Set on a secluded 25 acre property, nestled away from the hustle of the city of Bentota, is this asterpiece by one of my most revered architects, Geoffrey Bawa. On the shores of the Dedduwa lake, Bawa has rafted a personal tropical Eden along the waters of the salt river of Lunuganga – a few kilometers inland from Bentota. Bawa named the estate Lunuganga, which in Sinhala means Salt River. Lunuganga is, quite simply, a work of art, and it was with this project with which Bawa’s personal odyssey began.
Having landed in Colombo, I visited another of Bawa’s famous works ‘The Gallery’. In this I had a limpse of the design philosophy with which I had associated Geoffrey Bawa. Open to sky courtyards, indoor-outdoor connects,
The estate, I was welcomed with a very simple, yet detailed moss covered compound wall. The weeds sticking out of the triangular shaped niches that were etched into the wall were an indication that the landscape had caught on well and was very much in its prime. As I entered the gate, a slim dirt track gradually ascended, winding its way though thick vegetation on either side. A small clearing in the landscape gave a partial view of the tiled house that I was so eager to see. On reaching the top of the climb, we were welcomed by what I can only describe as the most beautiful
set of steps. Emerging subtly from the ground below, I thought to myself, ‘this is what makes the man such a marvel!’ These steps were fitted at unusual angles connecting the accentuated levels of the courtyards. Sometimes when I think about it, the approach to the estate produces the necessary prelude to the entire experience.
From the minimalistic compound wall, to the overwhelming tropical greenery, Bawa orchestrated the spoiler for what lies atop the emphasized hill. It was a powerful introduction to the place.
Bawa thought of Lunuganga as “an extension of the surroundings – a garden within a larger garden.” A bunch of low blocks, capped with traditionally tiled roof sits on top of a mound forming the main structure, which in true ‘Bawa style’, seemed to be erupting from the ground. The bungalow lies at the centre of the composition and it is the only point from which all of the garden’s separate elements can be
comprehended. Although Bawa never kept a systematic record of the evolution of the garden, each room was said to have been constructed during a different period in his career and in turn, refl ects a different phase in his life. The room’s interior spaces fl ow seamlessly into the courtyards outside which in turn open out into the grand view of the river in the distant. Bawa was a very ambitious man. To create the perfect perspective of the artistry surrounding the estate, he would lower hills and add weights to bring
down branches and trees in order to better frame sunsets & views of the river from these rooms.