by Barbara Sansoni

Barbara Sansoni’s fascination with buildings had begun in her childhood through high ceiling, wide verandah residencies which were occupied by her father as Government Agent in Batticaloa, Kurunegala and Matale.

Her love affair with architecture crystallized in the early 60s. Unable to purchase the many beautiful buildings that were being knocked down or being remodeled in the name of progress Sansoni decided she would own these by recording them. Her drawings initially appeared in a weekly column titled Collecting Old Buildings in the Ceylon Daily Mirror in 1962-63. In this early endeavour she was joined by UlrikPlesner who wrote the accompanying texts. Furthermore, Plesner assisted by LakiSenenayake and IsmethRahim proceeded to measure and record seven such notable buildings.

An impressionistic drawing of a Jaffna Kitchen by Barbara Sansoni (not included in Vihares & Verandas), but one of the reviewer’s personal favorites.

Of these, the Walawwe at Gintota and the Slave Island Barracks are no longer in existence. And the splendid image house at PadeniyaVihare is no longer seen as intended with the roof floating on the head of a lion frieze and reflected in the pond below, as observed by Sansoni. The image house has been ‘modernised,’ and in my opinion ruined, by the insensitive placing of obtrusive columns and numerous ‘cloud walls.’

In the 30 years that followed, these seven measured drawings have increased to 100 with the scholarly companionship of Prof. Ronald Lewcock. A lavish coffee table portfolio of her drawings was made available as Vihares& Verandas in 1978. This magnum opus was republished as Architecture of an Island in 1998. These documents show in comprehensive detail our rich vernacular building traditions, though many of them are fast disappearing as has nearly a third of her documentation. Vihares& Verandas has been recently reprinted in a limited edition of 500 copies.

To say that these drawings show a wealth of architectural detail and legacy would be an understatement. These drawings also show an understanding of drawing for publication where the clarity of each line must be respected. Furthermore these architectural drawings in their setting were perhaps inspired by the work of the Australian artist Donald Friend who was living at Briefs in Aluthgama at that time.

For all those genuinely interested in the culture of architecture and for those who were too young to buy it when it was published nearly 28 years ago, Vihares& Verandas will make a fulfilling read.

Reviewed by ArchtAnjalendran C

Originally published in 1978; the limited edition reprint in 2007 is published by Barefoot and is available at Barefoot Bookshop.