesmerizes you into thinking about every detail that goes into making the space habitable, and more importantly, vivacious and tranquil.

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Book in Focus: In Search of Bawa by David Robson - Sheet1
Bawa’s work in Bentota ©Ashish Shah

In his book, In Search of Bawa, David Robson has tried to express through words what Bawa created, and his perspective through photographs by Sebastian Posingis. This book is the contrivance of Sebastian Posingis and complements Bawa’s work in Sri Lanka and propounds a catalogue of his original design aspirations. As the name suggests, In Search of Bawa is a book that represents Bawa’s work not chronologically, but geographically as a series of an odyssey: from within Colombo, from within the outskirts, and from around the island.

Book in Focus: In Search of Bawa by David Robson - Sheet2
Cover of the Bawa’s Book ©www.amazon.in

This book addresses some reiterating questions about Geoffrey Bawa and his work in Sri Lanka that led to the discovery of his work across the world, what inspired him to shift his stance and study architecture, and what qualities distinguished his work. Long after his death, an architect and close friend of Bawa’s, David Robson, following the suggestion of photographer Sebastian Posingis, was determined to muster and organize a monograph of Bawa’s still-existing projects in Sri Lanka.

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About the Author

Book in Focus: In Search of Bawa by David Robson - Sheet3
Geoffrey Bawa ©www.wikipedia.com

Born in Ceylon in July 1919, Geoffrey Bawa spent most of his student life outside Sri Lanka and returned with a Law degree from London after the Second World War. In 1949, due to his love for a high life, he ended up buying a rubber plantation estate along the southeast coast of Bentota. His ambition to turn the estate into a European Garden led to him attaining a Diploma in Architecture from Architectural Association, London. This was the very first project of Geoffrey Bawa, which today is well-known as Lunuganga.

Book in Focus: In Search of Bawa by David Robson - Sheet8
Tropical art deco style houses in Lunuganga ©Pinterest

David Robson and Sebastian Posingis documented a sizeable narration of Bawa’s life and his work preceding a site-by-site expedition of more than 40 of his buildings into this book scattered across Sri Lanka. This book indulges its readers with insightful words, contemporary photographs, archives from designs, and a plethora of illustrated drawings of individual buildings that range from hotels to private dwellings. Each project reflected on his representation of tropical modernism.

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 Bawa always embraced the philosophy of landscape merging into his buildings. Many of his projects reflected this idea and indulged the interiors with the landscape, and large glass windows that would let the sunlight come through into space. As Geoffrey Bawa started exploring verandahs and courtyards, Bawa designed the first line of courtyard houses, Cinnamon Gardens in Colombo’s destitute neighborhood. With scarce land in play, he thought that the gardens would be a luxury.

Book in Focus: In Search of Bawa by David Robson - Sheet9
Inside the book, In Search of Bawa ©www.bestdesignbooks.eu

While in Colombo, Bawa realized that working with Ceylon’s humidity was a challenge to the style of tropical modernism. He began experimenting with courtyards and verandahs, overhanging roofs, and locally produced materials such as clay tiles, stone, and timber illustrating contemporary architecture using traditional construction that will connect the spatial elements to the surroundings. This technique kept the buildings naturally cool and comfortable. The Ena de Silva House was an example of such ambition, making it one of the most essential homes in South Asian architecture.

Book in Focus: In Search of Bawa by David Robson - Sheet4
Courtyard in Ena de Silva House ©www.geoffreybawa.com

Geoffrey Bawa amicably worked on hospitality, institutional projects, and government-commissioned public places. The Sri Lanka Parliament symbolizes the aspect of monumentality and orchestrates dissymmetry in the Parliament building, consequentially the aura of austerity that often radiates from government buildings.  

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Bawa managed to translate his flair in international modernism and traditional culture at the Ruhuna University Campus where he expanded the buildings encompassing the existing hills and rendered ocean views. The Heritance Kandalama Hotel is the epitome of an austere jungle palace which was precisely what Bawa had intended to build. The Kandalama offers views to the Unesco World Heritage site of Sigiriya Rock, the Kandalama reservoir, and the surrounding mountains.

Book in Focus: In Search of Bawa by David Robson - Sheet5
Inside the book, In Search of Bawa ©www.bestdesignbooks.eu
Book in Focus: In Search of Bawa by David Robson - Sheet5
Inside the book, In Search of Bawa ©www.bestdesignbooks.eu
Book in Focus: In Search of Bawa by David Robson - Sheet6
Inside the book, In Search of Bawa ©www.bestdesignbooks.eu
Book in Focus: In Search of Bawa by David Robson - Sheet7
Inside the book, In Search of Bawa ©www.bestdesignbooks.eu

Geoffrey Bawa always believed that to comprehend architecture, written descriptions or pictures would constrict the imagination and it should always be experienced face-to-face. This book encourages you to appreciate Bawa and his work and makes you yearn to visit his buildings and explore them for yourselves. Bawa had a great eye for detail and would always experiment with the design. 

Although some of the buildings have been demolished, some have been preserved, and some have been altered according to the need, the experience remains astonishing. Many of his buildings are coupled with nature through courtyards with huge trees and plants, connecting verandahs, and even in the interior of the rooms.  This book draws attention to many of Bawa’s masterpieces and as per Bawa; they are worth a delightful visit.

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References

  1. In Search of Bawa [Book]
  2. Best Design Books [Online]

Available at: https://www.bestdesignbooks.eu

  1. AD [Online]

Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.in

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Author

Abha Haval is an Architect who has a vivid imagination of this world. She believes that every place has a story to tell and is on a mission to photograph the undiscovered whereabouts of various cities and narrate the story of its existence.

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