My former office had been down Bagatalle Road, so I used to come to this road daily for seven years. Yet, I had not visited the No 11 Residence. A home turned into a museum. Ever since I learnt that Seema Malakaya had been designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I started paying attention to other places he had worked on. I finally decided this week it was time to visit his home, which has been turned into a museum managed by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust.
Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), for those who haven’t heard of him, was Sri Lanka’s renowned architect. He had studied to be a lawyer in England, following his father’s footsteps, but realized when he returned to Sri Lanka that it was not what he wanted to do. He eventually discovered his passion and became an architect towards his late 30s.
No 11 was his home in Colombo, a place he re-modelled after purchasing four row houses at the end of the lane. The house museum is available for public viewing by appointment. Since the management has taken a lot of effort to maintain the house exactly as it had been during Bawa’s time, the curator is quite sensitive about viewers not touching any objects, which can be a bit difficult if traveling with kids.
When I arrived for my tour, I was led to a waiting hall next to the former home office of Geoffrey Bawa, where there were around ten others waiting for the tour to start. I was given my invoice for the tour as well as a brochure on the house. The curator then started the tour with a short documentary, which focused on the remodeling of the No 11 residence undertaken by Geoffrey Bawa.
Following the documentary screening, we took the stairs to the terrace. Towards the latter part of his life, when it became too difficult for Bawa to walk up the stairs, a lift had been installed in the house.
The rooftop terrace had been one of Geoffrey Bawa’s favourite places to sit in the evenings.
We walked down the stairs, passing the floor with the guest suite. The guest suite is now rented out to anyone wishing to stay at the house. It was not part of the viewing tour though. So, we made our way back down to the ground floor and walked towards Geoffrey Bawa’s living area. While no photography was allowed inside the living area, we were allowed to take photos along the corridor.
One of his trademark design was the use of corners, allowing for natural light to filter through and green trees and ponds to cool the spaces.
This corner of the house led to his private apartment and the curator mentioned that the pillars were Chettinad style pillars.
The corner opposite the Chettinad pillars had a couple of chairs designed by Geoffrey Bawa. The curator said that it was part of the furniture collection he designed for Bentota Beach hotel, his first hotel design in Sri Lanka.
His private area was the most fascinating part of the house and the best part of it too, as it gave a better glimpse of the person than the rest of the house had done. It had a sitting room, dining room and a bedroom, each of which had lovely ponds and trees in their corners or views of a tree across the room. What was lovely about this space was that it was filled with personal stuff, his books and his collections from his travels.
Before Geoffrey Bawa became an architect, he had spent considerable time traveling around the world in the 1940s/ 50s and was most taken with his time in Italy. Apparently, he had liked the Lake Garda region, particularly the gardens, so much so that he had planned to buy property there. However, due to some legal obstacles, he had not been able to do so and when he returned to Sri Lanka, his brother had encouraged him to buy a country estate in Bentota and create his own tropical version of Lake Garda. Geoffrey Bawa’s first landscape gardening project revealed his passion and he decided to pursue a path in architecture, returning to study in England. His first work, Lunuganga, is considered his masterpiece. I have been long meaning to visit the place and hopefully, will do so this year.
The tour ended at the entrance, where Geoffrey Bawa’s old Rolls Royce was parked. The batik painting covering the wall was by Bawa’s friend and artist, Ena de Silva.
The tour was a fascinating insight into the home and living space of Geoffrey Bawa.