Geoffrey Bawa was Sri Lanka's most prolific and
influential architect. His work has had tremendous impact upon architecture
throughout Asia and is unanimously acclaimed by connoisseurs of architecture
worldwide. Highly personal in his approach, evoking the pleasures of the senses
that go hand in hand with the climate, landscape, and culture of ancient
Ceylon, Bawa brought together an appreciation of the Western humanist tradition
in architecture with needs and lifestyles of his own country. Although Bawa
came to practice at the age of 38, his buildings over the last 25 or more years
are widely acclaimed in Sri Lanka. The intense devotion he brings to composing
his architecture in an intimate relationship with nature is witnessed by his
attention to landscape and vegetation, the crucial setting for his
architecture. His sensitivity to environment is reflected in his careful
attention to the sequencing of space, the creation of vistas, courtyards, and
walkways, the use of materials and treatment of details.
One of Bawa's earliest domestic buildings, a courtyard house built in Colombo for Ena De Silva in 1961, was the first to
fuse elements of traditional Sinhalese domestic architecture with modern
concepts of open planning, demonstrating that an outdoor life is viable on a
tight urban plot. The Bentota Beach Hotel of 1968 was Sri Lanka's first
purpose-built resort hotel, combining the conveniences required by demanding
tourists with a sense of place and continuity that has rarely been matched.
During the early 1970s a series of buildings for government departments
developed ideas for the workplace in a tropical city, culminating in the State Mortgage Bank in Colombo, hailed at the time as one of the world's first
Looking back over his career, two projects hold
the key to an understanding of Bawa's work: the garden at Lunuganga that he has
continued to fashion for almost fifty years, and his own house in Colombo's Bagatelle Road. Lunuganga is a distant retreat, an outpost on the edge of the
known world, a civilized garden within the larger wilderness of Sri Lanka, transforming
an ancient rubber estate into a series of outdoor rooms that evoke memories of
Sacro Bosco and Stourhead. The town house, in contrast, is an introspective
assemblage of courtyards, verandas and loggias, created by knocking together
four tiny bungalows and adding a white entry tower that peers like a periscope
across neighbouring rooftops towards the distant ocean. It is a haven of peace,
an infinite garden of the mind, locked away within a busy and increasingly
Since Bawa started out on his career, Sri
Lanka's population has almost tripled, while its communities have been
fractured by bitter political and ethnic disputes. Although it might be thought
that his buildings have had no direct impact on the lives of ordinary people,
Bawa has exerted a defining influence on the emerging architecture of
independent Sri Lanka and on successive generations of younger architects. His
ideas have spread across the island, providing a bridge between the past and
the future, a mirror in which ordinary people can obtain a clearer image of
their own evolving culture.
In 2001 Bawa received the Chariman's Award in the 8th cycle of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and his stature has only grown since his death in 2003. Today he is widely acknowledged as the pioneer of "tropical modernism." "Design Icons: Geoffrey Bawa," broadcast in April 2017 on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) radio, succinctly summed up the degree of innovation evidenced by his work saying:
It's no exaggeration to say that architect Geoffrey Bawa transformed the look of South-East Asia. And yet what he did is so subtle that we almost take it for granted today. In short, Bawa-tailored modern buildings to a specific environment. It hardly seems revolutionary and yet no one else had done anything like it in the region. (“Design Icons: Geoffrey Bawa”. Radio National. Accessed July 21, 2019. https://perma.cc/QT48-YG9P)
The Jayakody house was designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa for Dulanjalee Jayakody, the daughter of President Premedasa, and her husband Rohan Jayakody. The house was commissioned in 1991 and construction was completed in 1996. The Jayakodys desired a home that could promote rest and tranquility in the midst of a high-intensity urban setting, and Bawa's innovative design ultimately provided such a retreat.
The Jayakody house is located approximately 500 meters south of Beira Lake in Colombo. The house is sited on an irregularly-shaped lot on a small cul-de-sac that extends eastward from the adjacent and perpendicular Park Street. The lot is consistently eighteen meters wide east to west, parallel to the cul-de-sac. The depth of the parcel is highly variable; the plot is thirty meters deep along its western edge, fourteen meters deep at its center, and nineteen meters deep along its eastern edge. The profile of the northern edge of the property angles sharply to accommodate the irregular parcel layout of the triangular block. The western edge of the parcel is rotated thirty-two degrees from the north-south meridian.
Bawa's design works well within the constraints of the asymmetry and compactness of the project site. By constructing a tall wall around the perimeter of the site, Bawa isolates the residence from its immediate context and creates a peaceful retreat for the homeowners. The plan of the residence at the ground level covers almost the entire footprint of the site, with small courtyard spaces at the entry along the south elevation, filling the sliver of space between the northern edge of the house and the angular boundary wall. The living spaces of the first floor feature expansive glass walls and doors that look out onto the narrow courtyards and the boundary walls beyond. The lack of a view beyond the site, as well as the fact that all daylight enters overhead and not from the sides, gives the impression that the entirety of the lower level was constructed underground.
The first floor of the residence is nearly as large in area as the ground floor, housing the main family bedrooms. The enclosed area of the second floor is substantially smaller, as much of that level is devoted to a large terrace and shaded loggia. The third floor is home to a swimming pool and rooftop terrace. A decorative spiral staircase in a large iron cage clings to the exterior of the house, winding upward between the second and third level terraces. This stairway is visible from the street, becoming a distinctive decorative feature on the otherwise subdued southern elevation.
Typical of Bawa's later works, the articulation of this residence is fairly minimalistic. The building is a beige concrete structure with rich red wooden doors and windows marking its openings. There are a handful of decorative elements—painted wooden garage doors, a teal wooden entrance gate with a decorative carved transom panel, and the birdcage-like exterior iron stair—scattered throughout an otherwise understated home.
The Jayakody house can be categorized as a tower-courtyard-house hybrid, the fusion of two of the residential building types with which Bawa experimented most often. This building was designed late in Bawa's career, and its carefully choreographed progression of spaces and elegant integration of modernist and regional architectural influences speak to the sophistication of an architect who had refined his design philosophy over decades of practice.