Introduction

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The Sri Lankan Architect Geoffrey Bawa is now regarded as having been one of the most important and influential Asian architects of the twentieth century. His international standing was confirmed in 2001 when he received the special chairman’s award in the eighth cycle of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, becoming only the third architect and the first non-Moslem to be so honoured since the award’s inception.

 

Bawa was born in 1919 and came late to architecture, only qualifying in 1957 at the age of thirty-eight, but he soon established himself as Sri Lanka’s most prolific and inventive architect, laying down a canon of prototypes for buildings in a tropical Asian context. Although best known for his private houses and hotels, his portfolio also included schools and universities, factories and offices, public buildings and social buildings as well as the new Sri Lanka Parliament. His architectural career spanned forty years and was ended in 1998 by illness. He died in 2003.

Bawa’s work is characterised by sensitivity to site and context. He produced “sustainable architecture” long before the term was coined, and had developed his own “regional modernist” stance well in advance of the theoreticians. His designs broke down the barriers between inside and outside, between interior design and landscape architecture and reduced buildings to a series of scenographically conceived spaces separated by courtyards and gardens.

One of his most striking achievements is his own garden at Lunuganga, which he fashioned from an abandoned rubber estate. This project occupied him for fifty years, and he used it as a test bed for his emerging ideas. The result is a series of outdoor rooms conceived with an exquisite sense of theatre as a civilised wilderness on a quiet backwater in the greater garden of Sri Lanka.