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 Batujimbar Pavilions were constructed between 1972 and 1975 along the beach of Sanur, a small town on the southeastern coast of the island of Bali. Australian painter Donald Friend commissioned his acquaintance Geoffrey Bawa to design a resort of private villas on the beachfront property that housed his existing residence. Bawa divided the site into fifteen parcels and designed unique pavilions and gardens for each private plot. Local architects and contractors developed the site as Bawa contributed design drawings and typical construction details remotely from his practice in Sri Lanka. Due to the distance between Bawa and the construction site, Friend and his partners in Bali took significant liberties in realizing Bawa's vision. Three of the plots were built according to Bawa's masterplan, while the other twelve were developed with substantial modifications.
The site of the resort is roughly rectangular, between 440 and 460 meters long north to south and between 120 and 140 meters wide east to west. The eastern edge of the property borders a 15 to 25 meter wide sand beach. To the west of the development is another property, between 420 and 440 meters long north to south and between 150 and 190 meters wide east to west. Bawa's original design indicated that this land would be purchased by Friend and landscaped as a coconut grove and botanical garden separating the resort from the traffic of Jalan Danau Tamblingan. Due to economic pressures, this plan was never realized, and instead the western property was gradually parcelized and developed as a neighborhood of unaffiliated private residences.
During the design process, Bawa sought to increase his understanding of artisanal Balinese traditions of building. Longtime island resident Friend shared his knowledge of local materials and methods of construction, and Bawa's schemes for the spatial organization of pavilions were inspired by the plans of the Balinese palaces at Amlapura and Klungkung. Each of the fifteen parcels features a unique plan, but all of the plots are designed according to a set of core organizing principles. Each residence is entered through a courtyard located at its west end that provides access to the main walled courtyard at the center of the parcel. This walled area contains a series of small residential pavilions in a lush planted setting, grouped around a central reflecting pool and connected by covered loggias. Gardens punctuated with pools and minor pavilions continue across the plot to the east wall, which mediates private access to the adjacent narrow beach.
While the majority of the pavilions erected on the site diverged considerably from the original masterplan, there are several existing buildings that demonstrate Bawa's architectural vision for the complex. The most impressive such structure on the site is Friend's museum, a two-story construction approximately twenty meters long north to south and nine meters wide east to west. The museum was built on plot five, the parcel located directly at the end of the main entrance drive. Unlike the other parcels that housed private villas for resort guests, this centrally located space was planned to house the shared facilities of the resort, including the museum, a visitor's center, social pavilions, and an open-air theater. The open-air theater, never constructed, would have occupied the westernmost forty meters of the site. A row of trees separates this space from the museum, which sits immediately to the east of the theater site.
The museum is surrounded on all sides by a shallow moat that is approximately five meters wide. Large dark gray stone tiles pave the patios that surround the museum, as well as many courtyards and outdoor living spaces throughout the resort. The only entrance to the museum is via a three-meter-wide monumental stone staircase on the east elevation that acts as a bridge to the second story porch. Teak columns support a thatched roof spanning the entire platform, but no walls exist to obstruct the weather or views. A staircase internal to the structure leads down into the gallery space on the first level. The walls of the lower volume are a load-bearing masonry construction of orange-colored brick, and the massive stone embrasures framing each of the full-height windows contribute to the effect of depth and solidity of structure within the space. The entire building sits upon a dark stone plinth that rises more than a meter above the waterline in the center of the decorative moat.
The lower gallery of the museum pavilion houses pieces from artist Friend's personal art collection. Yet art is not confined to the interior of this project, as Bawa distributed items from Friend's collection throughout the buildings and gardens of the resort. Traditional Balinese sculptures, carved stone reliefs, and architectural fragments such as antique doors and windows are highlighted and placed strategically in the master plan.
Pavilions on the other parcels were designed to follow the model of the museum but with slight modifications. For instance, the principal residential structure on plot eleven, one of the few structures ever built to Bawa's specifications, features a similar two-story configuration in which a massive first floor serves as the base for an elevated open-air platform with a thatched roof. However, in this pavilion the masonry wall is constructed of plastered rubble and coral, and the absence of a moat allows for more relaxed entry to the structure through antique double doors and a breezeway at the ground level.
Donald Friend lost control of the management of the Batujimbar Pavilions midway through its construction in the 1970s, after which the project's gradual development was continued by his business partner Wija Waworuntu. Eventually the resort was leased to Indonesian hotel developer Adrian Zecha in the mid 1980s. Continuous redevelopment of the main property through the 1980s and 1990s resulted in the further loss of elements of Bawa's original design, as renovations were undertaken by designer Ed Tuttle, garden designer Made Wijaya, and decorator Linda Garland. The pavilions remain available today for rental as luxury tourist accommodations, often catering to famous clientele.
Though much of Bawa's physical design was altered or left unbuilt, his desire to create a resort that respected the architectural traditions and culture of its context was ultimately fulfilled. Significantly, the cultural consciousness in the design of the Batujimbar Pavilions inspired a similar consciousness of place and history in subsequent Balinese tourist developments.