An Architect of Sri Lanka- Geoffrey Bawa

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  • Topic: Sri Lanka, Roof, Rooms
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  • Published : October 8, 2010
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Geoffrey Bawa was born in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), the younger son of a wealthy Muslim lawyer and his Dutch Burger wife. After graduating, he studied English at Cambridge and Law in London. He had always preferred to be treated as a Ceylon-born European instead of a Ceylonese who had some European blood in his veins. Perhaps he came to the conclusion that he was more Asian than European, Bawa decided to return to Colombo in 1948. “Soon after he returned, he bought an abandoned rubber estate and transformed it into landscaped garden” . He soon found that he needed technical knowledge to transform his designs into real buildings. Thus, he “enrolled to study at the Architecture Association in London, where he finally qualified as an architect in 1957 at the age of thirty-eight” .

Bawa’s ideas and styles

“His background enabled him to fit into almost any condition just like a chameleon” . He liked traveling. Beautiful images of the visited places nourished him. For example, gardens in Italy and courtyards in Alhambra. Elements of local architecture that inspired him were winding staircase of Sinhalese architecture, Portuguese’s half-round clay tile, and overhangs supported by columns of Dutch houses. These images assisted him in subconsciously integrating all these past architecture, into his designs to solve present needs. And for him, “a good Sri Lanka architecture was not narrowly classified as Indian, Portuguese or Dutch, early Sinhalese or Kandyan or British Colonial, for all the good examples of these periods had been integrated and introduced to the context of Sri Lanka ”.

Bawa was always a Modernist. His idea about designing was, “a design must originate from a clear statement of functional requirements. But, if the core idea for a building evolved from its functional purposes, its conception took place only when the core idea was introduced into a context” . For Bawa, the context referred to the local people, tradition, history, site and climate.

“The belief that design must begin with an appraisal of context made Bawa to be categorized as a “regionalist”” . Bawa once said he believes that “regionalism is what happens automatically and it comes out from the needs of the place” . Also, he added that a regional building resulted when the general feel of the place as well as the application of local materials was taken into account. In 1960s and 1970s, imports were restricted in Sri Lanka. However, Bawa embraced the concept of sustainability, local material such as timber, clay product, and plaster were used for compensation.

Bawa was a bioclimatic designer. It can be seen from his works that he concerned always to minimize the usage of energy and emphasize human comfort. In his works, Tropical Modernism favoured white perforated walls, horizontal rooflines, verandahs, and overhanging pitched roofs were preferred as they encouraged natural ventilation and provided the best protection against tropical sun and rain. He was also the pioneer to the use of half-round clay tile to make water-proofing, cooling and aesthetically pleasing rooftops.

Bawa enjoyed building-making and he always liked to give pleasure and to delight through architecture. “In this respect, Bawa also functioned as a stage designer and scenographer. For him, architecture had to be experienced dynamically by moving through it and a design was conceived as a series of interconnected tableaux. ” Bawa’s buildings could usually excite and surprise their visitors.

Besides, he “was keen to incorporate works of art in his building and encourage young craftsmen and artists to make significant contributions to his building. ” One of them was Donald Friend .

Bawa Studio

The ideas of the architect can be reflected by one of his buildings, Bawa Studio. Bawa Studio was his own house in 33rd Lane, Bagatelle Road, Colombo. Its floor plan showed an assemblage of rectangular elements on orthogonal grid which was a characteristic of...
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