Cecil and Chloé de Soysa commissioned long-time friend and architect Geoffrey Bawa to design a house for them in Colombo in 1985. They partitioned a property that they had long owned in the city into smaller plots for themselves and their daughters, and they asked Bawa to design a new residence for them on their subplot. The project took several years to complete, as it was temporarily delayed upon Cecil's unexpected death. The residence was ultimately completed in 1991 for Chloé de Soysa.
The de Soysa house is located approximately 300 meters south of Beira Lake in downtown Colombo. The house is sited on a 120-meter-long and 20-meter-wide rectangular lot that spans between Dharmapala Road and Boyd Place, 20 meters to the east of Alwis Place. The majority of the site is occupied by long-established gardens, and the house that Bawa designed is located amongst mature shade-trees in the southern half of the plot, approximately 30 meters north of Dharmapala Road.
The de Soysa house is square in plan, measuring 14.5 meters to a side. The north-south axis of the house lines up directly with the north-south meridian. One half of the ground level is enclosed, while the other half serves as a transitional roofed open-air space between the interior of the house and the adjacent tree-shaded patio. The first level of the house is fully enclosed, containing the main living rooms of the house. The second level is much smaller in terms of enclosed area as the majority of the floor plan is given over to a large sunny terrace. The base of a two-story tower is located in the northeast corner of the second level plan. The enclosed space is 6.5 meters to a side, and it houses the private rooms of the residence on the second and third levels. The third floor is partially roofed by a pergola, leaving open a view to the skies.
The walls of the home are plastered white throughout while simple black anodized aluminum window sashes provide contrast and frame views of the lush garden setting. The wooden posts of the pergolas on the ground-level patio and the third level deck are also painted white, allowing the vibrant greenery that cascades over the structure and climbs the walls to lend color and patina to the otherwise neutral palette of the architecture. The richness of the garden is subtly foregrounded and becomes decorative itself via its juxtaposition with the reticence of the building, a technique Bawa employed often in his later projects, notably the Kandalama Hotel (1991-1994) and the Predeep Jayawardene house (1997-1998).
The de Soysa house is notable as an example of Bawa's later residences, both in terms of its spatial organization within the typology of the tower house, and in terms of the simplicity of its detailing. The home remains intentionally minimalist in its expression, underscoring the evolution of Bawa's architectural voice from his earlier, more traditionally articulated projects to this mature work.
Robson, David. “Genius of the Place: The Buildings and Landscapes of Geoffrey Bawa.” In Modernity and Community: Architecture in the Islamic World, edited by Philippa Baker, 17-48. London: Thames & Hudson, 2001.
Geoffrey Bawa is 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 brings 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.
Source: Khan, Hassan-Uddin. 1995. In Contemporary Asian Architects. Köln: Taschen Books. Robson, David. 2001. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture Chairman's Award.