New Sri Lanka House Designs – Legacy of Geoffrey Bawa

by | Architecture, Books

sri lanka house designs siva and versus house

Living room entrance of Siva and Vasuki House

Sri Lanka house designs are once again justifiably attracting world attention with a new generation of talented architects.

The inescapable shadow of one man is a reminder that there are times when one individual has so significant an impact on a nation’s cultural life that nothing is ever quite the same in their wake.

Lawyer turned architect Geoffrey Bawa was one such man, who is not only the omnipresent father of Sri Lankan architecture, but also a continuing influence throughout South East Asia, on what is sometimes called ‘tropical modernism’.

Bawa’s extraordinary 40 year career may have started late – at the age of 38 – but he produced numerous significant projects including landmark hotels, private residences, temples, a university and the parliament building of the new Sri Lankan Republic. How remarkable that the stratospheric trajectory of his career began somewhat serendipitously, when he set off to London in 1945 to gain qualifications simply for the purpose of redesigning his own house.

Bawa’s great strength was to articulate climate appropriate solutions and buildings possessed of a powerful sense of place, that proudly built on vernacular traditions that had been largely ignored in the aftermath of colonialism. His solutions involved overhanging eaves, deep verandas, interior courtyards and the minimal use of glass. These resulted in the blurring of the boundaries between ‘indoors’ and ‘outdoors’ – that became one of Bawa’s signature contributions to modern tropical design. This did not mean however that he rejected western classicism, which he often lovingly referenced as one of the twin features of his cultural identity. Indeed it was the European classical tradition that he chose for the design of his own beloved Lunuganga Estate – Bawa’s colonial style country house that is now a hotel. Bawa’s style may have embraced a wide body of influences including the fusion of Western and Sri Lankan, vernacular, modern and post-modern designs, but it was always faithful to his basic principles.

  • Guava House sri lanka house designs
    Guava House. The infinity pool running adjacent the house is fringed by trees

Of the twenty six impressive houses represented in The New Sri Lankan House, twenty one architects are homegrown. Most launched their practices after the closure of Geoffrey Bawa’s firm in 1998. The criteria used for the selection of the best of today’s Sri Lanka house designs is largely based on Bawa’s checklist for building in the tropics, a list that is as founded on pragmatism as on sustainability and always mindful of the human experience. In particular the experience of foremost importance for Bawa was the happiness or pleasure derived from one’s home. “Pleasure cannot be omitted” stated Bawa, “It is as important as shelter from the rain”. As someone who began on his path with a very personal project in mind, Bawa remained faithful to the end-user’s experience of architecture which is also evident in the work of his many followers in this beautifully photographed book.

Indeed the photography is not just beautiful – it is exceptional and Sebastian Posingis is a master craftsman whose love affair with beautiful buildings is self evident. Robert Powell – himself an architect and a specialist on the architecture of the wider region, has produced a coherent and also stunning array of projects that are rigorously researched. The essays by both Powell and fellow architect David Robson are not only readable but interesting and enjoyable too. The inclusion of plans, sections and elevations sets this book apart from many similar coffee table books, and greatly enhances the experience.

These Sri Lankan architect designed houses clearly demosntrate that this beautiful island is undergoing an extraordinary renaissance.

Books on architecture by architects rarely enthuse and excite the reader as much as The New Sri Lankan House, and I defy you to read it without wanting to book your flight to this enchanting land.

  • Maddumage House sri lanka house designs
    Maddumage House. The view from the northern entrance.
Guava House mawanella sri lanka house designs

Geoffrey Bawa’s (extended) checklist for both Sri Lanka house designs and building design in the tropics in general

• Living/dining area as the focus of the house and which is permanently open to the external environment

• Not destroy any substantial trees on the site and be in harmony with nature

• The building to be designed with minimal glazing

• Not have gutters (that would be clogged up with leaves from surrounding trees)

•To be surrounded by a garden with non-reflective surfaces

•Wide overhanging eaves to provide shade

• In-between spaces in the form of courtyards, verandas, terraces and balconies

• Tall rooms to encourage convection cooling

• Naturally ventilated with permeable walls facing prevailing breezes

• One-room deep with openings on opposite sides capable of being adjusted to create the Venturi effect

• In response to security issues, duality in the planning arrangements to give openness and direct access to a garden or court on one side with a closed and exclusive appearance on the public facade

• Air-conditioning in selected areas of the house to overcome heat, humidity, noise, dust and pollution

• Use of shading and careful orientation to minimise the air-conditioning load

• Notion of a home as a ‘retreat’ or refuge

• Increasing use of solar convectors and wind generators as their capital costs fall

• Pools and fountains that contribute to cooling in addition to giving sensory pleasure


by Robert Powell and Sebastian Posingis published by Laurence King
RRP £29.95

Main Image: Guava House
Photography by Sebastian Posingis, supplied courtesy of Laurence King

To order The New Sri Lankan House go to GDC Interiors Journal Book Collection


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