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Architectural Tours of Sri Lanka

Architectural Tours of Sri Lanka: Geoffrey Bawa

In May 2003, Sri Lanka mourned the death of Geoffrey Bawa, the island's best known, most creative and most significant architect. Amongst his many projects Bawa was the creative visionary behind some of the Sri Lanka’s most spectacular hotels, from the austerity of the 1-km-long camouflaged jungle palace of Kandalama near Dambulla, to the colonial-influenced Lighthouse at Galle. He also constructed Sri Lanka’s first purpose-built tourist complex, the Bentota Beach in 1968.

Bawa’s work blends traditional Sri Lankan architecture and use of materials with modern ideas of composition and space. Hallmarks include a careful balance, and blurring of the boundaries, between inside and outside, the creation of vistas, courtyards and walkways that offer a range of perspectives, and an acute sensitivity to setting and environment. His work builds on Sri Lanka’s past, absorbing ideas from the west and east, while creating something innovative and definably Sri Lankan.

Born in 1919 to wealthy parents, Bawa went to England in 1938, where he studied English in Cambridge and took up law. Soon tiring of this, he spent some years drifting and it was not until 1957, at the age of 38, that he qualified as an architect. On his return to Ceylon, he gathered together a group of talented young artists who shared his interest in the island’s forgotten architectural heritage, including batik artist Ena de Silva and designer Barbara Sansoni. The prolific practice he established set new standards in design over the next 20 years for all styles of buildings, from the residential and commercial to the religious and the educational.

Bawa’s fame was sealed in 1979 when he was invited by President Jayawardene to design the new parliament building in Kotte. The result, which required the dredging of a swamp to create an artificial land and island to local the parliament on, itself symbolizing the great irrigation of the ancient period, was a series of terraces with copper domed roofs rising from the water, with references to monastic architecture, Kandyan temples and South Indian palace architecture, all within a Modernist framework. Other high profile buildings followed including the Ruhunu University near Matara, dramatically arranged on two rocky hills overlooking the ocean.

In 1998 he suffered a massive stroke. Although it rendered him paralyzed his colleagues completed his projects with a nod of assent or shake of the head from the bed-ridden mast. In the same year he was honored privately by his friend the Prince of Wales who snuck away from the official 50th anniversary celebrations to pay tribute; official recognition followed in 2001 when he was awarded the prestigious Chairman’s Award for Lifetime Achievements by Aga Khan.

Ranfer Travels Sri Lanka conducts numerous architectural tours in Sri Lanka. These tailor-made tours are carefully design and recommended according to each traveller’s interests and we take great efforts to combine them other regular holiday activities. Contact us now to learn more about recommended tours and places.

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