The legendary architect Geoffrey Bawa and his unique architectural concept “Tropical Modernism”, is undoubtedly an indispensable part of the island’s identity. A multi-talented and cross disciplinary architect, Bawa was, and still is, significant due to his extraordinary talent to seamlessly blend different worlds into a single structure. He revived the island’s architectural landscape with some of the most celebrated structures that coherently bring together the roots of traditionalism and modern details.
Born to an affluent family in 1913 in Sri Lanka, Bawa was educated in Britain where he studied English Literature and Law, and practiced as a lawyer before his milestone career shift. He moved into the field of architecture with a life changing personal project when he was almost 40 years old. “Inspired by the gardens at Brief and determined to outdo his brother, Geoffrey bought an abandoned estate called Lunuganga on the far side of the Bentota River from Brief and set out to transform it into a landscaped garden”, says David Robson in one of his books recording the intimate details of Bawa’s legacy.
Bawa fused the European modernism learnt in London with the traditional aesthetics of local architecture. Drawing inspiration from the sleek details of modernism, he breathed new life into historic designs and transformed them into remarkable works of art. Another prominent feature of Bawa’s designs is allowing his modern structures to be totally covered in lush tropical vegetation. Bawa’s structures speak volumes on his hybrid approach in creating harmonious living spaces that encourage the co-existence of man and terrain.
Bawa’s structures are not identical yet they all bear common elements, which sum up his fundamental values of designing; open and bright environments shaded by porticos, thriving vegetation and windows that discretely capture the stunning landscape of the property, to name a few.
The monumental national parliament, Ruhuna University, Tower at Alexandra Place, the Seemamalakaya of Gangaramaya and Bawa’s Town House are among his most influential work that mark the climax of his career. The Heritance Kandalama hotel is one of his most recognised hotel projects, which is also an early accomplishment in sustainability architecture in Sri Lanka and the region. Apart from the said hotel project, unparalleled creations of Bawa are speckled across the island: Heritance Ahungalla, Paradise Road the Gallery Café, Jetwing Lighthouse, The Grand Oriental Hotel, The Villa Bentota, Anantara Kalutara and Avani Kalutara.
A legacy of redefining architecture, Bawa was also a partner of the Edwards, Reid and Begg studio. In 2001, just two years prior to his demise, Geoffrey Bawa won the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture.