You can’t travel very far in Sri Lanka without hearing the name Geoffrey Bawa, the island’s most famous and influential architect. Born in Sri Lanka and educated at Cambridge, Bawa went on to practice law as a barrister at Middle Temple, but not for very long! He opted to travel instead, hoping eventually to settle in Italy. Still, after just two years, he returned to Sri Lanka, where he purchased an old, abandoned rubber plantation in 1948, renaming it Lunuganga, hoping to reimagine the estate in his vision and began work on converting it into his visionary house and garden, which he continued throughout his life. 


Limited by his lack of technical knowledge, Geoffrey first took up an apprenticeship with a local architectural firm in Colombo t learn more about architecture and later returned to England and enrolled at the Architectural Association in London, earning a Diploma in Architecture by 1956. The following year, he became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects and in 1957, at the age of 38, he returned to Sri Lanka as a qualified architect to take over what was left of his Colombo based employers firm.


Influenced heavily by colonial and traditional Ceylonese architecture and the role of water within design both of which are reflected in most of his designs. He became an Associate of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects in 1960 and, along with a coterie of like-minded artists and designers, including close friends like Ena de Silva, Barbara Sansoni and Laki Senananayake produced a new awareness of indigenous materials and crafts, leading to a post-colonial renaissance of culture. Over the years Bawa designs evolved into a very personal ‘tropical-modernist-urban' style, which made a virtue of limited space. A long list of commissions followed, and in 1979, he was invited to design Sri Lanka's new parliament building at Kotte. 


In 1982, Geoffrey Bawa established The Geoffrey Bawa Trust, a non-profit, public trust and passed Lunuganga and several other properties in Bentota and Colombo to further architectural design, the fine arts and ecological and environmental Studies. 


Since his passing in 2003, the Trust has maintained these historic houses, and this year, on the 75th anniversary of Lunuganga, the Trust has opened several homes for day visits and inspirational overnight stays, opening a window into the mind of their famous creator.


Lunuganga nowadays functions as a hotel, but day visitors can tour the grounds before lunch at the house. While the house remains typically sparse and elegant, Bawa enthusiasts can enjoy family photographs and memorabilia on the walls. Those keen on architectural design, and in particular Geoffrey Bawa's designs, may also enjoy visiting other houses in Bentota and Colombo, including: 


Number 05 at Lunuganga.

The house belonging to Ena de Silva and her husband, close friends of Geoffrey Bawa, was initially commissioned and built on a modest plot in the heart of Colombo. Bawa developed the radically modern property for his dear friends, drawing inspiration from traditional architectural tropes in Sri Lanka. The design's success made the house a pivotal project in Bawa's career. When Ena wished to sell the Colombo plot in 2009, the Trust engaged archaeologists and engineers to carefully disassemble the house and rebuild it stone by stone at Lunuganga, where it stands today.  


Brief, a simple, low-slung house close to Lunuganga, brimming with murals, statues, and colonial-era antiques with beautifully structured gardens belonging to Bawa's brother, Bevis. 


The gardens of Boutique 87, an elegant early 18th-century former shopfront set in tranquil lakeside gardens, are well worth a visit to appreciate more of Geoffrey Bawa's visionary handiwork as is 


If passing through Colombo, consider staying at or visiting two other properties under the care of the Geoffrey Bawa Trust, Number 11, Colombo and De Saram House, Colombo.



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