Geoffrey Bawa

Deshamanya Geoffrey Manning Bawa, FRIBA (23 July 1919 – 27 May 2003) was a Sri Lankan architect. He is the most renowned architect in Sri Lanka and was among the most influential Asian architects of his generation. He is the principal force behind what is today known globally as “tropical modernism”.

Early life

Geoffrey Bawa was born on 23 July 1919. His father was Justice B. W. Bawa a wealthy and successful lawyer, of Muslim and English parentage, and his mother, Bertha Marianne Schrader, was of mixed German, Scottish and Sinhalese descent. He had one older brother Bevis Bawa who became a renowned landscape architect.


He was educated at Royal College, Colombo after which he studied English and Law, 1938, at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge gaining a BA (English Literature Tripos) and went on to study law at Middle Temple, London becoming a Barrister in 1944. Returning to Ceylon, after World War II, he worked for a Colombo law firm. After the death of his mother, he left the profession and soon left in 1946 to travel for two years, going to the Far East, across the United States, and finally to Europe and almost settling in Italy. By the time he was 28 years old, he had spent a third of his life away from Sri Lanka. During his time in Italy, he planned to buy a villa and settle down, but that did not happen, and by 1948 he had returned to Sri Lanka. Bawa bought an abandoned rubber estate on the south-west coast of the island between Colombo and Galle at Lunuganga, planning to create an Italian garden from a tropical wilderness. However, he soon found that his ideas were compromised by his lack of technical knowledge. In 1951, he was apprenticed to H.H. Reid, the sole surviving partner of the Colombo architectural practice Edwards, Reid and Begg. In 1952 Reid died, but Bawa still aspired to a career in architecture, so he returned to England, after spending a year at Cambridge, he enrolled as a student at the Architectural Association in London. To this day he is remembered as the tallest, oldest, and most outspoken student of his generation at AA. In 1957, at the age of 38 he returned to Sri Lanka qualified as an architect to take over what was left of Reid’s practice.

Career in architecture

In 1951, he became apprenticed to the architectural practice of Edwards Reid and Begg in Colombo under its surviving partner, Reid. After Reid’s death in 1952, Bawa left for England where he enrolled as a student at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. There he gained a Diploma in Architecture by 1956 and in the following year he became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects whereupon he returned to Ceylon, becoming a partner of Messrs. Edwards, Reid and Begg, Colombo in 1958. In 1959, Danish architect Ulrik Plesner joined the firm, and the two designed many buildings together in their distinct style, sometimes called “tropical modernism.”

Geoffrey and his brother Bevis were part of a milieu of sophisticated homosexuals who were drawn to the idea of Ceylon as a place of beauty, sensuality and escape. Like the Count de Mauny (Maurice Talvande) at Taprobane Island, the impetus for much of their work was the desire to create private arcadias within it. Bawa’s architecture is at one with the land: inside and outside blend seamlessly, and it is designed for the maximum pleasure of its inhabitants. He was influenced by colonial and traditional Ceylonese architecture, and the role of water in it, but rejected both the idea of regionalism and the imposition of preconceived forms onto a site.

Plesner left the island in 1967. Bawa became an Associate of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects in 1960. An ensuing close association with a coterie of like-minded artists and designers, including Ena de Silva, Barbara Sansoni and Laki Senanayake, produced a new awareness of indigenous materials and crafts, leading to a post-colonial renaissance of culture.

List of works

Geoffrey Bawa’s work range mainly in Sri Lanka, however he has worked in several other countries as well: nine times in India, three times in Indonesia, twice in Mauritius and once in Japan, Pakistan, Fiji, Egypt and Singapore. His works include houses, hotels, schools, clubs, offices and government buildings, most notably the Sri Lankan Parliament Building.

Heritance Kandalama Exterior ViewLunuganga exterior of Bawas houseLunuganga-interior of Bawas houseParliament of Sri LankaSeema MalakaSunethra Bandaranaike HouseUniversity of Ruhuna


  • Lunuganga, Bentota (1948–1998)


  • St. Thomas’ Preparatory School, Colombo (1957–1964)
  • Carmen Gunasekera House, Colombo (1958)
  • Kanangara House, Colombo (1959)
  • Club House, Ratnapura (1959)
  • Deraniyagala House, Colombo (1959)
  • Wimal Fernando House, Colombo (1959)
  • Jayawardena house, Colombo (1959–1960)
  • Ekala Industrial Estate, Ja ela (1959–1960)
  • A.S.H. De Silva House, Galle (1959–1960)
  • Manager’s Bungalow, Maskeliya (1959–1960)
  • Turin Koralage House, Elpitiya (1959-1960)
  • Wijewardene House, Colombo (1959–1964)


  • Osmund and Ena de Silva House, Colombo (1960–62)
  • Bishop’s College, Colombo (1960–1963)
  • 33rd Lane, Colombo (1960–1998)
  • Nazareth Chapel, Good Shepherd Convent, Bandarawela (1961–1962)
  • House for Dr. Bartholomeusz, Colombo (1961–1963)
  • House for Chris and Carmel Raffel, Colombo (1962–1964)
  • Pim and Pam Fernando House, Colombo (1963)
  • St. Bridget’s Montessori School, Colombo (1963–1964)
  • Polontalawa Estate Bungalow, Polontalawa (1963–1965)
  • Hilton Hotel, Colombo, Colombo (1965)
  • Madurai Boys’ Town, Madurai, India (1965–1967)
  • Yahapath Endera Farm School, Hanwella (1965–1971)
  • Coral Gardens Hotel – additions and renovations, Hikkaduwa (1966)
  • Grand Oriental Hotel (Taprobane Hotel) – additions and renovations, Colombo (1966)
  • Steel Corporation Offices, Oruwela (1966–1969)
  • Bentota Beach Hotel, Bentota (1967–1969)
  • Pieter Keuneman House, Colombo (1967–1969)
  • Serendib Hotel, Bentota (1967–1970)
  • Yala Beach Hotel, Yala (1968)
  • Mahahalpe Farm, Kandy (1969)
  • Ceylon Pavilion 1970 World’s Fair, Osaka, Japan (1969–1970)


  • Pallakele Industrial Estate, Pallekele (1970–1971)
  • P.C. de Saram Terrace Houses, Colombo (1970–1973)
  • Science Block, Nugegoda (1971)
  • Madurai Club, Madurai, India (1971–1974) – it has been renamed as Heritage Madurai.
  • Hotel Connamara Remodelling, Chennai, India (1971–1976)
  • Club Mediterranee, Nilaveli (1972)
  • Stanley de Saram House, Colombo (1972)
  • Batujimbar Pavilions, Sanur, Indonesia (1972–1975)
  • Peter White House, Pereybere, Mauritius (1973–1974)
  • Neptune Hotel, Beruwala (1973–1976)
  • Agrarian Research and Training Institute, Colombo (1974–1976)
  • Hotel at Pondicherry, Puducherry, India (1975)
  • Seema Malaka, Colombo (1976–1978)
  • State Mortgage Bank, Colombo (1976–1978)
  • Candoline Hotel, Goa, India (1977)
  • Panama Hotel, Panama (1977)
  • Martenstyn House, Colombo (1977–1979)
  • Meena Muttiah Hospital for the Kumarni of Chettinad, Chennai, India (1978)
  • House for Lidia Gunasekera, Bentota (1978–1980)
  • Institute for Integral Education, Piliyandala (1978–1981)
  • Club Villa Hotel, Bentota (1979)
  • Samy House, Dahshur, Egypt (1979)
  • Triton Hotel, Ahungalla (1979–1981)
  • Sri Lankan Parliament Building, Kotte (1979–1982)


  • University of Ruhuna, Matara (1980–1988)
  • Galadari Hotel, Islamabad, Pakistan (1984)
  • Sunethra Bandaranaike House, Horagolla (1984–1986)
  • Offices for Banque Indosuez, Colombo (1985)
  • Institute of Engineering Technology, Katunayake (1985)
  • Fitzherbert House, Tangalle (1985–1986)
  • De Soysa House, Colombo (1985–1991)
  • Bashir Currimjee House, Port Louis, Mauritius (1986–1994)
  • Hyatt Hotel, Sanur, Sanur, Indonesia (1989)
  • Larry Gordon House, Wakaya, Fiji (1989)
  • Singapore Cloud Centre, Singapore, Singapore (1989)


  • Banyan Tree Hotel, Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia (1991)
  • Kandalama Hotel, Dambulla (1991–1994)
  • Jayakody House, Colombo, Colombo (1991–1996)
  • Sarabhai House, Ahmedabad, India (1992)
  • Modi House, Delhi, India (1992)
  • Jayakody House, Bentota, Bentota (1993)
  • Poddar House, Bangalore, India (1994)
  • Kani Lanka Resort & Spa, Kalutara (1994–1996)
  • Lighthouse Hotel, Galle (1995–1997)
  • Blue Water Hotel, Colombo (1996–1998)
  • Official Residence of the President, Kotte (1997-)
  • Pradeep Jayewardene House, Mirissa (1997–1998)
  • Spencer House, Colombo (1998)
  • Jacobsen House, Tangalle


  • Anantara Kalutara Resort, Kalutara (Completed 2016 to Bawa’s design)

U.N. Headquarters, Malé, Malé, Maldives (1985)

Awards and fellowships
  • Pan Pacific Citation, Hawaii Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (1967)
  • President, Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (1969)
  • Inaugural Gold Medal at the Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (1982)
  • Heritage Award of Recognition, for “Outstanding Architectural Design in the Tradition of Local Vernacular Architecture”, for the new Parliamentary Complex at Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte from the Pacific Area Travel Association. (1983)
  • Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects
    Elected Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (1983)
  • Conferred title of Vidya Jothi (Light of Science) in the Inaugural Honours List of the President of Sri Lanka (1985)
  • Teaching Fellowship at the Aga Khan Programme for Architecture, at MIT, Boston, USA (1986)
  • Conferred title Deshamanya (Pride of the Nation) in the Honours List of the President Sri Lanka (1993)
  • The Grate Master’s Award 1996 incorporating South Asian Architecture Award (1996)
  • The Architect of the Year Award, India (1996)
  • Asian Innovations Award, Bronze Award – Architecture, Far Eastern Economic Review (1998)
  • The Chairman’s Award of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in recognition of a lifetime’s achievement in and contribution to the field of architecture (2001)
  • Awarded Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa), University of Ruhuna (14 September 2002)

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