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When we launched our debut collection of Smith boutique hotels in Sri Lanka recently, one name kept coming up. That of the country’s most famous architect, Geoffrey Bawa (1919-2003). We’ve rounded up some of the world’s best boutique hotel designers before, but in no other place that Smith has delved for hotel gold, has one man been so omnipresent and influential in terms of style and sensibility. So who was Bawa and why is he still turning heads?

Buildings Bawa was the original architect behind elegant Smith shoreside stays Paradise Road The Villa Bentota (above and left) in Bentota and The Last House in Tangalle (his last project), both graceful, airy crash pads that embrace the outdoors. His dreamy Bawa House 87 hotel in Bentota joins Smith next month.

Famous for designing Sri Lanka’s striking parliament building at Kotte, outside the capital Colombo, Bawa also worked on the University of Ruhunu campus near Matara, and the  minimal vegetation-wrapped Kandalama Hotel near Dambulla, which boasts a bold roof garden. But it’s his two homes that best represent his ambitions; both labours of love where he experimented for years with his ideas.

Lunuganga boutique hotel in Bentota, Sri LankaHis former country home, Lunuganga (right), is on our wish-list. Visitors to Bentota flock to check out this serene escape, once a wilderness-claimed rubber estate which Bawa transformed into a gorgeous getaway (with an Italianate garden created with his brother Bevis). After Bawa’s death, the gardens were opened to the public and the estate is run as a rural hotel.

Number 11, Geoffrey Bawa's Colombo houseYou can also call in to see his town house Number 11 (left), a sanctuary in Colombo. Even Smith hotels Casa Colombo and The Kandy House were designed by Bawa protégés (Lalin Jinasena and Channa Daswatte respectively). There’s just no escaping this legendary talent.

Biog But let’s rewind for a minute… Born in 1919 in what was then the British colony of Ceylon, Geoffrey originally pursued a career in law, and travelled, before settling back in his home country post-independence in 1948 (Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka in 1972). After discovering a passion for design and studying at London’s Architectural Association, he became part of an inspired group of young Colombo-based architects and artists aiming to create a new, uniquely Sri Lankan identity for their work, teaming traditional, local building materials and forms with tropical modernism.

The Last House hotel by Geoffrey Bawa in Sri LankaBawa style You can see the result in Smith’s Bawa-influenced hotels: relaxing retreats that are open to the environment, blurring the boundaries between inside and out, east and west, old and new. Their airy, interconnecting courtyards, pavilions, terraces and outdoor rooms work well in the warm, humid climate, taking inspiration from everything from monasteries to Kandy’s temples and palaces. When journo Harriet Whiting took her architect partner to review The Last House (above) for us recently, he was in Bawa heaven, wowed by the simple but smart use of space.

To find out more about Sri Lanka’s favourite son, and one of Asia’s most respected architects, check out the Geoffrey Bawa Trust’s handy website, dedicated to keeping Bawa’s memory alive.

Pictures of Lunuganga and Number 11 care of Geoffrey Bawa Trust.

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