The narrative of our tour weaves together the life and works of architect Geoffrey Bawa (1919-2003) and his cohort of artists, artisans and visionary clients. Bawa’s working life as an architect follows the post-war fortunes of this island as it moved from colonial Ceylon to independent Sri Lanka. His early works in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in collaboration with young Danish architect Ulrik Plesner, saw them develop a style of regional modernism using traditional building materials and methods that was to inspire a generation of south-east Asian architects including Australians Peter Muller and Kerry Hill.
Beginning in Colombo, we acquaint ourselves with Bawa by visiting his home, now a house museum, and his office, now a restaurant. An afternoon spent at Barefoot Gallery, founded by Barbara Sansoni, a close friend and working associate of Bawa’s and now run by her photographer son Dominic, will introduce us to Bawa’s wider circle of friends and artists who produced artworks for his many public and private projects. The ripples of Bawa’s influence on the development of post-war Sri Lanka will be felt as we move out and explore the countryside beyond Colombo.
Bawa’s involvement with government officials in developing the fledgling tourist industry from the 1960s resulted in a string of original and imaginative hotels that responded to the needs of modern tourists while celebrating the individuality of each place. We will have the pleasure of experiencing some of Bawa’s most dramatic hotels on our tour, spending two nights at the Heritance Kandalama near Sigirya Rock (1994), and the Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel at Galle (1997), and paying visits to the Bentota Beach Hotel (1969) and the Blue Water Hotel (1998) on the Galle Road back to Colombo.
Finally, on the last day of our tour, we visit Lunaganga, Bawa’s inspired garden and home that he cultivated tirelessly from 1948 until his death in 2003 and appreciate firsthand the pinnacle of modern garden design in Sri Lanka. After an alfresco lunch at Lunaganga overlooking Dedduwa Lake, we visit nearby Brief Garden, designed in an Italianate style in the 1940s by Geoffrey’s older brother, Bevis. Australian artist, Donald Friend, visited Bevis in 1956 and stayed for five years embellishing both Brief Garden and Lunaganga with his exuberant sculptures and painted artworks. It was Brief Garden that inspired Geoffrey to stay in Sri Lanka rather than Italy, buy a nearby property to make a similar garden, change career from Law to Architecture, and devote his life to building appropriate and beautiful structures in his home country.