One of the treasures of Sri Lanka is architect Geoffrey Bawa and his “tropical modernism”, which looks as good as it sounds. Transporting modernist dogmas into hotter climates often goes well, since ideas like blurring the frontier between indoor and outdoor are far more enjoyable when you don’t have a Northern Europe climate. What I particularly like about Bawa is that he seems to put a slight romantic touch into it, of course there’s the open plan structure and the modern lines, but the furniture is more than often antique, he adds hand painted frescoes here and there and the palette is subtly muted. Bawa is responsible for a lot of buildings in Sri Lanka: private homes, hotels, public buildings…basically there’s always something from him not far from where you are.
When we went to Sri Lanka we visited one of Bawa’s most famous building, the Heritance Kandalama hotel. It was built in the 90’s when touristic interest started to grow around Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle and Sigiriya rock. Bawa made an unconventional choice by selecting a very rocky and steep location, facing a vast lake, with Sigiriya appearing only in the distance. The building is huge but it’s completely hidden in the mountain and the vegetation, they literally built it around huge rocks that sometimes appear in the rooms. Since the surroundings are particularly wild the wildlife is quite rich, we even saw monkeys playing on the lower level columns. Obviously the hotel has evolved a little bit since the origins, but there’s still some of the original furniture and frescoes, all charmingly worn out.
__________________ We didn’t stay at Heritance Kandalama because it’s more aimed at Sri Lankan families now, and I prefer to stay in smaller hotels. That’s the reason I loved the Wallawwa, it emcompasses those tropical modernism ideas, but on a smaller scale. It was the raining season in the South when we went to Sri Lanka, which kept us from seeing the Lunuganga and Last house hotels which are some of his most personal buildings.