The Ena de Silva House, 1960

Bawa was invited by Mrs.Ena de Silva to build a house on a fairly small plot in the Colombo suburb of Cinnamon Gardens. She demanded a house which would be modern and open, but which would embody features of the traditional manor houses in which she had lived as a child. Bawa’s solution employed the same elements as the Galle house, but he now carved them out of a solid form. The result is a totally introspective house which emphasises the voids as much as the solids and which allows a free flow of space from inside to outside.


The Polontalawa Estate Bungalow, Nikarawetiya, 1963

In 1963 the director of a Swiss plantation company approached Bawa to design a new manager’s bungalow for a remote coconut estate at Polontalawa on the banks of the DeduruOya. Bawa and Plesner invited the client to accompany them on a site visit and persuaded him that the house should be inserted into an area of huge boulders and be developed as a cluster of pavilions with roofs spanning from rock to rock.


Buildings for the Catholic Church

  • Convent Chapel, Bandarawela, 1961
  • St. Bridget’s Montessori School, Colombo, 1963

Although not himself a Catholic, Bawa built a remarkable series of low-cost projects for the Catholic Church. The first of these, a Chapel for the Nuns of the Good Shepherd Convent in Bandarawela (1961), was the result of collaboration with Ulrik Plesner. The chapel sits on a ridge above the town and consists of a solid hulk of rubble masonry terminating in a square tower which acts as the skylight for the altar. The north side of the nave is fully glazed, its window frames forming the three crucifixes of the Calvary. The altar crucifix was designed by Laki Senanayake and the terra cotta Stations of the Cross by Barbara Sansoni.


The Yahapath Endera Farm School, Hanwella, 1965

The Yahapath Endera Farm School was built for orphan girls on a rubber and coconut estate about 30 kilometers to the east of Colombo. Bawa placed the various buildings on a formal orthogonal grid but they were allowed to ‘run with the contours’ in section. Individual buildings were positioned carefully to define open spaces and axes and to regulate the vistas between them.


The Bentota River, 1968

The Bentota Beach Hotel and its neighbour the Serendib Hotel were Sri Lanka’s first purpose built resort hotels and immediately set the standard against which all subsequent hotels would be measured.The Serendib was a budget hotel and was conceived as a modern version a simple traditional Rest House, while the Beach Hotel offered subtle hints of a lost world of ancient palaces, medieval manor houses and colonial villas.


The Madurai Club, Madurai, South India, 1971

The changing political climate of the early 1970s made Bawa uncertain about the future of his office and he began to look abroad for work. In 1971, after obtaining a commission to extend the renowned Connemara Hotel, he opened a subsidiary office in Madras.


The Batujimbar Estate, Sanur, Bali, 1973

In 1973 the Australian painter Donald Friend invited Bawa to design an estate of private villas at Batujimbar on the southern tip of the island of Bali. The project offered opportunities for regular site visits and Bawa spent some time with Friend developing a master plan and studying local architectural and craft traditions.


The plan consists of a checkerboard arrangement of linked pavilions and small courts all disposed around a large central court or medamidula and contained within a perimeter wall. The overpowering presence of the tiled roof and the generally localised palette of materials give this house a vernacular feel, and yet the highly articulated and open plan is totally modern in its effect and creates the illusion of infinite space on what is a relatively small plot.

Soon after Bawa persuaded his partners to move the practice from the old business district in the Fort to the expanding suburb of Colpetty. Here he further developed the themes of the Ena de Silva house to create a new Office in Alfred House Road (1961) around a succession of shady courtyards and verandahs. Today this serves elegantly as the setting for the Paradise Road Gallery Café.

“We discovered a spot full of boulders and we all said how excellent and splendid it would be to build a house there. So we got sticks and string, brought some chairs and sandwiches and set the house out with the contractor, who followed every gesture of our hands”.

This is a house which grows out of the landscape and employs materials from the site and its immediate surroundings. It belongs to a long Sri Lankan tradition of cave temples which were insinuated between boulders or tucked under cliffs and exploits the rocky terrain of the site, emphasising the roof as a totally autonomous element

The second was St. Bridget’s Montessori School in Colombo (1963) which was designed in collaboration with LakiSenanayake. Here the two levels of classrooms were placed under a huge umbrella roof of traditional clay tiles laid on corrugated cement sheets and the wall elements were given rounded forms recalling the wareechchi construction commonly used in village schools.

Yahapath Endera was one of a series of projects which contradicts the assertion that Bawa built only for Colombo’s elite. Its buildings were simple and cheap and were constructed from locally available materials including coconut timber, rubber wood, clay tile and coconut thatch. Sections were designed to protect the interiors from direct sunlight and driving rain, and to encourage cross ventilation, removing the need for glass. The vocabulary forms was derived directly from the traditions of Sinhalese village architecture.

Bawa located the Beach Hotel at the neck of a spit which separates the Bentota River from the Indian Ocean and placed it on a hillock which had in former times supported a small Dutch fort and more recently had been crowned by the old Bentota Rest House.

The apparent simplicity of the plan belies the spatial complexities and subtleties of the section. The hillock was encased in a rubble podium which mimicked old Dutch fortifications and the main reception spaces were placed on top of the mound and arranged in the form of an enfilade of rooms around a square courtyard. Above two further floors of bedrooms were placed on adjacent sides of the square with private balconies looking out towards the estuary or the ocean.

The Bentota Beach hotel was completed with less than thirty drawings and many of the details were worked out by Bawa on site with the craftsmen. Almost all of the furniture was designed in the office and made by local craftsmen and the hotel was filled with artwork executed by Bawa’s various friends with playful improvisation.

Even when the hotel was new the choice of materials – rough granite, polished concrete, terra cotta, dark stained timber, handlooms – gave it a well-worn and lived-in feel, creating the effect of a building which had been discovered rather than designed, an idea which had always existed.

A chance meeting in the Connemara with Martin Henry, the Manager of the Madurai Spinning Mills led to a commission to design a new staff club in a suburb of Madurai. After interrogating the client Bawa produced a plan of extreme sophistication, developing an asymmetrical composition of simple rectangular pavilions. Challenged by Henry to use only local materials, he incorporated random rubble walls, split stone columns and stone-flagged floors, and capped the pavilions with clay-tiled roofs. Then, in one of his first exercises in bricollage, he highlighted the austerity of his design by adding in old Chettinad columns and doors, emphasising the abstract qualities of the new and adding a sense of continuity with the past.

By 1975 Bawa had completed the building of a museum on Friend’s own plot as well as two other houses, but Friend eventually fell out with his backers and returned to Australia, leaving the estate to be finished by others. Although Bawa’s design was never completed, it was important because it demonstrated that his methods could be applied successfully outside of Sri Lanka. The promotional brochure was widely disseminated and the project had a considerable influence on subsequent tourist developments in Bali and throughout Southeast Asia.