In conversation with Shayari de Silva, curator of The Lunuganga Trust and Bawa 100

On 23rd of July 1919, the sphere of architecture in Sri Lanka and worldwide was destined to change, with the birth of Geoffrey Manning Bawa in Ceylon. Bawa studied at Royal College, Colombo, and went on to become a Barrister after reading English Literature at the University of Cambridge. However, his true passion was for architecture and design. Returning to Sri Lanka after Independence he came across an abandoned rubber estate called Lunuganga in a village off Bentota, along the coast between Colombo and Galle. With a dream of transforming the estate into a country home and garden, he joined the firm Edwards, Reid and Begg in Colombo in 1951, and continued to study architecture back in London at the Architectural Association until 1956. Back in Sri Lanka, Bawa developed many spaces of varying sorts across the island, including his original passion project Lunuganga, the Osmund and Ena De Silva House, Number 11 33rd Lane (his own home in Colombo), Bishop’s College Colombo, Bentota Beach Hotel, Heritance Ahungalla, University of Ruhuna, the Sunethra Bandaranaike House, Heritance Kandalama, the Lighthouse Hotel in Galle and the New Sri Lankan Parliament Building in Kotte. His also completed projects in India, Mauritius, Fiji, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore and Indonesia. He passed away in May 2003.

His work is characterized by its nuanced sensitivity to the climate and context; each project stemmed directly from its particular site. During his lifetime he worked with several well-known artists including Barbara Sansoni, Laki Senanayake, Ena de Silva and influenced the practice of many of today’s prominent architects who began their careers under his tutelage, including Channa Daswatte, Ismeth Raheem Anura Rathnavibushana, Sumangala Jayatilaka and Amila de Mel. The Geoffrey Bawa Trust, formed in 1982 works with the objectives of advancement and promotion of education, knowledge and interest in the field of architecture, ecological and environmental studies and fine arts, whilst the Lunuganga Trust, formed in 1993 maintains three main properties developed by the architect: the Lunuganga Estate, the Ena de Silva House, Number 11 33rd Lane Colombo and more recently the management of the newly renovated de Saram House in Ward Place, Colombo.

Diyabubula, a design by Laki Senanayake, 2018  © Luka Alagiyawanna

The year 2019 marks the centenary of Bawa’s birth. To celebrate the occasion and the legacy of the architect, the Geoffrey Bawa and Lunuganga Trusts, have organized ‘Bawa 100’, a programme of events, exhibitions, talks and tours from July 2019 to July 2020. Daily ARTRA engaged in conversation with the curator of the Trust and Bawa 100, Shayari de Silva, to uncover the lineup as well as the thought process behind the project.

The Bawa 100 Centenary Celebration Programme, according to Shayari is to celebrate Bawa’s legacy and the inspiration his work continues to provide: “it’s an opportunity for us to look back at his work and continue its tradition of nurturing the arts across disciplines.” The centenary programme is designed around both broadening and deepening the Trusts’ engagement with Geoffrey Bawa’s legacy. The Trust has, since 2003 organized the Annual Geoffrey Bawa Memorial Lecture and the Bawa Triennial Awards, which will be included in this special programme as well. In addition, Bawa 100 will consist of installations and exhibitions by local and international artists who have been inspired by his distinctive sensibility. As Shayari says, the programme is curated to attract the general public, academics as well as the art and architectural community; a wide range of audiences who could be inspired by Bawa’s work: “it’s one remarkable thing about Geoffrey Bawa, it’s not just architects who are interested in his work.” The Bawa 100 centenary programme hopes to inspire and initiate work that spans geographic, generational and medium-specific divides, using the ideal contextual background of Geoffrey Bawa’s life and work.

Steel Corporation Offices and Housing.Oruwela, Sri Lanka  © Sebastian Posingis

A few highlights of the programme are as follows:

~ Decorative Arts in the Geoffrey Bawa Collection - July 14 to 21 2019 at Lunuganga Geoffrey Bawa Country Estate; a special Gallery talk conducted by Ayesha Rahman of Lanka Decorative Arts on Burgomeister Chairs will be held on July 14 2019

 ~ 16th Annual Geoffrey Bawa Memorial Lecture by Kengo Kuma- July 23 2019 at Sri Lanka Foundation Institute

 ~ Unseen Bawa’, an exhibition of never-seen photographs of Bawa’s projects by Sebastian Posingis- July 24 to 30 at Paradise Road Galleries

 ~ ‘The Gift’: Installation Series at Lunuganga, comprising works by Kengo Kuma, Lee Mingwei, Dominic Sansoni, Dayanita Singh, Sarah Sze and Chandragupta Thenuwara. Launch will be held at 6pm on July 24 2019 at Barefoot Gallery with an Artist panel moderated by Suhanya Raffel, Executive Director of M+ Hong Kong, Trustee, Lunuganga Trust and Geoffrey Bawa Trust. The series will conclude in March 2020. The project looks at the works of artists from diverse backgrounds who have found inspiration in Lunuganga estate

 ~ Box 507’, an exhibition of photographs by Dayanita Singh about Bawa’s favourite room at Heritance Kandalama - 25 July 2019 onwards at Barefoot Gallery

 ~ Launch of Triennial Bawa Awards (press event) - July 30 2019 at the de Saram House, Ward Place, Colombo

 ~ ‘The Greedy Forest’: Laki Senanayake Retrospective Exhibition, curated by Max Moya in September 2019 at the Ena de Silva House, Lunuganga

 ~ Open Buildings Day’: a tour of Geoffrey Bawa-designed residences in Colombo by Channa Daswatte, principal architect, MICD Associates and Trustee, Lunuganga Trust and Geoffrey Bawa Trust- October 2019

 ~ Online Launch of the ‘Oral Histories Project’, an attempt to develop the archive of primary source material about Bawa, especially experiences of collaborators of the artist - December 2019

Excerpt from forthcoming publication on chairs in Geoffrey Bawa's spaces, 2019 © Dayanita Singh


For more details follow https://www.bawa100.com/

At Daily ARTRA we look forward to this delightful and multifaceted series of events in celebration of one of the world’s renowned architects of local origin.

ARTRA is Sri Lanka’s Art Magazine exploring curated content on Sri Lanka’s visual art, performance art, applied art and written art. Launched in 2012, ARTRA Magazine is a compact monthly art read providing a comprehensive understanding on Sri Lankan artists, art events, monthly art calendars and the Sri Lankan design landscape. In sum, all you need to know about art in Sri Lanka.

4th July, 2019 Applied Art