The distinctive traditional architecture of Sri Lanka – thick lime-washed walls, tall windows and doors, terracotta or granite tile floors, open pavilions and verandas, courtyard gardens, elaborately carved furniture and vibrant hand-looms – is a result of centuries of adapting to many cultural traditions, colonial incursions and the vagaries of a tropical island subject to weather movements and cultural patterns.
The newly independent Sri Lanka of the Post WWII era, witnessed the emergence of a number of local architects who sought to embrace the well-established architectural traditions of Sri Lanka with the emerging international movement of modern architecture. The most prominent of these architects was Geoffrey Bawa (1919-2003).
Originally trained as a lawyer in England, Bawa began his career as an architect at the late age of 37 and in his forty year career he came to be regarded as the most prolific and respected architects Sri Lanka has ever produced.
As the Geoffrey Bawa Trust describes his work:
“Bawa’s work is characterised by a sensitivity to site and context. He produced ‘sustainable architecture’ long before the term was coined and had developed his own ‘regional modernist’ stance well in advance of the theoreticians. His designs broke down the barriers between inside and outside, between interior design and landscape architecture and reduced buildings to a series of scenographically conceived spaces separated by courtyards and gardens.”
A contemporary of Geoffrey Bawa, architect Minnette de Silva (1918-1998) ran an architectural practice in her hometown of Kandy in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. Considered to be the pioneer of the modern architectural style in Sri Lanka, De Silva was the first Sri Lankan woman to be trained as an Architect and the first South Asian woman to be elected an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1948. A close friend of Le Corbusier, De Silva was the first Asian representative of CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture) in 1947. Later in her life, she was awarded the Sri Lankan Institute of Architect’s Gold Medal for her contribution to Architecture in particular her pioneering work developing a ‘regional modernism for the tropics’.
While in Kandy, our tour will visit Helga’s Folly, home of Helga de Silva Blow Perera, niece of Minnette de Silva. Pictures of Minnette, and copies of her architectural drawings, hang on the walls of Helga’s Folly, including pictures of Minnette and her close friend, architect Le Corbusier.
Over recent decades Anjalendran has established himself as one of Sri Lanka’s leading architects. Born into a family of Jaffna Tamils and a student of Geoffrey Bawa, Anjalendran’s buildings are known across the Indian subcontinent for their simple directness, modern spirit, and acknowledgment of the rich vernacular traditions of Sri Lanka (see reading list to learn more about his work).