It's Essential To Be There l Geoffrey Bawa Trust

Geoffrey Manning Bawa is a name reverberated for his artistic idiosyncrasies. His architectural style remains, to-date, one that’s revered and distinguished for its untainted minimalism, contemporary vernacular and geometric grace. Many stories surrounding Bawa follow his eccentric life, lifestyle, exuberant personality and most of all, his remarkable and extraordinary architectural flair. The Geoffrey Bawa Trust organizes the first major exhibition that draws from the archives to look at Bawa’s practice in ‘Geoffrey Bawa: It is Essential to be There.’ Organized in four thematic sections, exploring relationships between ideas, drawings, buildings and places, the exhibition explores the different ways in which images were used in Bawa’s practice. Over 120 documents from the Bawa archives, most of which have never been shown publicly previously, will be on view, including a section on unbuilt work and Bawa’s own photographs from his travels.

Geoffrey Bawa’s distinct practice as an architect began with the purchase of an abandoned rubber and cinnamon estate, which he would transform into the garden that is now Lunuganga, in 1948 – in the wake of the country’s newly gained independence from the British Empire. From this very first project, Bawa’s oeuvre is marked by architecture that seeks to understand the notion of place. In a practice so attuned to the generative aspects of place, drawings play a complex role. These works show the particularity of each project’s location and the explorations undertaken by the practice to explore site across the many layers of culture, history and environment that characterize a place beyond its position on a map. Although Bawa’s work has been exhibited at multiple venues in the UK, USA, Australia, India, Brazil, Singapore and Germany, ‘It is Essential to be There’ is the first exhibition on Bawa’s work to be shown in Sri Lanka.  The exhibition is curated by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust’s curator Shayari de Silva, and includes new photographs and video works by Sebastian Posingis, Dominic Sansoni and Clara Kraft Isono. 

“‘It is Essential to be There’ is the first major exhibition that draws from the archives of Bawa’s practice. Essentially, when Geoffrey Bawa passed, the Trust inherited about 5000 drawings from Bawa’s fifty-year practice. In many ways the architect’s works somehow managed to survive. And we have this incredible collection of drawings that showcase not only what he worked on but how that whole team worked around him and it’s a reflection of the society that we were as Sri Lankans. ‘It is Essential to be There’ draws from that archive and is organized in four thematic sections. The exhibition also displays beautiful photographs, most of which are Bawa’s own photographs including old negatives. We have an incredible insight into the way the architect not only looked at making buildings but also looking at buildings, and how he looked at it. That’s what you will see in this exhibition,” said Channa Daswatte, renowned architect and programme advisor.

The exhibition, ‘It is Essential to be There’, segmented into four sections, each of which will explore the different subjects of architecture and the architect’s works. Beginning with ‘Situating a Practice’, of which will explore four key projects that illustrate the notion of building for function and form across the varied terrains of the island are presented. From Ena de Silva’s house, the Polontalawa Estate Bungalow, the hilly Hanwella in the wet Southwest to the House on Red Cliffs on the Southern Coast, each site is explored in its approach to its construction of interior and exterior spaces. “In the first section of the exhibition, we explore Geoffrey Bawa’s statement on Sri Lanka. He says that he is not interested in looking at architecture that is Dutch-Colonial or Portuguese, or one narrow definition, which we think is very pertinent to conversations that have been had about what Sri Lanka is today. He saw it as layered, multicultural and nuanced. Architecture’s role in the identity of Sri Lanka is integral. If you think about the built environment, what we see, what we inhabit, what we study in, all of that is architecture that provides a sense of who we are and how we work together,” said exhibition curator Shayari de Silva.

The next section, ‘Searching for a Way of Building’ explores the ways in which buildings were constructed during Sri Lanka’s closed economy as ways of building were explored whilst navigating climate and functionality. The third section, ‘Defining New Directions’ explores the architect’s ideas in Osaka Expo in ’70, the construction of Ruhunu University and the Kandalama Hotel. The last section of the exhibition, ‘Places Unbuilt’ reveal how drawings can serve as vehicles for ideas and tools for thinking. In this gallery, a selection of drawings from the substantial range of projects that were never built, is presented alongside photographs from Bawa’s extensive travels.

‘It Is Essential To Be There’ will showcase the works of Bawa from archives, unveiling work from his travels and creative pursuits. The exhibition will be showcased from the 1st of February, 2022 to the 3rd of April, 2022 at The Stables, Park Street Mews, Colombo. The exhibition in Colombo will be accompanied by a website with previews, additional content and programmes, launching December 15, 2021. 

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5th February, 2022 Applied Art | Architecture