When I came to Sri Lanka one of the things which impressed me was the level of domestic architecture.
Cozy period houses, colonial style villas and stylish minimalist creations looked very attractive.
Developing our own projects we dealt with architects, designers, landscapers… and looked closer to Sri Lankan residential styles and building technics.
For more than a century Sri Lankan domestic architecture had been heavily influenced by British taste. The typical British ‘bungalow’ was a pavilion on one or two floors, cellular in plan, extrovert in concept and located at the centre of a large garden plot.
You would think you are in English suburbs.
Then something huge happened – Geofrey Bawa!
He is the most renowned architect in Sri Lanka and was among the most influential Asian architects of his generation. He is the principal force behind what is today known globally as ‘tropical modernism’.
Bawa’s style fused traditional Sri Lankan and Colonial architecture – reflecting pools, colonnaded passages and terra-cotta-tiled roofs – with the modernist emphasis of flowing spaces and clean lines.
Another crucial element to Bawa’s style was the way it accommodated Sri Lanka’s balmy climate. Bawa designed buildings “where you can actually live outdoors and where the boundaries between indoors and outdoors can be erased or moved or made more subtle,” said Daswatte, now considered one of the country’s most prominent architects.
Bawa is immensely influential in Sri Lanka. One can say that all modern architecture of Sri Lanka “came out” of Bawa heritage (like all Russian literature of 19th century came out of Gogol’s “Overcoat”)*. His work has had tremendous impact upon architecture throughout Asia and is unanimously acclaimed by connoisseurs of architecture worldwide. Surprisingly however, his architecture is not well known outside the region, and has not received the international attention it deserves.
Bawa’s architecture led to the formation of a new architectural identity and aesthetic for many tropical environments.
The ideas and innovations of this gifted, cosmopolitan Sri Lankan have inspired and influenced fellow-architects in places as far away as London and Hong Kong.
Work of Ernesto Bedmar
Cheong Yew Kuan
Kerry Hill (of Aman hotels and my favourite hotel in Bangkok, Sukhothai)
Peter Muller, William Lim – are all influenced by Bawa
Contemporary projects in Sri Lanka are very competent as the result of this legacy.
These are a few examples in the surrounding area:
Dubu Suite at Kohanda Kanda Hotel, Galle
Frangipani Tree Hotel, Thalpe
Working in property development we are lucky to have access to solid architect school here, but also are kept on our toes as the benchmark of the design in Sri Lanka is very high.
* “Overcoat” – sometimes translated as “The Cloak” is a short story by Russian author Nikolai Gogol, published in 1842. The story and its author have had great influence on Russian literature, as expressed in a quote attributed to Fyodor Dostoevsky: “We all come out from Gogol’s‘Overcoat‘.”