Bawa’s Sri Lanka: An Architectural Tour
Geoffrey Bawa, the pioneer of Tropical Modernism, had a vision which greatly influenced architectural styles in Sri Lanka and other parts of the world. His dream was to create a space where the indoors and outdoors become one. Imagine this – the warm afternoon sun on your face and the rustle of leaves in the cool evening breeze, experienced from the comfort of your living room; a courtyard with moss-stained pots overflowing with greenery; or a large boulder in the middle of a hotel lobby!
Bawa’s vision was to accentuate the most beautiful aspects of nature and put it on display in a domestic setting. He created a number of notable spaces during his lifetime and influenced many architects and designers. Here is a guide to exploring many of Bawa’s masterpieces when you next visit Sri Lanka. Let the master guide you as you experience the beauty of the island through his eyes.
Colombo is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, and from the moment you step out of the airport you will be hit with a wave of humidity and the sound of buzzing action, but in the midst of all this commotion, you will find pockets of tranquillity which you must visit.
Seema Malakaya Shrine
Seema Malakaya is a Buddhist shrine and meditation pavilion found in the heart of the city and is the brainchild of Bawa. The shrine sits on stilts as it rises from the murky green waters of the Beira Lake. Despite being in close proximity to one of Colombo’s busiest cities, when you enter the shrine all the sounds of the outside world seem to fade away. The air is filled with the lingering smell of burning incense, and all you can hear are the rustling leaves of the Bodhi tree in the gentle breeze which is occasionally interrupted by the tolling of a bell. The shrine is best visited at sunset.
The streets of Colpetty are always abuzz; buses whizzing past, tooting their horns, while tuk-tuks try to weave through the ensuing traffic and daring pedestrians try to cross the streets, but away from all this commotion lies Number 11, Geoffrey Bawa’s city abode. In this house, time seems to stand still, perfectly made beds with crisp white sheets and living rooms which are neatly organised have remained untouched since the owner’s passing, the only indicator of time’s passing is the overgrown vegetation. Go on a tour around the house to see Bawa in a more domestic light.
Things to do in Colombo:
- Enjoy a meal at the Paradise Road Gallery Café. The location once housed Bawa’s office.
- Visit the Colombo National Museum.
- Wander through the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct.
Situated in the rolling plains of the Central Province, today Dambulla is a thriving agricultural city, but centuries ago it bordered the country’s ancient capital cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, centres of Sri Lankan’s Buddhist heritage and civilisation.
Heritance Kandalama Hotel
Perched along the banks of Kandalama Lake, surrounded by lush greenery on the outskirts of Dambulla town, lies one of Bawa’s most famous structures – Heritance Kandalama. The hotel is a reflection of its surroundings and it is both a stunning place to look at, as well as a stunning place to look out from. Built in a minimalistic style, the hotel sits on a rocky outcrop with wooden panelled rooms, green vines overflowing from balconies and even a large rock boulder in the hotel lobby – it is the perfect embodiment of Bawa’s tropical modernism.
Things to do in Dambulla:
- Climb Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress.
- Explore the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
- Visit the Dambulla Cave Temples.
From the dry zone, make your way down to the golden palm-fringed beaches of the Sri Lankan south coast. Galle is a city where the old and new have seamlessly merged. The Galle Fort is a time capsule where cobbled streets and Dutch villas have stood unchanged since the 17th century. But the moment you step outside the fort, you are met with the sights and sounds of modern life.
Lunuganga is Geoffrey Bawa’s country home and estate situated in the small seaside town of Bentota. The estate and its gardens were inspired by the iconic water gardens of the Sigiriya rock fortress with elements of garden designs from around the world including Renaissance Italy, Japan and England. The lush garden is scattered with interesting sculptures which have amalgamated with the landscape over the years. The white exterior of the house is contrasted with myriad colours and patterns within the house, which creates a style that is typical of Bawa.
Another one of Bawa’s hotels, Jetwing Lighthouse sits on a small rocky outcrop and overlooks the gorgeous turquoise sea. The hotel is shrouded by tall swaying palm trees and makes the most of its beautiful surroundings. Each room incorporates the idea of indoor-outdoor living and one of its best features is that no matter what window you gaze out of – whether it be facing the ocean or a courtyard- you will always have a picturesque view.
Things to do in Galle:
- Wander through Galle Fort.
- Visit the National Maritime Museum.
- Relax by the beach.
This coastal town is situated on the west coast of Sri Lanka and is just a short drive away from Bandaranaike International Airport.
Jetwing Beach sits on the golden strip of Negombo beach and features rolling gardens and unique Sri Lankan architecture. The hotel also has 22 Bawa Rooms which have been heavily influenced by tropical modernism; clean white interiors with tones of brown complement the surrounding landscape and natural light floods the rooms giving it a wonderful ‘beach feel’.
Things to do in Negombo:
- Drop by Negombo Fish Market.
- Explore Hamilton Canal.
- Relax on Negombo Beach.