ARCHITECT CHASING THE TREE: GEOFFREY BAWA14 September 2020
An outstanding name both in Sri Lanka and among his contemporaries, Geoffret Bawa (1919-2003) was an influential Asian architect of his generation. His works focused on creating season friendly structures and transforming local structures where they were situated. The relationship he formed between water, open-air, and the sea; or between nature and architecture, might appear rather coincidental; fluid instead of stylistic. But all of what he created was preconceived and designed.
Bawa was born in 1919 in Ceylon, an English name applied to Sri Lanka before it became independence. His father was a wealthy Muslim lawyer, and his mother was of Dutch descent. He received higher education in English and Law in England and came back to Colombo to work at a law firm. Loosing interest soon after, he quit his job at the firm and went on a two-years-long trip. He returned to his home country in 1948, by which time Ceylon had become independent. He purchased an abandoned rubber estate in Lunuganga. In the late 1950s, soon after he started working, he bought four bungalows (one at a time), lined through a narrow pathway, and started transforming them to create a home for himself. This was Bawa’s first project before he became a licensed architect, in which he successfully combined different elements from different places, in different times. This “clutter house” made of yards, porches and terraces became a sort of a laboratory for his future projects. Rooms without a ceiling, roofs without walls, pergolas, cages, pools, and fountains were among other details in the “laboratory.”
Bawa had a vision for design but lacked some technical skills. So he first apprenticed to H. H. Reid to develop his technical skills, and then received education from London Architectural Association. When he returned to Colombo, Reid had passed away. So he took over his office and started working with young architects and artists to transform Sri Lanka into a “new and vivacious” place which is also “true to its roots.” His close relationship with Ulrik Plesner, has been a strong influence on him. He eventually developed an architectural style that is traditionally Sri Lankan but is influenced by Scandinavian style, regarding details and practical use. The architectural style, which came to be known as “tropical modernism” combined modern and traditional, East and West, formal and picturesque; and removed borders between inside and outside and structure and land. This month in our blog, we make room for one of the leaders of the green architecture and take a closer look at Heritance Kandalama.
Architecture of Nature/Culture Dualism
Heritance Kandalama is a prefect representation of Bawa’s architectural language, “green architecture.” Ceridwen Owen describes this language in his article which was published on ArchNet, as the Nature/Culture Dualism: “Visually this building engages in a process of invisibility as the boundaries between inside and outside, architecture and landscape are dissolved. This is an approach that is common in green architecture in general and nature-based tourism destinations in particular. However, spatially the building maintains a clarity of separation, denying its connection with the ground. It is this negotiation between the visual and the spatial realm, where one is simultaneously part of and distanced from the external environment, which is the site of its potentiality. It is both literally and metaphorically a space ‘between’ inside and outside, culture and nature, home and away. The paper concludes by arguing that it is this state of dynamic tension that can challenge traditional representations of human/environment relations as alternatively undifferentiated or ontologically distinct.
Heritance Kandalama is located in Sri Lanka, near Dambulla, where tourists visit to see Sigiraya Tower and rock formations. Bawa’s inspiration for creating this structure was to design a space that’ll offer stunning views of the tower from each and every corner. One of the most outstanding features of the structure are the doors which look the cave openings. Guests go through these openings and walk along a narrow corridor under the shadow of a canopy to reach the entrance. The open-air lobby which offers stunning views of the Kandalama reservoir feels like heaven after the long passage.
This structure is among Bawa’s first minimalist works. The design of the hotel is a bit different from his more recent work where he makes use of local and traditional elements. However, the form of the hotel reveals the beauty of the surrounding topography and offers stunning views. Considered as one of Bawa’s most prominent works, the hotel represents a reconciliation between nature, season, surrounding environment, and the structure itself; and once agains proves his ability to tell a story through architecture. To reduce the environmental damages, innovative structure technologies were used in the creation of the structure. Heritance Kandalama is a perfect example of the kind of architecture that respects nature.