The much-loved homes of Geoffrey Bawa and his brother Bevis are must visits for visitors to Sri Lanka who love architecture and design. Over several trips to Sri Lanka, I became well acquainted with the works of Geoffrey, the most revered architect and creative visionary in South Asia for a certain generation. Even today, I don’t think a younger talent has emerged to rival his claim to fame, as well as his genius.
Being a lover of the arts and all things beautiful, I try to visit as many of Geoffrey Bawa’s masterpieces as possible whenever I visited Sri Lanka. Ground Zero is perhaps his former office and design studio, which is now a fashionable cafe for expatriates, well-heeled locals and tourists navigating the arts and culture route of Sri Lanka.
HOTELS DESIGNED BY GEOFFREY BAWA
Then of course, Geoffrey Bawa is well-known for hotels and private residences that remain timeless classics even today. The Heritance Kandalama Hotel in Dambulla, just a few kilometers from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sigirya, is the crowning jewel. But Bawa was a prolific artist and his works can be seen all over Sri Lanka. I also like the Jetwing Lighthouse in Galle, which is positioned perfectly by a raging sea along a rocky beach, and the Heritance Ahungalla, which is also along the southwest coast of Sri Lanka.
One day, I will write more about his hotels, as they are some of the loveliest hotels of their time. Fortunately, many of them are still well maintained as luxury lodgings even today. For now I wish to get up close and personal and focus on his estate, the reclusive Lununganga with its equally reclusive location and erratic operational hours. This is where Geoffrey Bawa lived for many years and he loved it here.
I’d made the drive over from Galle several times, through narrow roads amongst rice fields, only to find Lununganga closed to visitors. However, one’s persistence at trying to visit Geoffrey Bawa’s home is worth it.
HISTORY OF LUNUNGANGA AND THE BRIEF
In Sri Lanka, the competitive relationship between Geoffrey Bawa and Bevis Bawa is well known. It manifests even in their homes. Lununganga is famous as Geoffrey Bawa’s home, of course. However, The Brief, which was the home of Bevis, a landscape architect, is also a favorite of design lovers.
Some say that these gardens came into existence because of the sibling rivalry between Geoffrey and Bevis. Bevis had been developing the gardens of The Brief since 1929. He loved receiving an endless stream of visitors over the decades. In the 1940s, Geoffrey, the more famous one, eventually decided to buy a property bigger than his brother’s along the Bentota river to cultivate a garden.
These gardens are not too far from each other. And the contrasting works of garden art created by these two very different brothers, equally talented and also equally eccentric, offers a most stimulating daytrip from Colombo.
GEOFFREY BAWA’S HOME IN SRI LANKA
The Lunuganga estate continuously evolved and changed as Geoffrey never stopped experimenting with his country home until he died in 1998. Today the estate, particularly its gardens, serves as one of the foremost sources of architectural inspiration in Sri Lanka. It’s also being run as a country house hotel, offering a wonderful escape via a quaint house filled with antiques above a misty hill.
Bevis Bawa’s beautiful property, the Brief, was named to commemorate their father’s purchase of this piece of land after a triumphant legal brief. It is a reflection of his temperament: wild and alive with its ju ngle pathways and exotic plants. Bevis also dabbled in the arts, and he had a vast and eclectic collection of artworks and homo- erotic sculptures in his home and gardens that are still on display even today.
Read more stories about the best places for design lovers in Sri Lanka in Travelife Magazine.