Sri Lanka through the eyes of a master architect

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Catherine shares her experience discovering renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa’s works in Sri Lanka:

You may have been on nature, culture and beach tours in Sri Lanka, but have you ever been on an architectural tour? It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when planning your paradise beach vacation. Same here. But, when I’m on vacation, I like to choose hotels and homestays that emphasize the uniqueness of the environment and culture of a country.

Gallery Cafe

Gallery Café in Colombo.

Gallery Cafe Colombo

Bawa’s signature minimalism is still obvious
at Gallery Café.

In Sri Lanka, ancient architecture is much more visible and celebrated than the modern ones. I’ve certainly marveled at the expert artisanship and technical knowledge showcased at heritage wonder sites like Sigiriya and Anuradhapura. Once I was lunching at the charming Gallery Café in Colombo, which was once the workshop of Geoffrey Bawa. In case you don’t know, Geoffrey Bawa is one of the most influential Asian architects of the twentieth century. In Gallery Café, surrounded by Bawa’s signature minimalism, I got the idea for a Geoffery Bawa tour in Sri Lanka.

In his native Sri Lanka, Bawa is practically the god of architecture. He was a lawyer by profession, but decided on a mid-career change into architecture in his thirties. If you’ve been to Sri Lanka, you would have immediately noticed the colonial-style houses with dark rooms vying for urban space. Bawa wanted to change all that.He designed buildings with vast open spaces, letting in plenty of sunlight and the cool tropical breeze.His buildings were stripped of all gaudy ornaments, inside and out. The result is “tropical modernism,” which blends in traditional flavor with contemporary needs.

Thus began my tour of Bawa’s works around Sri Lanka. What’s so wonderful was that I could go on nature, culture and beach excursions while checking out Bawa’s architecture. I started with Heritance Kandalama, a hotel Bawa designed located at Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. Heritance Kandalama is a sight to behold. It’s a luxury hotel that blends in traditional style with a touch of eco-resort. Rooms here are simply soothing. Surrounded by lush greenery, it’s paradise after a day of exploring under the harsh tropical sun. Better yet, there’s a scenic infinity pool overlooking panoramic mountain ranges in the distance. Things not to miss in this area: Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Dambulla Cave Temples, Polonnaruwa ancient city and wildlife safari at Minneriya National Park.

Heritance Kandalama

Bawa designed Heritance Kandalama.

Heritance Kandalama Suite

Rooms have great views
at Heritance Kandalama.

Heritance Kandalama infinity pool

The infinity pool
at Heritance Kandalama.

In southern Sri Lanka, there are several Bawa-designed masterpieces to discover. Most famous is the Jetwing Lighthouse hotel impressively located on a rocky promontory. From the outside, the hotel is a bit like a lighthouse, and inside it’s impeccably designed with long beautiful corridors and balconies with stunning views of the sea. It’s also conveniently located; the Galle Fort is only a tuk tuk ride away!

Jetwing lighthouse

Jetwing Lighthouse,
Bawa’s work of art in Galle.

Jetwing lighthouse hotel pool Galle

Jetwing lighthouse pool

Jetwing Lighthouse Spielbergen Suite

Themed suite at Jetwing Lighthouse.

Endless Corridors at Jetwing Lighthouse

The beautiful corridors
at Jetwing Lighthouse.

Another Bawa hotel is the Heritance Ahungalla on the southwestern coast. The hotel is breathtakingly located on the beach with a lobby that feels like its floating. It’s designed like a traditional rest house but with plenty of open areas to let in the coastal beauty.

Heritance Ahungalla deluxe room

The cozy rooms with perfect views
at Heritance Ahungalla.

Heritance ahungalla pool

Heritance Ahungalla, another one of
Bawa’s masterpieces.

Heritance Ahungalla Bar

The lovely lobby at Heritance Ahungalla.

Close to the hip beach town of Bentota is Bawa’s splendid home, Lunuganga. I can’t think of a better place to get an intimate view of Bawa’s creative universe. Much of his former home has been converted into bungalow hotels. I joined a group of guests and toured the estate’s vast and hypnotizing garden heavily inspired by Italianate architecture. After the tour, we got to enjoy a delicious rice and curry meal at the restaurant on site. Nearby is the Brief Garden, the spectacular garden-house of Bawa’s brother Bewis. It’s the most artsy garden I’ve ever been to and is a must-visit for anyone who appreciates fine aestheticism.

In Colombo, besides the Gallery Café, is Bawa’s city residence, which still exudes an old-fashioned charm. Despite being in busy Colombo, I felt relaxed and charmed here. There’s another famous Bawa design near Colombo—the Parliament Building of Sri Lanka at the capital city of Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte. At least on the island, this majestic building is Bawa’s most famous piece of work. The Seema Malaka Temple, attached to the lavish Gangarama Temple in Colombo 2, was also designed by Bawa. The Seema Malaka, seated on a platform raised above Beira Lake, is an unusual work of art with vast open spaces and cement Buddhas.

Mai Globe Travels offers a 9-day Sri Lanka tour especially including visits to Geoffrey Bawa’s architectural masterpieces. Also included are overnight stays at the most amazing hotels in Sri Lanka, some of these designed by Bawa himself. I highly recommend this tour to anyone looking for an off-beat adventure discovering classic highlights of Sri Lanka with a special touch.

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