by Chiranji Abeywickrema & Amanda Rajakaruna

The second cycle of THE GEOFFREY BAWA AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE in architecture has just concluded following a long drawn short listing process. The event coincided with  the 92nd birth anniversary of Sri Lanka’s most influential and prolific architect, recognised as having been one of the greatest Asian architects of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Within a span of almost 50 years, he created a wide range of architectural works, establishing prototypes for new buildings in the post independence period.

The Geoffrey Bawa Award for Excellence in Architecture not only recognises the emerging talent of the young Sri Lankan architects but also applauds the passion of those who are behind the outstanding contemporary contributions in architecture. Thus the Geoffrey Bawa Awards celebrates architecture as a whole, and focuses on innovative attempts of solving architectural challenges in today’s context. The award itself, apart from its cash prize of one million Sri Lankan rupees is a trophy with a deep embedded message.

The classical lines of the Awards trophy made out of solid Para Mara and ebony embody the timelessness of great architecture.  The inspiration for the trophy is an obelisk atop a gatepost at Bawa’s Lunuganga Estate. The design of the obelisk emulates similar elements found in the great gardens of Europe, particularly Italy, for which the architect had a particular fondness and the shape comes from the Assyrians and Egyptians via the Greeks and Romans to renaissance Europe.

The Geoffrey Bawa awards for excellence in Architecture runs in a three year cycle and encompasses concepts such as contemporary design, restoration, re-use and area conservation and is modeled on principles similar to the award scheme of the prestigious Aga Khan Trust for culture in Geneva inaugurated by His Highness the Aga Khan in 1977.  Geoffrey Bawa was the recipient of this prestigious award in 2001.

Open to Sri Lankans, the Geoffrey Bawa Award inquires after a range of architectural submissions with no strict regulations as to what the submissions could be. This results in a rich and varied mix of projects,  all with three simple requirements that they should be built in Sri Lanka and completed within 10 years preceding  the project submission and have been in use for at least 9 months before the end of the judging period. This allows the jury to inspect the submissions in detail and also gives them the opportunity to converse with the owners and obtain their views of the project.

The Geoffrey Bawa Award is very relevant to today’s context. It considers architecture that is environmentally sensitive, seeking buildings which are sustainable and responsible. The search for “sustainability” deals with its response to the issues of the environment especially long-term effects on earth’s resources while “responsibility” is the response to social conditions in which it is built. Entries were short listed based on these aspects as “Architecture”, in this day should stand up to scrutiny within these parameters.

The year 2011 saw seventy varied submissions from forty participants comprising of a cross- section of established architects, talented young architects as well as non-architects, both local and foreign. Submissions this year ranged from new projects to renovations, private houses to public spaces and different user categories.

Eight projects were short listed for the award successfully concluding with Archt. Thisara Thanapathy being recognised for his “Excellence in Architecture”.

The Technical Committee comprised of Architect Channa Daswatte, Chelvadurai Anjalendran and Eugenie Mack along with judges Suhanya Raffel (Trustee of the Geoffrey Bawa Trust and Deputy Director Curatorial and Collection development at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane Australia), Architect Kerry Hill (Singapore), Ajita de Costa (Textile technologist, industrialist and heritage conservationist)  as well as a nominee from the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA), Archt. Jayantha Perera (Immediate Past President SLIA). The committee completed their technical and physical reviews of all submissions in April this year, followed by the meetings with the architects, their clients and a variety of users who currently occupy the buildings. As emphasized by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust, the award is for the project rather than the person! It is truly an achievement and an honour to distinguish the young Sri Lankan architect as a producer of “great architecture”.

Eight projects were short listed for the award successfully concluding with Archt. Thisara Thanapathy being recognised for his “Excellence in Architecture”. Sarath Abeyratne House designed by him was unanimously decided by the jury as being “a model for suburban living” under the challenging constrains of decreasing plot sizes and increased need for privacy.

Udayapuram School, Perriyakallar, Batticaloa designed by Archt. Yudish Ganesan was adjudged the first runner up. Commendation awards were made to Archt. Thisara Thanapathy for the Holiday Bungalow, Ulpotha, Matale and also to Richard Murphy Architects, Scotland, UK for the design of the New British High Commission, Colombo 7.

The design projects short listed for the Geoffrey Bawa Award for Excellence in Architecture 2010/2011 are as follows.


Archt.Thisara Thanapathy

The house is located in Narahenpita, Colombo. Its innovative design concept explores spatial constrains that are experienced in a tight urban setting.   The street façade does not offer an insight to what lies within. A small courtyard was created at the entrance as a buffer that diffused the noise and dust filtration from the adjoining street.

The architect faced a challenge in providing ground space for six cars. A semi-basement accessible through the rear space was created in response, with minimum overhead clearance for parking. The resultant structure consisted of split levels. The space above the basement was used for the kitchen and dining. A series of internal courtyards bring in light and ventilation whilst being landscaped to offer a welcoming relief that is much needed in an urban setting.

The main courtyard separates the dining room from a double height living room.  Bedrooms, study, etc., were housed at the upper levels on either side of the courtyard with plenty of light and ventilation penetrating the interiors. The upper level windows are screened against harsh tropical weather with timber slats that filter the light through whilst maintaining visual privacy.

Service areas are provided with a private courtyard that brings in light and ventilation whilst separating them from the main areas. The service lines are carefully tucked away in to these areas making them invisible to the living spaces.

The design solution has cleverly overcome space restrictions ensuring the privacy of the user and at the same time creating a delightful ambience in a tight urban setting.

Photo courtesy: Waruna Gomis and Thisara Thanapathy Associates


Archt.Thisara Thanapathy

The building set amidst beautiful mountainous terrain, is minimalist in approach. A linear structure on stilts houses a sitting room, two bedrooms and bathrooms at the upper level whilst kitchen and dining room are located at ground level. Most of its spaces are arranged on the upper floor that overlooks the hilly terrain with a breathtaking view. A walkway made of railway sleepers provides access in a perpendicular direction to the building. It penetrates the elongated cube and emerges on the other side extending out towards the landscape. The entrance to the walkway is demarcated in a subtle manner with only an indication of a cement wall amidst lush greenery.

The structure consists of salvaged timber and steel from an old factory building. A combination of glazing and timber screens are used at the upper floor living areas, re used timber screens offering privacy. The building is one that sits lightly on its natural landscape, also using passive air cooling and natural light. Simple furniture adds to the minimalist quality of the design. The openness of the place invites the landscape in making it part of the interior. Flexible viewing decks double up as alfresco dining or living areas that amplify the pleasurable experience. The project was awarded a commendation at the Geoffrey Bawa Awards.

Photo courtesy: Waruna Gomis

UDAYAPURAM SCHOOL, Perriyakallar, Batticaloa

Archt. Yudish Ganesan

Adjudged first runner up, the Udayapuram Tamil School in Batticaloa was launched as part of a “Schools reawakening” programme following the devastating Tsunami of 2004. The layout is woven around two large play areas. The rectilinear arrangements allow for central play spaces with circulation along the periphery.

“Architecture is about creating space. The school blocks are placed so that within them they create courtyards which enhance interaction…”

The scale and form relate well to the surrounding village, which is also of small scale single, and two storeyed buildings. The school consists of four classroom blocks, an administration block, an assembly hall, a library, a science block, aesthetic music block, canteen, staff quarters, washrooms and a bicycle shed.

All the buildings are well ventilated and the interiors are significantly cool. The acoustic qualities for teaching are excellent due to the use of simple finishes and roofs of exposed tiles. The architect has cleverly overcome noise transgression.

Attention to detail with open spaces and voids that encourage the inflow of natural light and ventilation creates a comfortable learning environment. Beautiful vistas of the abounding landscape are revealed through the openings.

The exposed brick, polished cement floors and bright colours are easy to maintain and the building received a commendation as it has not deteriorated in appearance even after two years of occupancy.

“…the bold use of colour gives the school life…the colours reflect the child’s growing minds…”

Photo courtesy: Yudish Ganesan

TSUNAMI HOUSING Payagalawatte, Kalutara

Sheran Henry Associates.

The architect’s task was to generate a low cost housing scheme for families who were victims of the tsunami of 2004. Based on research findings, the development of the Tsunami housing incorporated informal gathering spaces which promote social interaction within the housing clusters.

The 20 houses in this tsunami village are laid out along a street accessing two other housing schemes and are placed on roads set at right angles to the main axis. The houses consist of a large verandah space, two bedrooms, an attached kitchen and toilet. Research based designing resulted in the kitchen being located closer to the garden to enable the mothers to keep watch over their playing children while preparing the meals.

The architect also considered personalisation of space and future expansion of the houses in their positioning and planning. Concrete grills along the facade encourage natural ventilation and gaps between rafters are purposely left uncovered to promote the escape of rising hot air.

Photo courtesy: Waruna Gomis


Sheran Henry Associates

The Lion Museum is set on the grounds of the Lion Brewery as a public interface to the factory. It is a two-storied unit with a small upper level deck placed against its rear wall. The space is defined by the overwhelming presence of several very large copper antique beer brewing vats from the old Lion brewery in Nuwara Eliya. It is aesthetically balanced and visually proportionate considering the fact that it is mostly made from materials salvaged and recycled from an old brewery that had been demolished. It is therefore a significant attempt in reuse of materials and contributes to environmental sustainability.

The solidity of the exterior concrete wall contrasts with the fluidity of the glass entrance way. Hand cut granite is in contrast with smooth shiny copper. New sheet metal complements hundred year old rusty steel trusses and beams held together by nuts and bolts. They are all part of the thematic approach the architect had envisioned.

“the rust on the steel beams is allowed to show as it reflects the character of the history of the place…like the wrinkles on an aged face, it tells the story of a hard life.. and there is beauty in it..”

Photo courtesy: Waruna Gomis


Archt. Palinda Kannangara

The site was a part of a property with a workshop that served as a mini hydro plant. It was a marshland rehabilitated to complement the holiday bungalow. The bungalow itself is situated in a clearing surrounded by rubber trees overlooking a small pond.

The clever composition of spaces gives the building a floating effect. Its solid base appears to be receding towards the upper levels ending up in a visually lightweight structure.   A combination of exposed stone walls, timber louvers, black powder coated aluminium and glazing are used in its construction.

Intense visual pleasure is derived through an architectural language created by the interplay of different materials. The material palette is simple yet striking in the manner in which it is applied.

“The colours used in the design are all natural; whites are used to highlight and blend in the uniqueness of each material…”

Clarity of the layout is expressed through a living and dining room that overlooks the pond. The furniture is suitably chosen to be simple and minimalist. Passive cooling methods are used with open gable ends that enhance cross ventilation which is a sensitive measure that takes maximum advantage of its surroundings.

Photo courtesy: Waruna Gomis


Archt. Sanath Liyanage

The site of the “Kalundewa Resort” was once considered for a nature resort by Geoffrey Bawa himself.

The transition to the resort is manipulated with a combination of man made and natural landscape. The marsh along the road adds to the feel of complete serenity and hints at what the visitor is to experience.

Inspired by a tree house and preserving the natural setting, the entry pavilion is glazed on three sides while the fourth is completely exposed to the lake with Kumbuk trees.

The materials palette of steel, bare brick, glass infill and uneven teak floorboards complement each other. The choice of materials allows for a lightness of structure and transparency. The spaced out wooden roof beams bring in light and greenery. Commendation by the judges highlighted the fact that the building is well detailed, simple and tasteful.

The interiors are extremely well modelled with most of the furniture built in. The simplicity befits the beautiful setting and is non-distracting. The style of the building relates to a minimalist tradition of construction, it is well proportioned and gives great visual pleasure in the way it disappears into the landscape.

Photo courtesy: Eresh Weerasuriya


Richard Murphy Architects, Scotland, UK

The British High commission in Colombo occupies the property adjacent to the 1950’s built residence of the British High Commissioner. The surrounding area comprises of colonial bungalows that still have their gardens intact. The High Commission consists of three east-west orientated buildings connected by a fourth circulation axis that is placed at right angles to the other three. This formation has resulted in a series of courtyards between the buildings that provide light and ventilation. The courtyards that penetrate the working environment are both refreshing and uplifting even though the building had opted for artificial ventilation.

The generic form allows various sections of the High Commission to be isolated for security reasons. The construction is of reinforced concrete with polished concrete floors. Timber shutters, vegetation and water features are used to create genial vibes in an otherwise frigid form that demands for high security.

This single-storied building consists of high, tiled roofs with central glass skylights which generate a low key presence despite the magnitude of its mission. The project received a commendation at the Geoffrey Bawa awards.