Geoffrey Bawa

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Geoffrey Bawa
Born (1919-07-23)July 23, 1919
British Ceylon
Died May 27, 2003(2003-05-27) (aged 83)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Nationality Sri Lankan
Alma mater St Catharine's College, Cambridge
Royal College, Colombo
Occupation Architect
Awards Aga Khan Special Chairman’s Award
See below
Practice Edwards, Reid and Begg
Geoffrey Bawa Associates
Buildings Sri Lankan Parliament Building
University of Ruhuna

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’.[1][2][3]

Early life[edit]

Geoffrey Bawa was born in 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 read law at Middle Temple, London becoming a Barrister in 1944. Returning to Ceylon, after World War II, he started working for a Colombo Law firm. After the death of his mother he left the profession and soon left to travel for two years in 1946, going to the Far East, across the United States and finally to Europe and almost settling in Italy.[4] By this time he was 28 years old and had spent one-third of his life away from Sri Lanka. His plans to buy an Italian villa and settle down did not happen, and in 1948 returned to Sri Lanka. On the south-west coast of the island, between Colombo and Galle, Bawa bought an abandoned rubber estate at Lunuganga planning to creating 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 suddenly died and Bawa returned to England and, after spending a year at Cambridge, enrolled as a student at the Architectural Association in London, where he is remembered as the tallest, oldest and most outspoken student of his generation. 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.[5]

Career in architecture[edit]

He became apprenticed to the architectural practice of Edwards Reid and Begg in Colombo after he advanced his education in architecture by gaining a Diploma in Architecture from Architectural Association, London in 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 created many buildings together in their distinct style, sometimes called tropical modernism. Plesner left the island in 1967.[6] 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[edit]

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.[7]

Awards and fellowships[edit]

  • 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)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aesthetic Recollections Newindpress on Sunday
  2. ^ Beyond vernacular kitsch? The Sunday Times Online
  3. ^ Legacy of a master The Sunday Times Online
  4. ^ Robson, David (30 May 2003). "Geoffrey Bawa". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "Geoffrey Bawa". ArchNet. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  6. ^ Ulrik Plesner: In Situ. An architectural memoir from Sri Lanka. Aristo Publishing, 2013, 451 pages, illustrated.
  7. ^ "Geoffrey Bawa". ArchNet. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Robson, David (2002): Geoffrey Bawa: The Complete Works, Thames & Hudson

External links[edit]