Sunday, April 11, 2010

Geoffrey Bawa: Tropical Modernism

Sri Lanka's most renowned architect, Geoffrey Bawa, was a forefather of what has come to be known as tropical modernism, developing his innovative style between 1957 and 1998.

His buildings, which range from private homes, churches, and schools, to Colombo's Parliamentary building, create continuity between indoor and outdoor, flowing gracefully from their surrounding terrain. Incorporating inner courtyards and open spaces, he often created the sense of being outside while being indoors, emphasizing voids and negative space to allow ample light and ventilation in each of his creations.

His buildings have an introspective quality to them, and those in the city provide peaceful sanctuary from urban congestion. Using local craftsmen and local materials materials such as stone, his modernist designs re-worked elements of traditional Sri Lankan architecture, as well as the British colonial style, to create uniquely modern spaces that maintain an almost ancient feel. Sitting at the cafe that now resides in one of Bawa's designs, it was hard for me to believe I was in a city full of honking horns and car exhaust. Oasis is the word that came to mind.

Always conscious of the environment arround him, Bawa was perhaps one of the world's first modern explorers of sustainable architecture, long before that term was coined. I appreciate that he embraced sustainability because it seemed the natural thing, as opposed to the trendy thing.