Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Lunuganga - Geoffrey Bawa' s Retreat

Living in Sri Lanka you come sooner or later upon the work of Geoffrey Bawa, the leading architect of modern Sri Lanka and the founder of a school. You cannot escape it. Like all great art, it grabs you and pushes your nose against it, it makes you stop and stare, it makes you wonder, you realize that THIS is not just a functional artifact, its a piece of ART - of special art, of NATURAL art...It hits you it if you go shopping, or having a coffee, or even visiting temples... and you see a tree, or flowing water, or clear sky and chirping birds where... they shouldn't be according to our paradigm but at the same time they seem so natural...You have this sense that the building has grown around the NATURE respectfully. Surrounding it to protect it, not to conquer it...and that you are invited to a more natural lifestyle so different from our customary concrete and glass universe.  

Intrigued by his work I visited his Colombo house and then, recently, Lunuganga, his country property, which was initially a rubber tree plantation on the shore of the Bentota lagoon. Both are maintained by a Trust and visiting is allowed and even living there, under certain circumstances.  Getting to Lunuganga has been very frustrating. There are no detailed directions on-line, no road signs, no Google maps, no maps... After three or four wrong or missed turns, after driving over unlikely, narrow and winding dirt tracks, one arrives in front of a forged iron gate crowned by a an old, weathered bronze bell. Not a sign that you are in the right spot. Is this it? Or is it a temple? Nobody in sight...I pull the bell cord more out of frustration than as a "civilized communication". And actually, this is IT... I remonstrate with the manager about the difficulties I met coming there: ' It's on purpose - that's the way Mr. Bawa wanted it...He treasured his privacy...And we think you'll appreciate it more if you really work to get here..." Unsaid is the fact they don't want the people who aren't willing to make the effort to get there.

To describe Lunuganga in pictures you have to be a great photographer or painter and I am neither...Suffice to say that visiting Lunuganga you have a feeling of peace and calm and timelessness coming over you. It comes from the fact that wherever you turn your eyes you are met by a soulful vista. One one side there may be a pond with water lilies...   a stone bench and a graceful arch of forged iron and a weathered bell inviting you to repose and enjoying a tea that is just a bell pull away... A walk through the English/Oriental park with stone or bronze statues, testimonies of Bawa's eclectic but tasteful choices in art, all in a subtle relationship with their environment: A Roman Emperor with a real ivy crown, David against the clear sky... A lifelike stone panther is jealously guarding the stone jetty which seems a continuation of the lake...  And on to a magnificent but gentle panorama that leads your eyes a mile away to repose on a white Buddhist temple...

We admire a couple which has chosen this place for their wedding, a quiet affair with a few friends and a glass of cold champagne. We don't intrude into their privacy...but we make a reservation for two years from now, for our ten year anniversary...It is received as an usual request which I understand it is actually. They have reservations three - four years in advance for certain events.

For my friends planning to visit Sri Lanka, a Bawa tour is a must and you don't have to go much out of your way... http://www.geoffreybawa.com

Wedding at Lunuganga

The house

Leopard at rest

Geoffrey Bawa

The breakfast table

Buddha Tree flower


  1. Can I ask when you visited Lunuganga? Year and season? I am very keen to go !

    1. Sorry for the delay - in August 2012, it says near the title I believe.