Geoffrey Bawa cuts a pretty picture, as do his buildings. Steeped in architectural merit his works are often lauded as the epitome of Tropical architecture. Using nature to stir up a shenanigan he builds in tune with landscape, that probably is the most important element in his architecture and in effect his architectural practice. Its not surprising then that Bawa’s interest in the field of architecture was piqued by a chanced encounter while building his private garden.
Returning as a barrister from London Bawa sought to transform his Rubber and Cinnamon plantation into a fully revamped Italian garden, that he much loved during his travels abroad. With a copy of Michelangelo’s David and the famed Italian balustrades in place, overlooking the backwaters, the estate is resplendent with Frangi Panis. A tree that utterly delighted Bawa. He even deliberated on the tree coaxing it into growing his way. The frangi-pani branches sometimes are made to come down low to the ground, hanging weights if necessary, before continuing ascent and rising aesthetically. The Lunuganga estate remained his muse throughout his life, where he tested his architectural ideas before injecting them into any of his projects. Literally born with the proverbial silver spoon Bawa began his architectural career at the age of 39 after additional educational years at the Architectural Association school in London. Like all great architects, the school was hardly agreeable to him nor him to the school!
On a six day journey through the island country so charming we went hopping from one Bawa building to another. Stopping by to take in the beauty of proportion and pausing to imbibe the excellent locales. Architecture sometimes is just a frame of nature, while sometimes its just a sail that captures its context, modifies it and presents it largely more glorified or attuned. Shelter that is beautiful and serves its agenda of drawing in breezes, providing comfort is architecture. Bawa in his roughly 6-decade career stint built some extremely innovative and awe-inspiring structures all bound by the common thread of nature. I wouldn’t entirely be wrong in saying that nature and not architecture was Bawa’s muse. An assistant remembers Bawa in his 80s revisiting one of his projects keenly interested in and inspecting how the trees on the property were doing!
A rough idea of our hopping chart before delving further into our conquests over the next couple of posts! Landing in Colombo we first went to the Heritance Kandaalama, a great place to start a Bawa Trail before heading to Sigriya, Kandy, Galle, Bentota, Lunuganga and then finally lapping up Bawa’s private residence, office in the capital city of Colombo.
The size of the island country hardly does any justice to the scale of diversity that it does provide! So much that after 6 days of a Bawaesque retreat when my roomie picked up an average book covering ‘things to see in Lanka’ she was puzzled, and rightly so, to not find Bawa’s legendary structures in there! But then we deduced that we had just probed into the tip of an ice-berg called Sri Lanka. For nature lovers whose souls are embalmed by tropical weather, with its cleanliness and pristine surrounds, the island is definitely a paradise.
On that note, as a whole Sri Lanka is quite delightful, with a comfortable population, contended people, lush greenery, rolling plantations, rustic buses, balmy beaches perky autos, more importantly, clean air, avocados and king coconut! Avocado aficionados will seriously vouch for the delicious creamy treat but the king coconut is likely to charm everyone. Sri Lankan art is widely visible all across the island with colorful nay saying masks peeking out at every bend. Whether its the beach one digs, or the hills or simply the rainforest Sri Lanka has a commendable diversity and natural terrain for a country of its size. Appams, string hoppers and red rice form the bulk of their traditional cuisine, apart from the bountiful sea-food. But honestly, their food is not for the faint heart-ed. I would recommend applying caution. So calm and so serene, the country seems to be seriously blessed whether in resources or in the attitude of its people that its hard for an average Hindu, though well-versed with the Ramayana, to perceive it simply and only as Raavana’s Lanka!
It is after all where pretty lotuses bloom.