While the current housing scenario in our cities leaves much to be desired, a few cities, especially in the South, are showcasing a style of vernacular architecture in the style of Geoffrey Bawa. Vernacular architecture refers to building techniques, environmental adaptations, colours and building materials, and is adaptable to the given environment. It is a branch of architecture that blends with the native and traditional architecture of a region. Bawa, the pioneer of vernacular architecture in Asia, is one of the greatest architects of the subcontinent. He designed The Heritage Madurai, a 17-acre luxury resort in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Southern India, where the climate permits a heady mix of buildings to co-exist harmoniously with nature, is a perfect setting for Bawa's brand of architecture to thrive.
Geoffrey Bawa was one of the few architects of modern times with an intrinsic understanding of the underlying principles of vernacular architecture. He had been a pioneer in marrying Western design tradition with local needs and lifestyles, allowing the design to align beautifully with climate, landscape, and culture, that the boundaries between building and landscape seem to fade away.
Sri Lanka is the home turf of Bawa and the centre of vernacular architecture home decor. After having travelled around India and other architecturally-rich parts of the world, the Ceylon of yesteryears and the Sri Lanka of today is a place that stays close to my heart, mainly due to the imprint of Bawa's magic. He had a strong penchant for designing buildings on the basis of the terrain, creating beautiful vistas in the landscape based on shade and shadow, framing views of breathtaking beauty, and creating a mix of modern and traditional architecture.
Educated in England in the post-war generation, Bawa began his career at 40 (late by architect standards). The maturity in his designs reflects the maturity of his thought process. Some of his exceptional works include The Garden at Lunuganga, Sri Lanka; The Architect's House, Colombo; Peter White House in Mauritius; New Parliament outside Colombo; Architect's Office in Colombo; Kandalama Hotel in Dambulla, and Triton Hotel in Ahungalla.
The Architect’s Office, Colombo
The Garden at Lunuganga is a true testament to Bawa's philosophy, 'A house is a garden.’ Every facet of the house looks as if it is part of the landscape, and all the views of the garden from the house appear to be extensions of the living space. The patterns formed by the sun falling on the landscaped garden create whorls of light when viewed from the house. The landscape is not rigid or formal; it is more organic and natural, with a smattering of tall coconut trees and tasteful sculptures. The vernacular design furniture that is used here is deeply colonial in nature; some are Bawa's own designs.
An airy, high-ceilinged room opens up into a garden at Lunuganga House, Bawa’s country estate
The Triton Hotel’s (now Heritance Ahungalla) design, influenced by the shape of the site, is a visual treat. The long frontage gave Bawa the opportunity to dramatise the view of the sea that runs along the hotel site. The reception faces a swimming pool that appears to dissolve into the sea. This is because the lobby floor, the swimming pool, and the sea are all at the same level. All the other common spaces of the hotel are also designed as open pavilions with windows framing the sea. The vistas facilitate the illusion that the whole site is dominated by the sea.
Ahungalla is a small fishing town, home to coconut groves, golden sanded beaches, and the luxury 5-star Heritance Ahungalla. The design of the hotel is such that you get an encapsulating view of the sea right at the entrance through the lobby.
Other architects in India have tried to recreate Bawa’s magic, but none have come close. In our increasingly hectic lives, where we all sorely need to press the ‘pause’ button once in a while, what better place could there be than one with a trace of Bawa's philosophy to rediscover ourselves?
Discern Tip: Here’s how you can bring Geoffrey Bawa’s architectural philosophy into your home. 19th Century British Colonial reclining chairs can be complemented with white linen or silk cotton cushions. A day bed in ebony, a West Indies chess table, a console table, or a sofa in a mahogany finish bring in elements of the iconic Geoffrey Bawa style. Bawa loved working with wicker, cane, and hardwood - materials that suit tropical climates. Lightweight breathable cotton and silk cotton were his fabrics of choice to complement the tropical environments where Bawa created most of his architectural wonders.
Image Courtesy: Geoffrey Bawa
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