Geoffrey Bawa is Sri Lanka’s most renowned architect, the creative force behind what’s known as “tropical modernism” and among the most influential Asian architects of his generation. But while his works include such notable sites as the Sri Lankan Parliament Building, his style is best appreciated in the subtle details of his smaller, more rural projects.
Bawa worked using indigenous materials, and sought to design contemporary buildings that were in tune with their lush and heavily-jungled surroundings.
He resisted ideas of regionalism in architecture, drawing on inspiration from as far afield as America’s Frank Lloyd Wright to create buildings that were unmistakably distinct from traditional Sri Lankan designs, but still complementary to their environment.
His last private commission was The Last House, now a boutique hotel overlooking Mawella Beach, a few miles west of the tiny fishing village of Tangalle. Though he died before its construction, Bawa’s trademarks can still be seen and felt throughout the place. There’s a dissolution of interior and exterior spaces; the bedrooms, each invisible to the other, lead outside to open-air living rooms where doorless archways deliberately frame the spaces beyond. Every portal in The Last House is in effect a three-dimensional painting by the architect, the walkways, concrete pillars and hidden gardens all carefully positioned and part of his curated composition.
With few visitors staying at any given time, the atmosphere is relaxed and secluded. A small and inviting arch at the far end of the palm-fringed lawn draws guests towards the pristine beach, where staff are always ready to host seafood barbecues, while a long and sheltered veranda accommodates private dinners.
A few hours away along the coastline is Udawalawe National Park, where elephant-spying safaris can be taken, while several ancient Buddhist temples dot the surrounding countryside. As larger and larger hotels begin to sprout along the coastline of this rapidly re-emerging destination, The Last House is a unique proposition that’s aligned with the country’s spirit.