In Conversation with Ronald Lewcock

Ronald Lewcock, husband of Barbara Sansoni is an honorary professor in architecture who met Barbara during his sabbatical from the 1968 to ’69 to explore European Colonial Architecture in Asia. He had also seen Barbara’s drawings in the Architectural Review of February 1966, of which the artist’s multi disciplinary works from traditional buildings to simple yet beautiful homes accompanied the initial article on the joint work of Geoffrey Bawa and Ulrik Plesner. During this visit, Ronald travelled extensively through Sri Lanka covering Galle, Jaffna and Mannar and became enchanted by the island’s much varied architecture. In Sri Lanka, he also found an affinity to the Arab and Colonial architecture of the East African Coast and South Africa. Together, the pair travelled the seas and documented much of the architecture they observed. In our conversation with Ronald, we explored Barbara’s influence upon him, and his practice as a professional and husband.

Q | What do you admire most of Barbara Sansoni, as an artist, visionary and wife? How would you describe her influence upon you, and your undertakings?

A | I first came to Sri Lanka early 1969, in the course of studying early European colonial architecture in Asia. I immediately contacted Barbara - because of some drawings of hers which I had seen published in the Architectural Review - through the museum librarian.  Hildon Sansoni, who saw how well our interests matched, insisted that I stay with them. Thereafter, for the next twenty years, whenever I could get to Sri Lanka Barbara and I travelled together all over the island (and to India several times) studying the architecture together. Geoffrey Bawa and Laki Senanayake came with us when they could, among others.

Meanwhile Barbara's two sons were sent to England in the early seventies, to study. I was a Fellow of a Cambridge college, and upon their uncle dying, I was asked to be their guardian. In 1972, Barbara and I together bought a house for all of us in Cambridge, in which the boys and I lived and Barbara joined us for part of each year. We found that we enjoyed everything about being together. 
Eventually, at the end of 1979, Hildon, Barbara's husband died, and I married her in the following year. Because of needing to be with Barbara so often, my work in Asia continued for the rest of the century.

Q | As an esteemed academic in the field of architecture, what of Barbara Sansoni’s intent upon preserving old architectural buildings through drawings and publications fascinated you most? And in a larger context, how have those contributed to the celebration of Sri Lankan culture and heritage?

A | In the early 70s I decided to assemble all the articles Barbara had written for the newspapers, together with the more recent discoveries we had made in our explorations of the island, and where necessary to revise or write new texts to accompany the illustrations for a new book; ‘Verandas and Viharas’, published with full-page block prints of each of her drawings in, that was then followed, in the following decade, by the preparation and publication of ‘The Architecture of an Island’. In all these endeavours we were constantly helped by the above people and by Anjalendran, All were interested in promoting and preserving Sri Lanka’s heritage and culture.

Architecture drawing Matale residency

Q | In your opinion, what is the significance of Barbara Sansoni’s publication of drawings ‘A passion for faces’?

A | Preparing and publishing ‘A Passion for Faces’ was a way of recording for the world Barbara's skill in drawing and painting.

Q | Can you please share some of your personal favourites of Barbara Sansoni’s works, and reasons you are drawn to them, or personal stories attached to them?

A | My favourites are the two children's books and the paintings she did for them - many of them framed and hung in our houses. They are full of examples of her imagination, artistic skill and humour!

Q | In your opinion, how does art in any form contribute to architectural heritage and evolution?

A | History shows that art has always influenced architecture, and that is especially evident in times of change in social situations and fashions.

Dr. Ronald Lewcock was born in Brisbane, Australia and was designing boats and houseboats by the age of 15. He obtained his architectural degree in 1951 at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and would obtain his Doctorate later for his thesis that was entitled Early 19th Century Architecture in South Africa: The interaction of Two Cultures Dutch & English. In 1963 he obtained a Visiting Fellowship to Columbia University in New York where he would take on the subject of study that was ‘European Colonial Architecture in Africa and Asia’ that would eventually lead to his visit to Sri Lanka where he met Barbara Sansoni. Ronald would return to Sri Lanka for three months of each year during the 1970s and early 80s for his colonial architectural research, broadening it to include the local vernacular. In this he was assisted by Barbara Sansoni and Laki Senenayake, who became his close friends. Together, the group contributed significantly to the field of Sri Lankan architecture through their documentation in ‘Vihares and Verandas’ and ‘The Architecture of an Island’.

Ronald was Aga Khan Professor of Architecture at MIT, 1984-91, and Chairman of the Aga Khan Program at Harvard and MIT 1985-7; in 1991 he moved from MIT to become Professor of the Doctoral Program in Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. In 1999 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Architecture by the University of Natal. In 2007 he was created an Honorary Professor of the University of Queensland and lectured there until 2016. In 2014 he was presented with the Geoffrey Bawa Trust Lifetime Achievement Award in Sri Lanka. Ronald Lewcock is recognized for his empowerment of the younger generation of architects as they comprehend and acknowledge the varying cultural nuances of architecture and art across the globe and those significant to their origins. 

Are you part of an organization looking to include cultural diversity? Do you want to introduce some of Sri Lanka's finest artists and legacies to enlighten your collective?  ARTRA Services will gladly offer counsel and guidance through talks, presentations and guidance on the local art scene and all it entails. For more details, call us on +94772305054/+94114545355.

31st October, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings