“The Island seduced all of Europe…” wrote author Michael Ondaatje about Sri Lanka in his memoirs, ‘Running in the Family’. Colombo, the sea facing capital city of Sri Lanka clearly reflects the rationale behind his words. Various remnants of Portuguese, Dutch, and English architecture co-exist effortlessly with the vernacular as well as the contemporary architecture of the city.
The best time to travel to Colombo is between November and February. Temperatures are much cooler and it’s also the time for well publicised events including the annual literary festival that occurs in the nearby coastal town of Galle and attracts renowned writers from across the world.
The legendary Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa established his practice in Colombo and his architecture is undoubtedly the highlight of any design sojourn in the city. Famous landmarks include the Galle Face Green, the Viharamahadevi Park, Mount Lavinia beach and the National Museum.
Paradise Road’s Gallery Cafe
Paradise Road’s Gallery Café is located in the former office of the iconic Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. But for the addition of a roofed pavilion, Bawa’s original design remains unmodified. The Gallery Café comprises of a carefully orchestrated sequence of enclosed, semi enclosed and courtyard spaces. The courtyards have multifarious moods. A small souvenir cum book shop is located at its entrance. It is an enchanting place for scrumptious desserts as well as an opportunity to absorb the marvelous qualities of Bawa’s architecture at a leisurely pace.
Barefoot is a brand created by artist and well known textile designer and color consultant Barbara Sansoni. Sansoni, one of the doyens of art and culture in the city is also the co-author of a fabulous book on the architectural heritage of Sri Lanka titled ‘Architecture of an Island’. Barefoot consists of a lifestyle retail outlet, a book store, an art gallery and a garden café.
Barefoot Gallery provides a platform for the artists in Sri Lanka to both exhibit and sell their work. Here works of international artists working on Sri Lankan subjects are also showcased.
The café space is quite simply a large pavilion within a paved garden. Despite being thronged by visitors the cafe still manages to provide space for the solitary reader with soothing jazz music playing softly in the background. The cheerful café area is animated by Laki Senanyake’s metal sculptures and colourful table linen (from where else but Barefoot!) that adds to the vibrancy of the space.
Serendipity On Lake Beira
The Seema Malaka temple is among the most beautiful places of worship in Colombo. Located on Beira Lake, this temple is a beacon of simplicity amidst the towering high-rises of the city. Designed by Geoffrey Bawa in the 70’s, this modern Buddhist temple consists of intricately detailed prayer pavilions and a Bo tree platform anchored on the lake. A series of boardwalks lead to this floating temple. Ostensibly located in chaos but in reality this temple is amongst the most tranquil spaces of the city.
Poetics Of Space And Light
Writer Elif Shafak’s describes philosopher Walter Benjamin writings as ‘One doesn’t read him to feel better – one reads him to feel’. Design enthusiasts can draw a parallel with Benjamin’s writings and the master designer Geoffrey Bawa’s extraordinary architecture. A guided tour through the late architect’s own residence on Bagatelle Road provides a rare glimpse into the place that incubated Bawa’s genius.
Located on a narrow but deep plot (the original location of 4 town homes), Bawa’s own residence was the test bed for his design ideas. He has created an unending sense of space and drama, through the inclusion of multiple courtyards, a tower at the entrance, and the episodic moments of the sculptural never fail to leave the visitor in awe of the master’s work.
Text And Photographs By Varna Shashidhar