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Geoffrey Bawa was a 20th century Sri Lankan architect who left his footprint as one of the most influential and renowned Asian architects of his era. Belonging to the Fellowship of the Royal Institute of British Architects; Bawa was the principal driving force behind what is now globally known as "tropical modernism".

The Youth of Bawa

Geoffrey Bawa was born on 23 July 1919 to Justice B. W. Bawa a wealthy and successful lawyer, with an ancestry of ancient Arab Moslems and the proud English; and Bertha Marianne Schrader who was a Dutch Burgher of mixed German, Scottish and Sinhalese descent. The mixed races brought about a genetic brilliance of mind that was inherent in both Geoffrey and his older brother Bevis, who went on to become renowned landscape architect.

Geoffrey learnt his initial education at Royal College in Colombo; and then went on to study English and Law in 1938 at St Catharine’s College in Cambridge, UK. After gaining a BA in English Literature Tripos, Geoffrey studied law at the Middle Temple in London becoming a barrister in 1944.

He returned to Sri Lanka after the Second World War and worked in a law firm in Colombo. However, being a lawyer did not appeal to his interests and intelligence; and after the death of his mother in 1946, he left both the profession and the country, travelling Far East, across the United States, and finally to Europe. He almost ended up buying a villa and settling down in Italy; but since those plans did not work out, he returned to Sri Lanka around 1948. He saw a beautiful abandoned estate where there were once cinnamon and rubber plantations, and fell in love with the bungalow and overgrown gardens. Geoffrey saw the potential for beauty that lay beneath the tropical wilderness and purchased the estate an year later in 1949. This estate, which would later be named Lunuganga, became turning point of his life and was to become the cornerstone for his career as an architect.

Entering the World of Architecture

Bawa initially planned to convert his estate into an Italian garden and villa. It was only once he started working on his pet project, that he realised his sore lack of architectural knowledge. He then apprenticed in 1951 under H. H. Reid, the sole surviving partner of the then well-known architectural practice in Colombo, Edwards Reid and Begg. When Reid passed away just an year later, Geoffrey found that his interest in architecture hadn’t waned.

Bawa left for England that same year, where he enrolled as a student at the Architectural Association School of Architecture and gained a Diploma in Architecture by 1956. An year later he became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects and returned to Sri Lanka. In 1958 Geoffrey, assisted by his now rising career, became a partner of Messrs. Edwards, Reid and Begg; the same firm where he had once been a mere apprentice. An year later Danish architect Ulrik Plesner joined the firm, and the two became firm friends. Plesner was the main influence in Bawa’s designs of "tropical modernism"; and the two designed many buildings together in their distinct style until the end of 1966.

Bawa’s style of Tropical Modernism

Tropical Modernism, which favoured white abstract forms and horizontal rooflines, was a very new stye at the time that Bawa started working on his designs. His early work was influenced by the ‘Tropical Modernism’ of Fry and Drew and le Corbusier; and included some office buildings, factories and schools. Typical examples of this era of his constructions are the remote Strathspey Tea Estate Bungalow at the foot of Adam’s Peak, and the classroom extension for Bishop’s College in Colombo.

He then polished his style more as he began building homes. The typical British ‘bungalow’ was a pavilion on one or two floors, cellular and extrovert surrounded by a large garden plot. However the population of Sri Lanka was exploding and Colombo was rapidly evolving from leafy Garden City into a modern Asian metropolis. As land prices skyrocketed plot sizes shrank, and the standard British bungalow design could no longer guarantee privacy or provide adequate ventilation.

So Geoffrey turned towards a style of tropical modernism that suited Sri Lanka. His very first house in this style was for a doctor named A.S.H. de Silva on a steeply sloping site in Galle; and had overhanging pitched roofs that offered the best protection against the tropical sun and rain. The deconstructed elements of this uniquely designed house were reassembled on an exploding pinwheel plan and held together by a single raking roof plane.

Through it all Bawa sought an architecture that was at one with the land blending seamlessly both inside and outside; and designed for the maximum pleasure of its inhabitants. He was influenced by colonial and traditional Ceylonese architecture, and the role of water in it; but rejected both the idea of regionalism and the imposition of preconceived forms onto a site. In 1960 Bawa became an Associate of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects giving him close association with a coterie of like-minded artists and designers, including Ena de Silva, Barbara Sansoni and Laki Senanayake. This allowed him a new awareness of indigenous materials and crafts, leading to a post-colonial renaissance of culture depicted in his later works.

Geoffrey Bawa at his Peak

While Geoffrey Bawa‘s work ranged mainly in Sri Lanka; he also worked in several other countries such as India, Indonesia, Mauritius, Japan, Pakistan, Fiji, Egypt and Singapore. His works include houses, hotels, schools, clubs, offices and government buildings, and most notably the Sri Lankan Parliament Building. They won him several awards including the highly coveted National Title of ‘Deshamanya’. Geoffrey Bawa suffered a major stroke in 1998 and passed away on the 27th of May 2003, just short of age 84.

Care of his homes were taken over by a group of his friends who began the Geoffrey Bawa trust and opened portions of them for public viewing; so that everyone may learn of the marvel that was Bawa. They also have a design award that they offer in memory of him, known as the Geoffrey Bawa Awards.

Geoffrey Bawa‘s Designs

1940s

  • Lunuganga, Bentota (1948–1998)

1950s

  • St. Thomas’ Preparatory School, Colombo (1957–1964)
  • Carmen Gunasekera House, Colombo (1958)
  • Kanangara House, Colombo (1959)
  • Club House, Ratnapura (1959)
  • Deraniyagala House, Colombo (1959)
  • Wimal Fernando House, Colombo (1959)
  • Jayawardena house, Colombo (1959–1960)
  • Ekala Industrial Estate, Ja ela (1959–1960)
  • A.S.H. De Silva House, Galle (1959–1960)
  • Manager’s Bungalow, Maskeliya (1959–1960)
  • Turin Koralage House, Elpitiya (1959-1960)
  • Wijewardene House, Colombo (1959–1964)

1960s

  • Osmund and Ena de Silva House, Colombo (1960–62)
  • Bishop’s College, Colombo (1960–1963)
  • 33rd Lane, Colombo (1960–1998)
  • Nazareth Chapel, Good Shepherd Convent, Bandarawela (1961–1962)
  • House for Dr. Bartholomeusz, Colombo (1961–1963)
  • House for Chris and Carmel Raffel, Colombo (1962–1964)
  • Pim and Pam Fernando House, Colombo (1963)
  • St. Bridget’s Montessori School, Colombo (1963–1964)
  • Polontalawa Estate Bungalow, Polontalawa (1963–1965)
  • Hilton Hotel, Colombo, Colombo (1965)
  • Madurai Boys’ Town, Madurai, India (1965–1967)
  • Yahapath Endera Farm School, Hanwella (1965–1971)
  • Coral Gardens Hotel – additions and renovations, Hikkaduwa (1966)
  • Grand Oriental Hotel (Taprobane Hotel) – additions and renovations, Colombo (1966)
  • Steel Corporation Offices, Oruwela (1966–1969)
  • Bentota Beach Hotel, Bentota (1967–1969)
  • Pieter Keuneman House, Colombo (1967–1969)
  • Serendib Hotel, Bentota (1967–1970)
  • Yala Beach Hotel, Yala (1968)
  • Mahahalpe Farm, Kandy (1969)
  • Ceylon Pavilion 1970 World’s Fair, Osaka, Japan (1969–1970)

1970s

  • Pallakele Industrial Estate, Pallekele (1970–1971)
  • P.C. de Saram Terrace Houses, Colombo (1970–1973)
  • Science Block, Nugegoda (1971)
  • Madurai Club, Madurai, India (1971–1974) – it has been renamed as Heritage Madurai.
  • Hotel Connamara Remodelling, Chennai, India (1971–1976)
  • Club Mediterranee, Nilaveli (1972)
  • Stanley de Saram House, Colombo (1972)
  • Batujimbar Pavilions, Sanur, Indonesia (1972–1975)
  • Peter White House, Pereybere, Mauritius (1973–1974)
  • Neptune Hotel, Beruwala (1973–1976)
  • Agrarian Research and Training Institute, Colombo (1974–1976)
  • Hotel at Pondicherry, Puducherry, India (1975)
  • Seema Malaka, Colombo (1976–1978)
  • State Mortgage Bank, Colombo (1976–1978)
  • Candoline Hotel, Goa, India (1977)
  • Panama Hotel, Panama (1977)
  • Martenstyn House, Colombo (1977–1979)
  • Meena Muttiah Hospital for the Kumarni of Chettinad, Chennai, India (1978)
  • House for Lidia Gunasekera, Bentota (1978–1980)
  • Institute for Integral Education, Piliyandala (1978–1981)
  • Club Villa Hotel, Bentota (1979)
  • Samy House, Dahshur, Egypt (1979)
  • Triton Hotel, Ahungalla (1979–1981)
  • Sri Lankan Parliament Building, Kotte (1979–1982)

1980s

  • University of Ruhuna, Matara (1980–1988)
  • Galadari Hotel, Islamabad, Pakistan (1984)
  • Sunethra Bandaranaike House, Horagolla (1984–1986)
  • Offices for Banque Indosuez, Colombo (1985)
  • Institute of Engineering Technology, Katunayake (1985)
  • Fitzherbert House, Tangalle (1985–1986)
  • De Soysa House, Colombo (1985–1991)
  • Bashir Currimjee House, Port Louis, Mauritius (1986–1994)
  • Hyatt Hotel, Sanur, Sanur, Indonesia (1989)
  • Larry Gordon House, Wakaya, Fiji (1989)
  • Singapore Cloud Centre, Singapore, Singapore (1989)

1990s

  • Banyan Tree Hotel, Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia (1991)
  • Kandalama Hotel, Dambulla (1991–1994)
  • Jayakody House, Colombo, Colombo (1991–1996)
  • Sarabhai House, Ahmedabad, India (1992)
  • Modi House, Delhi, India (1992)
  • Jayakody House, Bentota, Bentota (1993)
  • Poddar House, Bangalore, India (1994)
  • Kani Lanka Resort & Spa, Kalutara (1994–1996)
  • Lighthouse Hotel, Galle (1995–1997)
  • Blue Water Hotel, Colombo (1996–1998)
  • Official Residence of the President, Kotte (1997-)
  • Pradeep Jayewardene House, Mirissa (1997–1998)
  • Spencer House, Colombo (1998)
  • Jacobsen House, Tangalle (?)

2000s

  • Anantara Kalutara Resort, Kalutara (Completed 2016 to Bawa’s design)

Unbuilt

  • U.N. Headquarters, Malé, Malé, Maldives (1985)

Awards won by Bawa

  • Pan Pacific Citation, Hawaii Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (1967)
  • President, Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (1969)
  • Inaugural Gold Medal at the Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (1982)
  • Heritage Award of Recognition, for “Outstanding Architectural Design in the Tradition of Local Vernacular Architecture”, for the new Parliamentary Complex at Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte from the Pacific Area Travel Association. (1983)
  • Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects
  • Elected Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (1983)
  • Conferred title of Vidya Jothi (Light of Science) in the Inaugural Honours List of the President of Sri Lanka (1985)
  • Teaching Fellowship at the Aga Khan Programme for Architecture, at MIT, Boston, USA (1986)
  • Title Deshamanya (Pride of the Nation) in the Honours List of the President Sri Lanka (1993)
  • The Grate Master’s Award 1996 incorporating South Asian Architecture Award (1996)
  • The Architect of the Year Award, India (1996)
  • Asian Innovations Award, Bronze Award – Architecture, Far Eastern Economic Review (1998)
  • The Chairman’s Award of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in recognition of a lifetime’s achievement in and for contribution to the field of architecture (2001)
  • Awarded Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa), University of Ruhuna (14 September 2002)

Intact Work of Bawa in Sri Lanka

The following is a list of buildings in Sri Lanka which were designed in the office of Edwards, Reid and Begg under the direction of Geoffrey Bawa between 1958 and 1989 or by Geoffrey Bawa Associates between 1990 and 1997, and which have survived more or less intact. As a general rule private residences cannot be visited without a special introduction. Many buildings can only be visited by prior appointment, though in some
cases permission can be obtained on the spot.

Date Title/Location Present Condition Notes on Visitng
1948-97 Lunuganga Garden (GB’s country estate) Excellent condition Admission by ticket
1958-62 Classrooms for St. Thomas’ Prep. Galle Road, Col 3, opp. Cinnamon Grand Hotel Poor condition Visible from road
1960-61 House and Surgery for Dr ASH de Silva, Elliot Road, Woodward Mawatha, Galle Excellent condition Private res.
1960-62 Estate Bungalow, Strathspey Estate, Maskeliya Excellent condition Appointment only
1959-60 Offices for Automobile Association , Sir Marcan Markar Mawatha, Colombo Much altered Public building
1960-69 Geoffrey Bawa’s own town house11, 33rd Lane, Bagatelle Road, Col 3 Excellent condition Admission by ticket
1961-63 Bartholomeusz House, 2 Alfred House Gardens, Colombo (Geoffrey Bawa Office now Gallery Café) Altered, good condition Public building
1961-62 Nazareth Chapel for Good Shepherd Convent, Rasintha Wimalasena Road, Bandarawela Fair condition Ask permission
1961-63 Flats for Mrs. AF Wijemanna (3 storeys) Ananda Coomaraswamy Maw., Col 7 Much altered Visible from road
1961-63 House for Chris and Carmen Raffel 57, Ward Place, Colombo 7 Fair condition Private res.
1963-65 House for Leela Dias BandaranayakeHotel Road, Mount Lavinia Good condition Private res.
1963-64 Montessori School for St. Bridget’s Convent, Maitland Crescent, Colo 7 Good condition Appointment only
1963-65 Estate bungalow for Baur & CoPolontalawa, Nikarawetiya Good condition Appointment only
1965-66 Classroom block for Ladies CollegeErnest de Silva Mawatha, Colombo 7 Fair condition Appointment only
1965-66 YWCA BuildingRotunda Gardens, Colombo 7 Fair condition Public building
1966-69 Steel Corporation, offices and staff housing , Oruwela (E. of Colombo) Fair condition Appointment only
1967-69 House for Peter Keuneman 27th Lane, Inner Flower Road, Col Fair condition Ask permission now a beauty salon
1967-69 Bentota Resort – railway station, tourist village etc., Bentota Fair condition Public buildings
1967-73 Bentota Beach Hotel, Bentota Badly altered Public building
1967-74 Serendib Hotel , Bentota Fair condition Public building
1969-70 Public Library , Opposite the main temple at Kalutara Dilapidated Public building
1969-71 Office Development , Opposite the bus station, Matara Fair condition Public building
1970-72 4 row houses for PC de Saram , 5th Lane Colombo 3 Only two remain in poor condition Private res
1971-73 House for Stanley de Saram, Cambridge Place, Colombo 7 Much altered visible from road Private res.
1972-74 House conversion for Mr & Mrs Tennakoon 33rd Lane, Bagatelle Road, Col 3 Excellent condition visible from road Private res.
1973-76 Neptune Hotel , Beruwela Good condition Public building
1974-76 Agrarian Research & Training Institute , Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7 Excellent condition Ask permission
Date Title/Location Present Condition Notes on Visitng
1975-77 National Institute for Management Studies ,Vidya Mawatha (off Wijerama Mawatha), Colombo 7 Fair condition Ask permission
1975-79 Offices for State Mortgage Bank (Mahaweli) Hyde Park Corner, Darley Road, Colombo Much altered Visible from street
1976-78 Seema Malaka – ordination temple, Beira Lake, Colombo Good condition Public building
1978-80 Integral Education Centre , Pilyandala to Moratuwa road (Bolgoda Lake) Fair condition Ask permission
1978-80 House for Lidia Gunasekera aka No. 87 , 87, Galle road, Bentota Good condition now a guest house
1978-79 Tourist Police Station , Galle Road (land side) Beruwela Fair Condition Public building
1978-81 Triton Hotel, (aka Heritance) Ahungalla Good condition Public building
1978-80 Staff Housing for the Ministry of Power , Sarana Rd., Bauddhaloka Mawa. Col 7 Fair condition Visible from road
1979-82 New Sri Lanka Parliament, Sri Jayawardenepura , Kotte Good condition Special permission needed
1980-88 Ruhunu University Campus, Matara Fair condition Appointment only
1982-83 Vocational Training Centre, Ladies College,27th Lane, Inner Flower Road Good condition Appointment only
1982-83 Pilgrims’ Rest House , Jayanthi Maw., New Town, Anuradhapura Fair condition Public building
1984-86 Stable conversion for Sunethra Bandaranaike , Horagolla Excellent condition Private res.
1985-86 House for Richard Fitzherbert, aka Claughton, Dikwella, near Tangalla Fair condition Now a guest house
1985-91 House for Cecil and Chloe de Soysa , Dharmapala Maw, Colombo 3 Excellent condition Private res.
1990 Remodelling and extension to Sinbad Hotel Kalutara Fair condition Public building
1991-94 Kandalama Hotel (aka Heritance) Dambulla Good condition Public building
1991-95 House for Rohan and Dulanjalee Jayakody ,Park Street, Colombo 2 Good condition Private res.
1995-97 Lighthouse Hotel , Galle Good condition Public building
1996-98 Blue Water Hotel , Waduuwa Good condition Public building
1997-98 House for Pradeep Jayawardene , Red Cliffs, Mirissa, near Weligama Fair condition Now a guest house
1997-98 House for David Spencer, Rosmead Place, Colombo 7 Fair condition Private res.