A black and white image of Geoffrey Bawa
Geoffrey Bawa

Sri Lanka, the tiny island in the Indian Ocean, is home to many creative thinkers and influential figures. Such personalities of Sri Lanka have glorified the name of the country in the whole world. They have given so much reputation and pride to their motherland. And yes, Sri Lanka has also produced such famous personalities in the architectural field. Among them, one is indeed a highlight. His contribution to the architectural field of the country is just immense. Besides, he is the most influential character for the youngsters who are following architecture in Sri Lanka. He is none other than the legendary Geoffrey Bawa.

This Sri Lankan architect is one of the most important Asian architects of the 20th century. He is even a fellow member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He is also famous as the founder of tropical modernism.

Scroll down to know about this wonderful personality!

Early Life of Geoffrey Bawa

There is very little information on the early life of Geoffrey Bawa. Anyway, he was born in Colombo on the 23rd of July 1919. His father, Major Benjamin Bawa was a very successful lawyer. He was a descendant of British and Sri Lankan Muslims. Then, his mother is Bertha Marianne nee Schrader who comes from a mixed family of Burgher, Sinhalese, Scottish, and German. As a result, Bawa grew up in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural family background.

He was the youngest son of a very wealthy and successful family. Geoffrey Bawa has one older brother named Bevis Bawa. Bevis Bawa is also a landscape architect. Geoffrey Bawa did not marry. Both the sons of the Bawa family were genetically gifted as they both excelled to the top in their respective fields.

Geoffrey Bawa’s Education

Geoffrey Bawa started schooling at the Royal College, Colombo. After his initial education, he moved to London. In London, he studied English and Law at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge where he earned a BA. Then he studied to be a barrister at Middle Temple, London.

He returned to Sri Lanka after the second world war and started working in a law firm in Colombo. However, being a lawyer didn’t interest him as much.

However, after the demise of his mother, Geoffrey Bawa started a world tour where he kept traveling from country to country for two years. He had plans to settle down in Italy but returned to Sri Lanka in 1948. 

Back in Sri Lanka, he bought an estate in Lunuganga and wanted to create an Italian garden in this landscape. He understood that he needed more technical knowledge to support his newfound interest in architecture. So, Bawa started working as an apprentice under H.H. Reid, a surviving partner of the Colombo architectural practice.

To pursue a career in architecture, he returned to England and joined the Architectural Association in London. After gaining a diploma in architecture, he could become an Associate of the Royal Institute of British architects. Accordingly, in 1957, Geoffrey Bawa became a qualified architect and returned to Sri Lanka. 

Significance of Geoffrey Bawa

Many refer to Geoffrey Bawa as the master architect of Sri Lanka. Besides, Geoffrey Bawa is the pioneer in introducing modern architecture to Sri Lanka.

Starting from the age of 38, Bawa has used his excellence in more than 30 projects across this splendid island. They include hotels, schools, clubs, and even administrative buildings. His unique style belongs to ‘tropical modernism’.

Bawa’s creations are well-known for their elegance and innovation. All of his works are indeed highly influential in the field of architecture in Sri Lanka even now. In fact, even after so many years, Geoffery Bawa is the most famous name in Sri Lankan architecture.

After all, he introduced a unique and modern style to the architecture of the newly independent Sri Lanka that used to follow colonial styles. Hence, there is nothing wrong with considering him the ‘Father of Sri Lankan architecture’.

Iconic Architecture by Geoffrey Bawa

As we highlighted earlier, there are many interesting and iconic buildings created by the legendary Geoffrey Bawa. While most of his creations are in Sri Lanka, some of his works are located in countries like India, Indonesia, Mauritius, Japan, Fiji, and Singapore.

Particularly, in Sri Lanka, his creations are very much appreciated for conserving the heritage while inducing modernism to the project. In fact, he was capable of showing the unique style in Sri Lankan architecture along the lines of modern architecture.

Here are some such iconic creations in Sri Lanka, by Geoffrey Bawa.

  1. Sri Lankan Parliament Building
  2. Lunuganga Geoffrey Bawa’s Country Estate
  3. Seema Malakaya, Colombo
  4. Bishop’s College, Colombo
  5. Heritance, Ahungalla
  6. Grand Oriental Hotel, Colombo
  7. University of Ruhuna, Matara
  8. The Kandalama Hotel
  9. Pradeep Jayawardena House, Mirissa
  10. Lighthouse Hotel, Galle

Continue reading to know more about these places!

1. Sri Lankan Parliament Building

The Sri Lankan parliament building is probably the best-known design by Geoffrey Bawa. It is an absolute work of art by this respected architect.

The parliament building is on an artificial island in a flooded marshland within close proximity to the city of Colombo. From a distance, it looks like this majestic building is floating on a gorgeous body of water.

While it looks like a very modern creation, it still carries elements from vernacular architecture and traditional building principles. This building is also a good portrayal of Bawa’s tropical modernism.

This construction also has the capability of withstanding any type of climatic change on the island. Sri Lanka’s second president. J.R. Jayawardene invited Bawa to design the parliament building in 1979. Its construction reached completion by 1982.

After all, this is indeed one of the excellent creations by Geoffrey Bawa.

2. Lunuganga Geoffrey Bawa’s Country Estate

If you are looking forward to studying Bawa’s architecture in depth, the Lunganga estate is a must-visit for you. In fact, what other place is more suitable to study Bawa other than his country home?

Lunuganga estate is Bawa’s first and one of the finest creations. He bought the rubber estate close to the Dedduwa lake in Lunuganga in 1948 and did this construction in it. This land is situated about 2 kilometers away from the Bentota coast.

It is amazing how Geoffrey Bawa has incorporated modern architectural elements in the creation of his estate while not disrupting the natural beauty of the land. He has taken influence from Italian renaissance gardens, English landscaping, Japanese garden art, and the irrigation technology of ancient Sri Lanka. One can see classical Greek-Roman statues and bacchanalian grotesque sculptures amidst the greenery of the garden.

In Lunuganga, Bawa has given life to his best vision. 

3. Seema Malakaya, Colombo

Gangarama Seema Malakaya is a Buddhist temple situated amidst the busy city of Colombo. According to historical records, the original building of the temple was built in the 19th century. But, this original structure completely sank into the water by 1970. Geoffrey Bawa was invited to construct the new structure that you can see in the Beira lake of Colombo at present.

In redesigning the temple, Bawa was inspired by the architecture of the ancient Buddhist temples situated in areas like Anuradhapura and Ritigala. However, there are elements of Kandyan architecture as well in the temple.

Since the temple is in Beira lake, Bawa created three platforms over the water to hold the temple building. This unique temple looks very different from any other typical Buddhist temple that you can see in the country. Besides, Bawa created the temple making it an ideal place for meditation and rest. So, it is indeed a must-visit when you are exploring the vibrant city of Colombo.

4. Bishop’s College, Colombo

Geoffrey Bawa has also designed several reputed schools in Sri Lanka. Bishop’s College, Colombo is one such school.

It is a major girls’ school situated close to Beira lake in Colombo. Geoffrey Bawa created a development plan for the school in the 1960s and then he was invited to build a three-story classroom block for the school. He followed an interesting plan in creating the building where he placed the new classrooms in the first and second levels behind a breathing wall and left the ground floor as an open space where the students can do activities and games. In this school project, Bawa tried out a new method called the elevational ordering system which he used in multiple other projects of his in later years.

Bishop’s College takes great pride in its school premises as they possess an iconic building built by none other than Geoffrey Bawa.

5. Heritance, Ahungalla

Heritance, Ahungalla is one of the most beautiful beach hotels in the country. It was formerly called the Triton hotel. And yes, this is one of the earliest creations by the legendary Geoffrey Bawa.

This hotel is known for its amazing view of the dazzling Indian ocean. Geoffrey Bawa followed one of his favorite concepts in the design of Heritance, Ahungalla.

One of Bawa’s well-known architectural concepts is where he mingles the inside and outside of a building which makes it more accessible to nature and the amazing views of the surrounding. As a result, there is a spectacular view of the ocean, greenery, and the tropical weather of the golden beach, from the inside of Heritance, Ahungalla.

His taste in elegance and sophistication is displayed at every corner of the hotel. Heritance hotel is situated in the small village of Ahungalla, which is about 9 kilometers away from Ambalangoda. 

6. Grand Oriental Hotel, Colombo

Grand Oriental Hotel located on York Street in Colombo is one of the oldest and also one of the most prominent hotels in Sri Lanka. The colonial-style building is originally a mansion that belonged to a Dutch governor. It was redesigned as a hotel in 1875.

The hotel was redesigned again in 1966 and this project was done by Geoffrey Bawa. In the remodeling process, Bawa created a new harbor room and a restaurant overlooking the Colombo harbor in the hotel.

Bawa’s new additions to the hotel gave a modern touch to the colonial and ancient vibe of the hotel. Of course, they uplifted the elegance and architectural value of the building.

Geoffrey Bawa was known for his ability to refurbish in a modern way without harming the original value of the location. This is one such perfect example, and he has contributed to many such projects during his career.

7. University of Ruhuna, Matara

The University of Ruhuna is a prestigious university among the 16 state universities of Sri Lanka. It is also one of the best architectural designs by Geoffrey Bawa. He created the best design for this higher academic institution in the vicinity of Matara town.

The creation of the university by Bawa began in 1979 and it was completed by 1988. While there are many buildings in the university, all of them are connected by a network of stairs and corridors. Bawa has created a well-balanced atmosphere in his design, which makes it ideal for a place of higher study and also copes with the warm weather of Matara. Besides, the architecture of the university displays various elements from the colonial style, giving it a unique look. Besides, he could bring life to this design at a considerably low cost.

Owing to all these specialties, many consider this as one of the most important designs by Geoffrey Bawa.

8. The Kandalama Hotel

The Kandalama hotel is one of the most unique hotels on the outskirts of Dambulla. The extraordinary architecture of this hotel made it a social media sensation in recent times.

This hotel is on land which is around 11 kilometers away from the city of Dambulla. Bawa specifically requested land for the construction of the hotel as he was targeting the picturesque views.

The hotel is a portrayal of Bawa’s love for nature and environmental sensitivity. One of the interesting features of the hotel is how the hotel sits along the existing ridges of the cliff. There is a belief that there was minimal damage to the environment during the construction of the hotel. Thus, this Kandalama hotel is the perfect blend of nature and modernity. The hotel’s construction ended in 1995.

It is unarguably a masterpiece that displays the wonderful architectural philosophy of Geoffrey Bawa. 

9. Pradeep Jayawardene House, Mirissa

Geoffrey Bawa has also contributed to the construction of several personal homes. Accordingly, he designed the vacation home of the well-known Jayawardene family in Mirissa.

Pradeep Jayawardene, the grandson of the late president, Mr. J.R. Jayawardene invited their family friend Geoffrey Bawa to design a house for them in the small coastal town of Mirissa. Accordingly, Bawa came up with a wonderful house in a beautiful landscape overlooking Weligama bay.

Bawa followed a very simple design for the house and one of the most significant features of this house is its openness. It really brings out the tropical vibe and also provides amazing views of the coastal surroundings.

While this was the last creation by Bawa, it displays so many elements from Bawa’s early architectural designs. The house reached completion in 1998.

This vacation home is a great example of Geoffrey Bawa’s famous concept of tropical modernism. 

10. Lighthouse Hotel, Galle

The Lighthouse hotel is a luxurious hotel in the beautiful coastal town of Galle. It is one of the hotels which belongs to the five-star franchise of Jetwing hotels.

Bawa’s hotels are famous as their architecture stands out among the other hotels in the country. And yes, this hotel too is certainly an architectural masterpiece of Geoffrey Bawa.

The design of this hotel reflects post-modernism and minimalism. Bawa made sure that the hotel gets the most out of the natural lights. Besides, the architecture of the hotel has created a welcoming vibe and provides the guests with the experience of Sri Lankan hospitality. Like the other projects by Bawa, this hotel also nicely blends with nature.

This is also one of the last projects of this legendary architect. Moreover, Geoffrey Bawa himself considered this as one of his favorite projects from the latter days of his career.

Later Life and Death

Geoffrey Bawa’s love and passion for the architectural field made him work on many projects even during the older ages of his life. Accordingly, he was capable of producing some of his best works in the latter part of his career as well.

He took great pride in his works and contributed to each and every one of his projects with love, care, and precision. This made him the most popular and the most loved architect of all time in Sri Lanka.

Even years after his death, Bawa is still the most influential figure in the field of architecture in Sri Lanka. Bawa suffered from a series of strokes in the early 1990s which resulted in paralysis. He passed away on the 27th of May, 2003 at the age of 83.

Geoffrey Bawa was cremated on the Cinnamon hill of his Magical garden. However, his works will immortalize the legacy of Geoffrey Bawa for many years to come. 

The Bottom Line

Undoubtedly, Geoffrey Bawa is a legend in the Sri Lankan architectural field. He fashioned the Sri Lankan architectural field with modernism but also used elements of the Sri Lankan heritage. Hence, his works are highly authentic while lying perfectly with modern architecture.

This Sri Lankan personality is also one of the most respected architects in the whole of Asia. He has won awards many times from Sri Lanka and other countries as well for his impressive contribution to the field. If you are interested in architecture, Geoffrey Bawa is a figure that you must study. So, while you are traveling in Sri Lanka, never forget to visit some of the architectural sites of this wonderful personality, to observe their uniqueness and values.