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Geoffrey Bawa

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Geoffrey Bawa
Geoffrey Manning Bawa

(1919-07-23)23 July 1919
Colombo, British Ceylon
Died27 May 2003(2003-05-27) (aged 83)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
AwardsAga Khan Chairman's Award
  • Edwards, Reid and Begg
  • Geoffrey Bawa Associates

Deshamanya Geoffrey Manning Bawa, FRIBA (23 July 1919 – 27 May 2003) was a Sri Lankan architect. He was among the most influential Asian architects of his generation.[1][2][3][4]

Early life[edit]

Geoffrey Bawa was born in Colombo on 23 July 1919,[4][5] the youngest of two sons to Major Benjamin Bawa, Sri Lankan lawyer, who was of part European parentage,[6][7] and Bertha Marianne née Schrader, a Burgher of mixed Sinhalese, German and Scottish descent.[4][8][9] His older brother, Bevis, became a landscape architect.[4]


Bawa 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.[5]

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.[10] 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,[4] planning to create an Italian garden from a tropical wilderness.[7] 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.[5][7]

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, where he earned a Diploma in Architecture by 1956 and in the following year he became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 1957, at the age of 38 he returned to Sri Lanka as a qualified architect to take over what was left of Reid's practice.[7][11]

Career in architecture[edit]

Returning to Ceylon, he became 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.[5]

Bawa 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.[12]

Plesner left the island in 1967.[13] 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.[citation needed]

In 1979, President J. R. Jayewardene invited Bawa to design Sri Lanka's new Parliament building at Kotte. The project was completed in 1982 with the help of a firm of Japanese contractors, Mitsui.[7]

Later life and death[edit]

In 1982, Bawa established the Geoffrey Bawa Trust with the aim of furthering the fields of architecture, fine arts and environmental studies. In the early 1990s, Bawa suffered a series of strokes that left him ill.[4] Bawa died on 27 May 2003 at the age of 83.[7][10]


Geoffrey Bawa influenced a generation of architects in Sri Lanka after him, but his legacy was also embraced in Asia and around the world.[14]

List of works[edit]

Geoffrey Bawa's work was mainly in Sri Lanka, but included several other countries as well: nine times in India, three times in Indonesia, twice in Mauritius and once in Fiji, and Singapore. His works include houses, hotels, schools, clubs, offices and government buildings, most notably the Sri Lankan Parliament Building.[11] Today, the Gallery Café on Paradise Road in Colombo is located in Bawa's former office building.[15]


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)[21]
  • 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)[21]
  • The Grate Master's Award 1996 incorporating South Asian Architecture Award (1996)
  • The Architect of the Year Award, India (1996)[22]
  • 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)[23]
  • Awarded Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa), University of Ruhuna (14 September 2002)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aesthetic Recollections Archived 18 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine Newindpress on Sunday
  2. ^ "Beyond vernacular kitsch?". The Sunday Times. 11 November 2007. Archived from the original on 29 January 2022. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  3. ^ "Legacy of a master". The Sunday Times. 28 October 2007. Archived from the original on 29 January 2022. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Compston, Harriet (4 December 2021). "The captivating story of one of Sri Lanka's great architects". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 6 December 2021. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d Sennott, Stephen, ed. (2004). Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Architecture – Volume 1. Taylor & Francis. pp. 123–125. ISBN 9781579584337.
  6. ^ Simpson, Joe (5 March 2006). "Preserving the Spirit of a Forgotten World – Anecdotal glimpses of the New Oriental Hotel, Galle Fort". LankaLIbrary.com. Archived from the original on 19 December 2014. Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Geoffrey Bawa". The Times. 29 May 2003. ISSN 0140-0460. Archived from the original on 30 January 2022. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  8. ^ Bawa, Bevis (1985). Briefly by Bevis. Sapumal Foundation.
  9. ^ Seneviratne, Gamini (26 April 2009). "Bevis Bawa". The Island. Archived from the original on 7 July 2020. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  10. ^ a b Robson, David (29 May 2003). "Geoffrey Bawa Obituary". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 12 August 2022. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  11. ^ a b "Geoffrey Bawa". ArchNet. Archived from the original on 28 August 2010. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  12. ^ Aldrich, Robert Cultural Encounters and Homoeroticism in Sri Lanka: Sex and Serendipity, Routledge, 2014, pp66-79, 123–134
  13. ^ Ulrik Plesner: In Situ. An architectural memoir from Sri Lanka. Aristo Publishing, 2013, 451 pages, illustrated.
  14. ^ Hunn, Patrick. "The 'Australian architect behind some of Asia's most innovative buildings,' Kerry Hill, dies aged 75". ArchitectureAU. Architecture Media Pty Ltd. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  15. ^ "Paradise Road Gallery Cafe". 2020. Archived from the original on 23 November 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2020.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g "Remembering Bawa". ArchDaily. Archived from the original on 9 October 2018. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  17. ^ "Yahapath Endera Farm School". Archnet. Archived from the original on 29 October 2023. Retrieved 17 October 2023.
  18. ^ Shahpuri, Raveena. "Where to stay in Sri Lanka in under Rs 7,000". No. May 30, 2017. Vogue India. Archived from the original on 9 October 2018. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  19. ^ Ancheri, Saumya (13 August 2018). "A design-lover's guide to Sri Lanka". Conde Nast Traveller.
  20. ^ ""Anantara Kalutara, One of Geoffrey Bawa's final projects"". Archived from the original on 7 October 2017. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  21. ^ a b "National Awards". President of Sri Lanka Secretariat. Archived from the original on 26 January 2017. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  22. ^ Kumar, S, ed. (1999). "Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects". 64. Indian Institute of Architects: 153. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. ^ Bloom, Jonathon, ed. (14 May 2009). The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press. p. 28. ISBN 9780195309911.

Further reading[edit]

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