One of the original proponents of the Tropical Modernism movement, despite his late entry into architecture, Sri Lankan-born Geoffrey Bawa’s uniquely recognisable style had a lasting impact on architects around the world. In fact, Bawa’s architecture led to the formation of a new architectural identity and aesthetic for many tropical environments, and won him countless awards and widespread recognition. These included the title of Deshamanya, the second-highest national civil honour of Sri Lanka, which was awarded to Bawa in recognition of his architectural contributions to his country.
In 1948 Bawa purchased the Lunuganga Estate, perched on the edge of Dedduwa Lake close to the villages of Hewagama and Dedduwa in Sri Lanka. Here, over the next forty years, he developed a keen interest in gardening and design. A cinnamon estate during the Dutch era and then a rubber plantation under the British, it was in fact Lunuganga’s gardens which led Bawa (a lawyer) to become an architect. The estate was to become one of his best-known legacies and its influence is palpable in all of his work, which we can thank for the pitched roofs and harmony with nature that are now staples of tropical hospitality design worldwide.
Now one of Sri Lanka’s most popular attractions, a visit to Lunuganga is one of the many excursions offered by Anantara Kalutara Resort, itself a Bawa project commissioned in 1995. In 1998 Bawa was struck down by illness and eventually passed away in 2003, but not before he had drawn detailed plans for the main parts of his Kalutara project.
Uniquely located on a narrow peninsula between a shallow lagoon, the Indian Ocean and Kalu Ganga river near Kalutara, about 40km south of Colombo, with waterfronts on both sides of the property, the project sat idle for 9 years after Bawa’s death, until one of his former students, architect Channa Daswatte, took up the challenge.
Of the original blueprint conceived by the late master architect for a former hotel company back in the 90s, that was partially built but unfortunately abandoned due to the civil war, Anantara Kalutara’s beautiful open-sided main building remains intact, with its quintessentially colonial Dutch gable roof, breezy reception hall, lobby lounge and upstairs bar. Terracotta tiles, pivoting windows, traditional ceiling fans and plantation-style furniture all preserve the tropical feel of the space, all of which were part of Bawa’s original plans, and set the genteel and laidback tone which permeates the resort throughout. In fact, as one moves around the resort, the sensitivity for its local context combined with Bawa’s principles of modernism are truly a delight to behold, and makes the deceivingly large and sprawling resort feel intensely tranquil.
An ingenious Bawa-designed walkway connects the hotel’s lagoon and ocean wings, which together house a total of 141 rooms and suites all furnished in Anantara’s signature first class style. Products reflecting local materials, crafts and heritage are dotted throughout the interiors as Sinhalese accents in contemporary open-plan room layouts, complete with luxurious Lankan-infused custom-made furnishings. Entry-level rooms are virtually the same size as suites in normal hotels, and all boast wine humidors, Nespresso machines, generously furnished balconies or terraces and beautiful bathrooms with monsoon showers.
Three onsite restaurants all serving superb food, coupled with a large deluxe spa and countless leisure activities – not to mention a bespoke range of excursions – make it difficult to leave the resort, although visiting Lunuganga where Bawa lived is obviously a must.
Referencing its surroundings while allowing for a thoroughly modern vacation experience, Anantara Kalutara is a resort truly like no other in Sri Lanka – relaxed and chilled yet international and five-star in every way possible, attentively cosseting and catering to the needs of its guests with the least possible fuss, to ensure that Bawa’s peaceful, tropical modernism aesthetic lives on.