Sep 30, 2021


Geoffrey Manning Bawa explored innovation in modernism and its social ramifications and made a unique, conspicuous style of plan that lastingly affected planners across the world despite his late passage into architecture. Bawa was one of the first defenders of Tropical Modernism, his design prompted the arrangement of another building character and stylish for some tropical conditions, and won him acknowledgment and grants, including the Chairman's Award of the Aga Khan - Special Chairman's Award for Architecture in the year 2001 and the title Deshamanya, in acknowledgment of his commitments to his country - Sri Lanka.


The young Bawa was more of a literary than a visual person. He was an avid traveler and seemed to retain vivid mental images wherever he travelled. Similar to a butterfly rising up out of a chrysalis, he turned into a completely focused and profoundly capable architect. Bawa studied at the Architectural Association and graduated at 38 years of age.

As told in the book by David Robson, In his training, Bawa attempted to accomplish what The Guardian has called "a new, imperative—but then basically Sri Lankan—architecture. He came to architecture through his interest in gardens. He was first attracted to English landscaped gardens while he was in Cambridge. Later he discovered for himself the wonderful landscape of Sri Lanka- from great water gardens of the classical period to the estate gardens of the colonial period.

For him, A building had to be conceived as part of the surrounding landscape, it should reach outwards to create outdoor rooms and should draw outside space towards itself.

Bawa’s belief that a building must first fulfill the needs of those who use it marked his enthusiasm and dedication towards architecture.


Bawa set off to make architecture that reacted to both physical and social settings. Working like a scenographer, he thought about a structure as a progression of tableaux to be capable successively. He separated the hindrances among 'inside' and 'outside' and set up a discourse among building and scene, comparing structures with one another or with regular elements to make open-air rooms.

Source: The Daily Beast

He was one of the most influential creatives from Sri Lanka. His designs were not just buildings but spatial experiences. Considering the extreme climate of his homeland, native traditions were mixed with colonial footprints, and this made the rich, immersive and sensorial architectures inseparable from the tropical modernism and landscapes.

Bawa broke the confines between the interiors and exteriors. He brought in the concept of courtyards, terraces, pools, corridors, and gardens. This might sound unremarkable now, but 60 years earlier, the scenario was very different.

He counted every element- from laying of bricks to ventilations that made the sound of birds chirping audible. He was and will always be the pioneer of tropical modernism from Sri Lanka.

Some of the iconic buildings that made him the pioneer of tropical modernism in Sri Lanka

1. Sri Lankan Parliament Complex, 1992

Bawa dreamt of creating a friendly monument where people would meet their elected representatives in the ambalams that were dotted around the landscaped lakeside gardens and would flock to public meetings in the great open-sided hall.

The exterior viewed in the night – Sri Lankan Parliament Complex. Source: Wikipedia

2. The Strathspey Estate Bungalow, 1960

As stated by author David Robson, While the traditional estate bungalows were cellular in plan and looked out across manicured lawns to distant views, the Strathspey bungalow, in contrast, was designed around courtyards and was inward looking, its plan conceived as a set of boxes within boxes.

The view of the water tower & entrance – The Strathspey Estate Bungalow. Source : AD

3. Kandalama Hotel, 1992

This building was constructed on a ridge against the north-facing cliff. It takes the form of a long-articulated slab that is faceted to follow the shape of a cliff and measures almost a kilometer in length from the western tip of the Dambulla wings.

View of the man stairwell with an owl sculpture. Source : Uniq Hotels

4. The Ratnasivaratnam House, 1979

The house is situated hidden behind a high screen wall which was built for a director of Aitken Spence which is broken only by the main entrance and the garage. The house was neglected for a long time but recently it has been carefully restored by the original owner’s son!

Interior view of the living area – Bhaudaloka Mawatha, Colombo. Source : Blue Lanka Tours

His international recognition

Bawa's work was supported by Christoph Bon of Chamberlin Powell, who financed a monograph on Bawa in 1986 in Britain and distributed an elegiac visual investigation of the Lunuganga garden in 1990. The two books were generally perused across South and Southeast Asia and consolidated drawings from the Bawa office, executed in the novel pleasant way, which would turn into the most widely used language of Tropical Regionalism.

Bawa, His Legacy

In 1998, while working at the plan for another official royal residence, Bawa experienced a gigantic stroke that left him paralyzed and, after a long ailment, he passed away in 2003. Perplexingly it was during this period that his work got more extensive acknowledgment:

● 2001 he was given a lifetime accomplishment grant by the Aga Khan,

● 2002 a thorough monograph on his work was distributed in London

● 2004, the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt organized a significant review display.

Subsequently, Bawa's thoughts were generally dispersed and made a critical commitment to the discussion about a character in present-day design.

For a long time since his demise, some of Bawa's structures have been crushed or adjusted to the point of being unrecognizable. Late setbacks have incorporated the Hanwella Farm Convent, St. Bridget's Montessori School, and the Bentota Beach Hotel. Other pearls, like the Steel Corporation Offices and the Bandarawela Chapel, are in danger. The pitiful incongruity is that, although empty talk is paid to his name, his structures are frequently overlooked and disregarded, even by the individuals who claim to be his safeguards.

He always said, “Architecture cannot be totally explained but must be experienced”

so, when we build something, we must appreciate the things that were present before, as they are the essence of the place.

No wonder he left a huge impact on tropical modernism!


Sriya Singh

Sriya brings the verities to the world by stitching her soul into the fabric of words. Making it to the ground, she is always on toes to plunge into new deals to discover the intricate folds of life.