Famed tropical modernism architect Geoffrey Bawa ‘inspired by the easy vibe of life in Sri Lanka’
His most cherished and long-lasting legacy will be Lunuganga
There are examples of the genius of Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s famed master of tropical modernism, throughout the island in the shape of boutique hotels and private houses.
But perhaps his most cherished and long-lasting legacy will be Lunuganga, his own house and amazing ‘indoors-outdoors’ garden estate in Bentota, on Sri Lanka’s south-west coast.
Kalyani Prasher, writing in The Hindu, notes that “the best old buildings that remain in Sri Lanka ‘all look at life in Ceylon squarely in the face’, Geoffrey Bawa had once famously said.
“The grand old man of architecture clearly carried forward that ethos in his own work, especially when it came to building his beautiful and expansive home in Bentota, the Lunuganga Estate.”
A tropical modern paradise, a pleasure to walk through
The house and gardens were created to take in the views, maximise rain water, and enjoy the natural greenery. “Lunuganga is a tropical modern paradise, a pleasure to walk through and take in the beautiful gardens at leisure, like Bawa did.”
He’d have been a hundred years old in two years, but Bawa’s design sensibility will never age: when you make the elements part of your design, it’s unlikely to go out of fashion.
All through the Lunuganga Estate, his country home and his first muse (he was attracted by the gardens here in 1947, which is when he quit being a lawyer and took to architecture), you can see this sensibility show up.
Kalyani was staying at Anantara Kalutara, not far from Lunuganga. She writes that it is another fabulous Bawa design, “with the high wooden roof, big rattan chairs, huge picture windows, an easy vibe full of natural light … yes, this could be no one else”.
The building was stopped midway in the 1990s due to the escalating war and, later, a lot of it was destroyed in the tsunami. But, thankfully, the central portion was intact; the rest of the resort was then completed based on his design.
Just the lobby area is a huge attraction, with unmatched views of a private river and lagoon, though from elsewhere in the hotel you can see both the Indian Ocean and the Kalu Ganga river.
Bawa’s sensibility mirrored in tea estates, and even small villages
Finally, she says, “I did say it’s hard to go wrong if you build Nature into your design plan, but it’s easier said than done.
“Beautiful and still untouched, clean and uncluttered, I saw Geoffrey Bawa’s sensibility mirrored in tea estates, and even small villages, where houses don’t try to stand out, but rather blend into the natural beauty.
“White, brown, green, mud — colours that complement Nature — are seen most in architecture around the island. The people of Sri Lanka have clearly learned to look at life in Ceylon in the face very early, and are not about to let that learning go in a hurry.”
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