Agrarian Research and Training Institute
Colombo, Sri Lanka

The Agrarian Research and Training Institute is situated at the southern end of Wijerama Mawatha, a broad avenue of large villas mainly housing official residences or government offices. The institute was built for a government department during a time of austerity and strict import control. The brief called for a range of large and small offices, a lecture hall, a library and a residential hostel and challenged Bawa to work within a low budget and with local materials to create a pleasant, naturally ventilated working environment.

Working with Ismeth Raheem, Bawa created a tight group of two-storey pavilions arranged in chequerboard fashion around a collection of carefully planted courtyards. In deference to the scale of the surroundings, the buildings are set back from the road behind a front garden and a simple porte cochère. In typical Bawa fashion the initial impression of axial symmetry is gently dispelled as the visitor penetrates the building and discovers the unique proportions of each successive space. Corridors are open-sided and serve single banks of rooms, encouraging cross-ventilation and removing all need for air-conditioning.

Bawa used his now familiar palette of materials with great assurance: a crisp concrete frame with neatly articulated concrete purlins and rafters supports a roof of tiles on corrugated sheeting; broad overhanging eaves cast deep shadows on the white plastered walls; access balconies are protected by chunky coconut balustrades and surfaced with polished clay tiles. Today, after nearly thirty years of use, these buildings are still in excellent condition and offer a potent exemplar of sustainable and energy-conscious design to a new generation of architects.

In the following year Bawa designed another experimental office building for the National Institute of Management Studies on a site immediately behind the ARTI. This five-floor pavilion adopted the stepped-out section developed for the Bentota Beach Hotel, making it possible to insert a surprising open courtyard at fourth-floor level.

SourceRobson, David. 2002. Geoffrey Bawa: The Complete Works. London: Thames & Hudson, p. 132-133.

Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka
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