Geoffrey Bawa
1919, July 23 – 2003, May 27
Sri Lanka

Geoffrey Bawa was Sri Lanka's most prolific and influential architect. His work has had tremendous impact upon architecture throughout Asia and is unanimously acclaimed by connoisseurs of architecture worldwide. Highly personal in his approach, evoking the pleasures of the senses that go hand in hand with the climate, landscape, and culture of ancient Ceylon, Bawa brought together an appreciation of the Western humanist tradition in architecture with needs and lifestyles of his own country. Although Bawa came to practice at the age of 38, his buildings over the last 25 or more years are widely acclaimed in Sri Lanka. The intense devotion he brings to composing his architecture in an intimate relationship with nature is witnessed by his attention to landscape and vegetation, the crucial setting for his architecture. His sensitivity to environment is reflected in his careful attention to the sequencing of space, the creation of vistas, courtyards, and walkways, the use of materials and treatment of details.


One of Bawa's earliest domestic buildings, a courtyard house built in Colombo for Ena De Silva in 1961, was the first to fuse elements of traditional Sinhalese domestic architecture with modern concepts of open planning, demonstrating that an outdoor life is viable on a tight urban plot. The Bentota Beach Hotel of 1968 was Sri Lanka's first purpose-built resort hotel, combining the conveniences required by demanding tourists with a sense of place and continuity that has rarely been matched. During the early 1970s a series of buildings for government departments developed ideas for the workplace in a tropical city, culminating in the State Mortgage Bank in Colombo, hailed at the time as one of the world's first bio-climatic high-rises.


Looking back over his career, two projects hold the key to an understanding of Bawa's work: the garden at Lunuganga that he has continued to fashion for almost fifty years, and his own house in Colombo's Bagatelle Road. Lunuganga is a distant retreat, an outpost on the edge of the known world, a civilized garden within the larger wilderness of Sri Lanka, transforming an ancient rubber estate into a series of outdoor rooms that evoke memories of Sacro Bosco and Stourhead. The town house, in contrast, is an introspective assemblage of courtyards, verandas and loggias, created by knocking together four tiny bungalows and adding a white entry tower that peers like a periscope across neighbouring rooftops towards the distant ocean. It is a haven of peace, an infinite garden of the mind, locked away within a busy and increasingly hostile city.


Since Bawa started out on his career, Sri Lanka's population has almost tripled, while its communities have been fractured by bitter political and ethnic disputes. Although it might be thought that his buildings have had no direct impact on the lives of ordinary people, Bawa has exerted a defining influence on the emerging architecture of independent Sri Lanka and on successive generations of younger architects. His ideas have spread across the island, providing a bridge between the past and the future, a mirror in which ordinary people can obtain a clearer image of their own evolving culture. 

In 2001 Bawa received the Chariman's Award in the 8th cycle of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and his stature has only grown since his death in 2003. Today he is widely acknowledged as the pioneer of "tropical modernism." "Design Icons: Geoffrey Bawa," broadcast in April 2017 on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) radio, succinctly summed up the degree of innovation evidenced by his work saying:

It's no exaggeration to say that architect Geoffrey Bawa transformed the look of South-East Asia. And yet what he did is so subtle that we almost take it for granted today. In short, Bawa-tailored modern buildings to a specific environment. It hardly seems revolutionary and yet no one else had done anything like it in the region. (“Design Icons: Geoffrey Bawa”. Radio National. Accessed July 21, 2019.

 Visit the Geoffrey Bawa collection


“Geoffrey Bawa Trust: Homepage”. Geoffrey Bawa Trust. Accessed July 21, 2019.

Khan, Hassan-Uddin. 1995. In Contemporary Asian Architects. Köln: Taschen Books.

Robson, David. 2001. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture Chairman's Award.

Associated Sites
Images & Videos