Design

In the land of Geoffrey Bawa

The couryard with blue pillars and a sloping roof   | Photo Credit: Rupa Gopal

I arrive in Colombo, expecting, nay hoping, to see traditional slope-tiled rooftops, gardens, and beaming smiles. But time has reached Sri Lanka. Luxury hotels, flats and a few malls show that here too Asia is being invaded by tourists. Will plate glass, concrete and marble send vernacular architecture into a spin? Surely not in the land of Geoffrey Bawa? Then I meet feted architect Anjalendran, who follows his own mind and Sri Lankan traditions, and believes in affordable housing.

This renowned architect’s home is his office, he has no staff but for one Man Friday, and no cell phone. I reach his home about 25 minutes from town, in Batramula through charming, winding lanes overhung with bougainvillea and jasmine, tall trees, and birds calling. Many twists and turns finally lead to Anjalendran’s home, completed in 1993. A striking blue door opens into an entry area where an auto sits regally — Anjalendran’s preferred mode of transport for short trips! Initial surprise over, one steps into an airy and spacious living room — high sloping ceiling and no doors but an unobtrusive grill that can be locked. Blue-pillared verandahs run along an inner courtyard. The entire right side has idols of Shiva, Ganesha, and other bronzes. A long table to the left has a computer, Anjalendran’s work station. “From here I keep an eye on the kitchen and the opposite wing. Bawa used to sit here, next to me, while working,” he says.

On the other side is a small, almost monastic bedroom, from where Carnatic music has been streaming through the house. The rock walls burst with colour, paintings sourced by the architect. The bed is covered with a lovely cotton bedspread, a Barbara Sansoni product. Anjalendran shows me his textile collection — colourful kerchiefs, veshtis from India, batik sarongs from Sri Lanka. “This is an Anjalendran special,” he says proudly, made for him by Sansoni to cheer him up after an accident. We come to impossibly bright sheets, trademark Sansoni. Now in her 80s, she used to supply Bawa with textiles for his projects.

We then go up, for more colour, more fresh air, open terraces, and bathrooms that bring the outdoors in. Everywhere there’s art and antiques. Original sketches and paintings of traditional Lankan buildings hang proudly. Blue is favoured highly, all over the house. The floors are simple, lovely, and so cool to the feet — basic polished cement floors, set with a few tiny blue-tile highlights. Unpolished granite adds a slightly rustic charm.

Opulence is in the air, not in polished granite and marble, but in the simple aesthetics. It is a marvellous synthesis of wood, cement, rock, cane and nature. A strong memory of Tamil inner courtyard homes is created, along with Lankan influences of pillars and Buddhist serene gardens.

A student of nature, Anjalendran absorbed all that Bawa believed in. He spent ten years with Bawa, for no pay, running errands and learning by observing, becoming his trusted friend and assistant. Both felt that buildings had to promote pleasure and peaceful happiness. Spaces were created by buildings, rather than by building buildings. Anjalendran says he believes in “a global contribution to architecture, and not global architecture, for which I’ve a slight aversion”.

Sipping cinnamon tea, one wonders about the problem of getting basic finishes in India. “Cement floors cannot be done by your engineer and his workers,” he asks wonderstruck, amazed at this death of a time-honoured technique. That possibly sums up Anjalendran — mastering old techniques that have stood the test of time and incorporating them into the aesthetics of the land.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 6:31:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/design/in-the-land-of-geoffrey-bawa/article5585908.ece

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