Bawa & Beyond

By Inoka Karunananda

As Brian Brace Taylor describes, Geoffrey Bawa- The force behind the Tropical Modernism is considered as ‘one of the supreme examples of an architect for our times: fully conversant with contemporary technology and international developments, but with a deep understanding - and feeling for -vernacular traditions.’

Geoffrey Bawa’s way of blending elements of Sri- Lankan culture along with modern styles is interesting. When studying his work, use of courtyards, walkways, tiled roofs, rough floors is visible and he says the purpose was to give a very Ceylonese touch to his work. He says that he prefers ‘ to consider all past good architecture in Ceylon as just that – as good Ceylon architecture, for that is what it is, not Dutch or Portuguese or Indian, or early Sinhalese or Kandyan or British colonial, for all examples of these periods have taken Ceylon into first account’ (Bawa quoted in Robson 2002: 41).

As critiques point out that Ena De Silva House which was designed by him in 1962 was considered as one of the remarkable Asian houses in the era. Tariq Jazeel, describing the challenges Bawa had during the assignment says that ‘it’s not just a stylish innovation but ‘a mode of architectural praxis … born from the proto-national social and economic context. Sri Lanka’s participation in the non-aligned movement through the 1960s had a lasting impact on the development of this architectural genre, as the likes of Bawa and Minnette De Silva built through times of severe shortage and import restriction. Glass and steel were expensive and almost impossible to get hold of, thus for the Ena De Silva house Geoffery Bawa had to improvise, and he relied heavily on locally produced materials and locally trained craftspeople; something that remains integral to the sense of vernacularism that one reads in the modernist movement today.’ (Reading Tropical Modernism – Tariq Jazeel).

The house conceived as a series of pavilions, verandas contained within a high surrounding boundary wall, a major central courtyard and five subsidiary courtyards. The spatial qualities were enhanced by the choice of materials: walls of plastered brick, roofs of half-round Portuguese tiles, columns of satin wood, windows of timber lattice, floor of rough granite. In this way, Bawa succeeded in creating an old Ceylonese type house in the middle of an urban city in Colombo which allowed ample sunshine and fresh air at a situation where the air conditioners were not in use.

Bawa’s culture has spread into all corners of the island at present thus it has become extremely difficult to see any structure beyond it. However, the distressing factor of the tale is that, though Bawa is omnipresent, his theory is well modified with the time passing hence it has become difficult to see Bawa’s original work. Only a few places have taken effort to preserve and maintain the original principles and most of the work done by Bawa has been either modified or destroyed for some reason. Not even the well renowned Ena De Siva house managed to survive as it has been demolished to build a hospital car park. As a result, a special appreciation should be delivered to hotels like Heritance Kandalama, Heritance Ahungalle, the Neptune, the Lighthouse and Blue Water for preserving originality in Bawa’s work up to date. The said hotels still get hundreds of guests every year merely to admire Bawa’s work.

Having understood Bawa’s role in shaping the country’s architecture, it’s important to examine the journey of next generation. Channa Daswatte and Chelvadurai Anjalendran are the students and protégés of Geoffrey Bawa and show very propinquity to his work. They are considered as the most sought after architects at present. Channa Daswatte, has refurbished several boutique villas in Sri Lanka and in Asia. It includes the refurbishment of Galle Fort Hotel in Galle Fort, Frangipani Tree in Habaraduwa, Kurulu Bedda of the Light House Hotel in Galle. Mansion – Nugawela is still under refurbishment. Chelvadurai Anjalendran who is famed at playing with vibrant colours and creative designs, shows his talents via Mirissa Hills – Mt. Cinnamon and Bamboo Villa in Victoria Golf & Country Resort.

The Hikkaduwa National Park belongs to a special category of the Sri Lankan National Parks – the category of Marine National Parks. The Pigeon Island National Park is the only other Marine National Park of the island despite the fact Sri Lanka is completely surrounded by the ocean. Declared as wildlife sanctuary in May 1979 the coral reef at Hikkaduwa was elevated to a nature reserve in light of its diverse eco-system. And 25 years later with the gigantic increase in the number of visits to the area, the Hikkaduwa National Park was born.

Vil Uyana is a creation of Sunela Jayawardene, an environmental architect which allows nature lovers to be one with nature in a very stylish way. She shows her skills further through Havelock Place Bungalow. Contrary to the more nature friendly work, Colombo Courtyard depicts her capacity of handling the demands of Urban patrons.

The Boulder Gardens situated nearby Sinharaja rainforest was designed by Lalin Collure who won the prestigious Geoffrey Bawa Trust award in 2008 for this hotel design. It was the first ever Geoffrey Bawa Trust Award for Excellence in Architecture.

Geevaka De Soyza bags the credit of being the architect of Saman Villas - the first ever deluxe boutique hotel in Sri Lanka. Soyza demonstrates his extensive use of traditional eastern temple architectural styles along with modern comforts in Saman Villas. The conversion of elevated rocky land to a beautiful boutique hotel is admirable. However, it’s the owner’s intension to give the work a more Bali and Thai touch hence we see a very close link between Bawa’s work along with Saman Villas. Needless to mention how Bawa was fascinated by the architectural styles in Bali islands and had done much work there including The Batujimbar Pavilions.

Spread in 10 acre tea land, 98 Acres performs as a nature friendly luxury resort since 2012. Architect Maithree Munasinghe utilizes the materials found from the surrounding for interior designing and roof. The property has being listed among the top 100 must visit Destination on Trip Advisor in 2014. It has also been nominated for the ‘World Luxury Hotel awards 2015’ as a finalist.

Palinda Kannangara is another new generation architect who is inspired by the maestro Bawa. His play with the light, material, and shapes are interesting and worth having a look at. He was honored with a commendation Prize at the Geoffery Bawa Award for Excellence in Architecture 2008 for his Ginigathhena Estate bungalow

If you are planning to visit the fantasy city Hikkaduwa, Madu Ganga (Madu River) is also a remarkable place you must visit. Bordering to the coastal village Balaptiya, Madu Ganga flows by adding an incomparable beauty to the surrounding. It’s unique in its beauty, hundreds of islets, mangroves, indigenous aquatic birds and fish creates a green heaven in front of your eyes. These enchanting landscapes make people breathless by creating a paradise for their own dreams. This green heritage is a kind of lab for the researches, local and foreign university students and journalists who are discovering the secrets of this treasure.

It’s difficult to forget about Pradeep Kodikara when talking about current architectural trends in Sri Lanka – He’s a young architect who pursed the Geoffrey Bawa Award 2013/2014 for Excellence in Architecture for his creation ‘Kadju House’. Maya Villa is a highly recognized refurbishment project done by Kodikara. Shela house, No 39 and Colombo 07 are a few of his other work.

After having examined the work of a few renowned architects in the country in post Bawa era, it’s much easier to understand the feeling of David Robson who said that the next generation has become the mere imitators of Bawa instead of creating their own version. Kenneth Frampton uses the word ‘kitsch vernacular’ to identify the modern day followers of Bawa concept. It’s understandable the feeling of modern-day architects to receive such comments, yet unfortunately any commoner can witness the Bawa’s omnipresence in almost all the places we have discussed in this article. Robson says his works ‘have changed the way we see or look at certain aspects or architectural designs in this country’. There is no disputing this; it has been an acknowledged fact ever since Madhura Prematilleke first exhorted Sri Lankan architects to ‘come out from under the umbrella’. But what about the rest of the world? What do they think, if they think at all, of Bawa?’

Kaju tree house, Long house, Royal bakery, Villa Maggona, Colombo British Council are some of the work of Madhura Premathilake.

However, having examined all the above mentioned work in this article, along with Geoffery Bawa’s work, I wish to pen off my writing leaving a few thoughts open for discussion. Is Bawa experiencing a slow death at present having carelessly handled by almost everyone in the country? If it’s true, as a nation, how are we facing it? Who and what trends will take over Bawa and what will be the future like?

Back to Featured Articles

©2014 Future Sri Lanka, All Rights Reserved.