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Volume I South Asia Journal for Culture 2

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2)".$-3 4#$ 5"-6"78 !#09$:"*
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1hls paper ls abouL bulldlngs and people, specl!cally a par!cular Lype of bullL space ln Srl
Lanka known as Lroplcal modernlsL, or [usL Lroplcal archlLecLure. 1he archlLecL perhaps mosL
assoclaLed wlLh Lhls sLyle ls Lhe laLe Ceo"rey 8awa, who ls one of Srl Lanka's besL known
archlLecLs lnLerna!onally, modern or oLherwlse. Pls work wlll be famlllar Lo many readers,
buL ln order Lo seL Lhe scene for whaL follows l sLarL Lhls paper wlLh a passage publlshed Lwo
years ago ln Lhe Lngllsh broad-sheeL newspaper !"# %&'#()#(* ln whlch 8awa's kandalama
hoLel [llgure 1] feaLured ln Lhelr 'Magnl!cenL seven' of modern hoLel deslgn lcons around Lhe
world. 1he passage noL only o"ers a sense of Lhe sorLs of archlLecLural sLyle and aesLhe!cs
LhaL l engage wlLh, buL wrl#en by an obvlously enLhused, (probably) Lngllsh Lravel [ournallsL,
lL also polnLs Lo an onlooker's perspec!ve on some of Lhe characLerls!cs LhaL are pecullar Lo,
and are common across, Lhls unlquely Srl Lankan archlLecLural genre:
lrom Lhe momenL you arrlve aL Lhe kandalama hoLel a$er a lurchlng drlve
Lhrough Lhe [ungle of cenLral Srl Lanka, you know you are ln an exLraordlnary
place. 1he enLrance ls Lhe mouLh Lo a huge cavern seL lnLo Lhe mounLalnslde.
1he huge bulldlng ls spread along Lhe slde of Lhe rockface and covered by
rlch vegeLa!on LhaL con!nues Lo serve as Lhe home for an asLonlshlng varleLy
of wlldllfe. 1he hoLel was bullL ln Lhe early 1990s by Lhe laLe Ceo"rey 8awa,
one of Asla's foremosL archlLecLs. Pls e"orL Lo blend Lhe masslve hoLel lnLo lLs
envlronmenL, Lo use Lhe conLours, maLerlals and vegeLa!on of Lhe sLunnlng
surroundlngs, succeeds LrlumphanLly.
1he passages llnklng Lhe 160 plus rooms Lo Lhe cavernous communal areas
are open Lo Lhe [ungle, and aL nlghL guesLs share Lhe space wlLh baLs, llzards,
mongooses, huge moLhs, and !re"les.
3 South Asia Journal for Culture Volume I
1he cool slmple bedrooms feel as lf Lhey are parL of Lhe foresL and Lroops
of monkeys shrlek and chaLLer ln Lhe Lrees LhaL brush up agalnsL Lhe
wlndows.
Cne of Lhe hoLel's pools ls cuL lnLo Lhe pollshed rock of Lhe mounLalnslde,
anoLher ln!nlLy pool creaLes Lhe llluslon LhaL lL merges wlLh a huge man-
made lake below, where elephanLs are led Lo baLhe and !sh eagles dlve for
Lhelr food.
lrom Lhe surroundlng area lL ls unobLruslve, from Lhe lnslde lL feels alry and
capaclous, wlLh glorlous vlews across some of Lhe mosL sLunnlng scenery on
Lhe lsland. lL ls a masLerplece bullL by one of Lhe greaL archlLecLs of hls era.
(!"# %&'#()#(, Aprll 9 2006).

llgure 1. 1he kandalama PoLel
(Source: 8awa 1rusL WebslLe, h#p://www.geo"reybawa.com/sw.php)
AlLhough 8awa was noL Lhe !rsL ln Srl Lanka Lo deslgn and bulld such spaces, he ls
regarded as a ploneer and cenLral !gure wlLhln Lhls slgnl!canL archlLecLural movemenL. 1oday,
archlLecLs ln"uenced by 8awa's sLyle and phllosophy bulld noL only hoLels, buL also soclal and
publlc spaces, governmenL bulldlngs and a hosL of commlssloned houses for Lhe counLry's
sLyle consclous mlddle and upper-mlddle class. Cf course, each of Lhese archlLecLs has Lhelr
own deslgn slgnaLure, buL Lhere are cerLaln senslblll!es and aesLhe!cs LhaL characLerlze
Lhe movemenL, all of whlch one can recognlze from Lhe descrlp!on of Lhe kandalama PoLel
quoLed above. 1hese are noLably, Lhe a#en!on Lo worklng wlLh slLe and conLexL such LhaL
bulldlngs become less lmporLanL Lhan Lhe spa!al experlence Lhe archlLecL can creaLe, Lhe
Volume I South Asia Journal for Culture 4
necesslLy Lo work wlLh and Lhrough a 'Lroplcal', super-abundanL naLure LhaL ls always on Lhe
move, and perhaps mosL slgnl!canLly Lhe concre!za!on of spaces LhaL con"aLe lnslde wlLh
ouLslde, 'naLure' wlLh 'culLure'. 1he oLher lmporLanL facLor LhaL draws LogeLher Lhe breadLh
and dlverslLy of Srl Lanka's Lroplcal modernlsL archlLecLural praxls ls LhaL Lhelr sLrucLures seem
Lo have become emblema!c of a cerLaln, and powerful, Lype of Srl Lankan-ness. CuesLs aL
Srl Lanka's prollfera!on of Lroplcal modern hoLels, for example, are encouraged Lo conslder
Lhe spa!al experlences LhaL Lhelr hoLels a"ord Lhem as an lnLegral, lndeed 'auLhen!c', parL
of Lhelr Srl Lankan experlence.
ln Lhls paper l pose some ques!ons of Srl Lanka's Lroplcal modern archlLecLural form
and sLyle by o"erlng a readlng of Lhese o$en breaLhLaklng and cap!va!ng spaces and spa!al
experlences. ar!cularly, l speculaLe on Lhe connec!ons and rela!onshlps beLween Lhese
bullL spaces and socleLy, sugges!ng whaL Lhey do ln and Lhrough socleLy ls more Lhan [usL
provlde shells LhaL people llve ln, buL func!on as places LhaL also produce par!cular Lypes of
SouLh Aslan naLures, and perhaps even par!cular Lypes of Srl Lankan people. osl!oned aL
Lhe lnLersec!on of culLural sLudles and human geography, Lhe analysls !rsLly ouLllnes a few
LhoughLs on Lhe posLcolonlal and culLural geographles of archlLecLure, and on Lhe geographles
of naLure. 1he maln body of Lhe paper Lhen proceeds Lo speak Lo four overlapplng Lhemes
LhaL Lease ouL some common characLerls!cs runnlng Lhrough Lhls archlLecLural genre, whllsL
specula!ng on Lhelr soclal and poll!cal e"ecLs ln a cenLral and souLhern Srl Lankan socleLy
where 'naLure' ls llved, experlenced and produced ln par!cular Lypes of ways. 1hose Lhemes
are: +,#-.-/ +01 1"# 2+3+-.43 "+0'#5 &0.36.-/ 7.1" 81(+,.2439 -410(#5 ,(+602.-/ :;(. <4-=4->
-410(#5 4-6 (#,(#'#-14!+-* &0.31 ',42# 4-6 1"# #)+30!+- +? 4 /#-(#. MosL of Lhe work ln
Lhls paper ls based on secondary and archlval maLerlal, lnLervlew maLerlal wlLh slx prac!clng
Srl Lankan archlLecLs who remaln anonymous LhroughouL, and a week long perlod spenL
shadowlng Lwo archlLecLural lnLerns.
A?*>?#"* 3)03#"9=$)8 0B "#:=$>):>?#) "-. C-">?#)7
8ecenL geographlcal engagemenLs wlLh archlLecLure have Lended Lo focus on Lhe semlo!cs
of bulldlngs, par!cularly modernlsL, ra!onal archlLecLural forms llke Lhe skyscraper and Lhe
hlgh-rlse, and Lhelr Lransla!on as Lhey re-maLerlallze ln dl"use global conLexLs (see !acobs
2006, Lees 2001, Mcnelll 2003). 1hls paper shares such scholarshlp's posLcolonlally ln"ecLed
concern Lo decenLer Lurope and norLh Amerlca ln Lhe hlsLory of modernlLy, ln Lhe sLory of Lhe
skyscraper and Lhe hlgh-rlse, Lo sLress, as AnLhony klng argues ln hls book ;,42#' +? @3+&43
A0310(#, how each repe!!on of Lhe archlLecLural slgn of modernlLy, how each skyscraper, hlgh-
rlse or modernlsL house ls dl"erenL, how each ls specl!c Lo lLs culLural and hlsLorlcal condl!ons
of enuncla!on (2004, also, see klng 1984). Powever, also followlng klng, Lhls paper moves
beyond a concern wlLh Lhe merely symbollc Lo Lhlnk abouL Lhe connec!ons beLween a bullL
envlronmenL and Lhe muLual consLruc!on of sub[ecL and socleLy. lurLher ln Lhe conLexL of my
own ongolng lnLeresL ln spa!allzlng Srl Lanka's culLural poll!cs (for example, see !azeel 2003a,
2003b), l begln Lo pose ques!ons around how Lhe spa!al dlscourses and prac!ces embedded
noL [usL ln Lhls archlLecLural praxls buL also ln Lhe subsequenL llfe of Lhese bulldlngs, help Lo
shape par!cular forms of SouLh Aslan - LhaL ls Srl Lankan - sub[ec!vlLy, and Lhus socleLy.
ln oLher words, Lhe paper explores how Lhe concre!za!on of Lhese spaces and movemenL
Lhrough Lhem acLually produces people ln cerLaln ways LhaL, l Lhlnk, are pecullar Lo cenLral
5 South Asia Journal for Culture Volume I
and souLhern Srl Lanka, and Lhus how aL some level Lhe rela!onshlps beLween bullL space
and people are lrreduclbly poll!cal.
CenLral Lo Lhls Lask ls an engagemenL wlLh Lhe concepL 'naLure', moreover wlLh Lhe
ways Srl Lanka's Lroplcal modern archlLecLs work wlLh or Lhrough 'naLure'. 8ecenL culLural
geographlcal scholarshlp has soughL Lo Lhlnk crl!cally abouL Lhe concepL, specl!cally Lhe
separa!ons LhaL we humans o$en arblLrarlly make beLween 'naLure' and lLs apparenL opposlLe,
super-organlc no!ons of 'culLure' (for examples, see 8raun and CasLree 1998, CasLree and
8raun 2001, WhaLmore 2002). ln par!cular, posLsLrucLurally ln"ecLed human geographlcal
work (8raun 2002), envlronmenLal hlsLory (Cronon 1993), and lndlan envlronmenLal hlsLory
(Cuha and Arnold 1997) have faclllLaLed an undersLandlng of how Lhe meanlngs we ascrlbe
Lo naLure, Lo a 'real world ouL Lhere', have been par!ally cons!LuLed by LexL, represenLa!on,
dlscourse and Lhelr assoclaLed prac!ces. 1hus, for example, ln a clLy llke new ?ork, CenLral
ark's almosL Laken-for-granLed meanlng as a space of urban naLure ln whlch new ?orkers
mlghL escape Lhe spolls of urbanlLy or Lhlngs slmllarly super-organlcally culLural mlghL be read
Lhrough par!cular dlscourses of 'naLure' whose represenLa!onal hlsLory can be Lraced Lhrough
Lhe wllderness wrl!ngs of Lhe llkes of !ohn Mulr and Wllllam 1horeau, wllderness wrl!ngs
and phllosophles LhaL Lhe park's archlLecL - lrederlck Law ClmsLead - hlmself was lnevlLably
heavlly ln"uenced by (see Candy 2002). ln facL, posLsLrucLurallsL LheorlsLs of 'naLure' polnL
Lo Lhe very exlsLence of Lhe word as a llnguls!c demarca!on of a Laken-for-granLed world
LhaL-ls-noL-culLural, because eplsLemologlcally norLh Amerlcan and Luropean 'naLures' can
only be rendered ln rela!on Lo Lhelr opposlLe, 'culLure'. 1herefore my lnLeresL here ln 'naLure'
as a concepL ln and Lhrough Srl Lankan socleLy emerges parLly from approaches across Lhe
soclal sclences and humanl!es LhaL have varlously a#empLed Lo undo Lhe seams of se#led
undersLandlngs and worklngs of Lhe concepL lLself, buL parLly also from belng lnLrlgued by Lhe
way LhaL Srl Lanka's naLures cannoL so easlly be undersLood dualls!cally, LhaL ls as merely Lhe
opposlLe of culLure. More of Lhls below.
1hese are noL [usL absLracL phllosophlcal concerns abouL Lhe soclal consLruc!on of
'naLure', because much of Lhe work LhaL seeks Lo undersLand Lhe dl"erences beLween 'naLure'
and 'culLure', or Lhe human and non-human ln everyday llfe, acLually poses lmporLanL ques!ons
around "+7 Lhe human ls de!ned, how Lhe human ls composed and whaL musL be #B2306#6 Lo
make Lhe human properly (8raun 2004: 269). Pere, !acques uerrlda's deconsLruc!vlsL wrl!ngs
on Lhe !gure of Lhe anlmal have been par!cularly useful. uerrlda glves us Lhe word 4-.C+1 as
a characLerls!cally clever plece of wordplay LhaL phone!cally slngularlzes Lhe lrench plural
for anlmal (4-.C40B) and comblnes lL wlLh Lhe lrench word for 'word' (C+1), Lhereby drawlng
our a#en!on Lo Lhe hablL of rolllng all anlmal specles lnLo one and uslng Lhls undl"eren!aLed
class of non-human belng Lo de!ne Lhe human (uerrlda 2002, 2003, 8raun 2004: 270). ln
oLher words, uerrlda's 4-.C+1 remlnds us LhaL Lhe very use of Lhe word 'anlmal' does more
Lhan lnnocenLly slgnlfy, specl!cally, lL demarcaLes boundarles beLween us and a whole array
of non-human llfe ln ways LhaL acLually serve Lo de!ne Lhe human. 1hls Lype of scholarshlp
has enabled us Lo scraLch Lhe surface of whaL lL means Lo be human, Lo place under scru!ny
Lhe eLhlcal lmpllca!ons of all Lhose unseen Laken-for-granLeds LhaL e"ec!vely draw Lhe llnes
beLween humans and non-humans, 'naLure' and 'culLure'. arL of Lhe Lheore!cal purchase of
Volume I South Asia Journal for Culture 6
Lhls work ls LhaL lL has also allowed explora!ons of how Lhe human and socleLy are composed
1"(+0/" everyday prac!ces: lL has allowed us Lo suppose a world as we know lL LhaL ls always
.- 1"# C4=.-/, a world ln whlch bodles and en!!es are con!nually composed, dlssolved and
recomposed Lhrough Lhe prac!ces of everyday llfe.
lor example, leL us reLurn brle"y Lo new ?ork. lor Lhose walks ln CenLral ark, Lhose
lelsurely excurslons ln Lhls small plece of maLerlal and dlscurslve 'wllderness-ln-Lhe-clLy' do noL
[usL perform Lhe func!on of lelsure. 8oLh archlLecLurally and ln Lhe way Lhe space ls used and
lmaglned, CenLral ark also serves Lo demarcaLe and relnforce qulLe se#led undersLandlngs
abouL Lhe dualls!c rela!onshlps beLween a 'naLure' LhaL lnheres .- Lhe park and everyLhlng
LhaL Lhe 'culLure' of Lhe clLy ouLslde ls noL. 1hlnk also, for example, of Lhe ways LhaL domes!c
space ls used ln a counLry llke Lngland. MosL of Lhe year, mosL people ln Lngland do all Lhey
can Lo keep Lhe ouLslde world ouL, double glazlng, draughL excluders, cenLral hea!ng, lnsecL
repellenL and alr fresheners, all Lo keep Lhe non-human world from pervadlng Lhe home. As
well as proLec!ng from Lhe cold (and Lhose who have Lrled Lo llve ln Lngland for any longer
Lhan a shorL, halcyon summer wlll undersLand why Lhls ls so necessary!) Lhese Lechnlques
of hablLa!on also serve Lo demarcaLe and relfy qulLe Laken-for-granLed dls!nc!ons LhaL we
hold ln much of wesLern Lurope LhaL Lhere ls a naLural world 'ouL Lhere' whereas 'ln-here'
Lhere ls a culLural world over whlch we have more conLrol.
8uL Lhls paper ls abouL nelLher new ?ork nor Lngland alLhough Lhe examples are
useful, because much as l !nd uerrlda's formula!ons exLremely useful and provoca!ve,
belng a SouLh-AslanlsL l worry LhaL Lhe Lypes of Luro-Amerlcan humans aL Lhe cenLre of
Lhese enqulrles acLually resLrlcL Lhe poLen!al of Lhe analysls. 1he ma[orlLy of posLsLrucLurallsL
scholarshlp on 'naLure' works Lhe concepLs 'naLure' and 'culLure', Lhe non-human and Lhe
human, Lhrough predomlnanLly Luropean and norLh Amerlcan reglsLers LhaL seek, for Lhe mosL
parL, Lo grapple wlLh a human body LhaL s!ll cenLers on a CarLeslan sub[ecL ln whlch Lhere ls
a qulLe LurocenLrlc mlnd/body duallsm. AL Lhe hearL of uerrlda eL al's analyses ls uescarLes'
mlnd/body duallsm LhaL we musL un-Lhlnk: Lhe ra!onal human sub[ecL LhaL Lhlnks, observes,
measures and experlences a naLural world 'ouL Lhere' somewhere ls Lhe (mosLly wesLern)
humanlLy LhaL Lhls scholarshlp grapples wlLh. 8uL whaL lf Lhe humans aL Lhe cenLre of Lhese
enqulrles belleve dl"erenLly abouL naLure and human rela!onshlps Lo Lhe naLural world?
WhaL lf we place a dl"erenL Lype of humanlLy under such scru!ny? L"ec!vely, Lhese are Lhe
ques!ons LhaL Lhls paper plcks up on as lL explores Lhe geographles of archlLecLure and naLure
Lhrough a cenLral and souLhern Srl Lankan socleLy pervaded noL only by Lhe sorLs of secular
dlscourses of 'naLure' and 'culLure' famlllar Lo Luropean and norLh Amerlcan scholars, buL
also by non-wesLern, o$en sacred phllosophles. ln cenLral and souLhern Srl Lanka Lhese are
mosLly 8uddhlsL phllosophles LhaL poslL naLuralls!c no!ons of Lhe lnseparablllLy of Lhe human
sub[ecL from a sacred and unlversal reallLy. 8y Leaslng ouL concep!ons and experlences of
a par!cular Lype of SouLh Aslan naLure Lhrough Srl Lankan Lroplcal modernlsL archlLecLure,
Lhls work beglns Lo ask ques!ons of a non-secular Srl Lankan world .- 1"# C4=.-/, of how
par!cular Lypes of non-wesLern, SouLh Aslan - LhaL ls (a par!cular Lype of) Srl Lankan - bodles
and en!!es are composed, dlssolved and recomposed Lhrough Lhe prac!ce and experlence
of bullL space.
lollowlng some of Lhe rlch manoeuvres made by Lhe SubalLern SLudles movemenL
7 South Asia Journal for Culture Volume I
and ulpesh ChakrabarLy ln par!cular (2000), Lhls work noL only a#empLs Lo geL under Lhe
skln of par!cular SouLh Aslan reall!es where gods, splrlLs and Lhe supernaLural have real
agency ln Lhe world, lL also 'speaks Lo' (see Splvak 1988) Lhose reall!es by poslng lmporLanL
poll!cally ln"ecLed ques!ons ln Lhe Srl Lankan conLexL abouL whaL Lype of (sacred) bodles
and (raclallzed) en!!es are composed Lhrough experlences of Lhls bullL space, abouL how
Lhe approprla!on, lf noL deslgn (and LhaL dls!nc!on ls lmporLanL) of Lhls bullL space mlghL aL
some level be lrreduclbly poll!cal. AlLhough Lhls paper sLops shorL of engaglng such ques!ons
head-on, lL does evoke Lhe prospecLs of Lhe poll!cs of bullL Lroplcal modernlsL space.
2)".$-3 4#$ 5"-6"78 >#09$:"* D0.)#- "#:=$>):>?#)
%,#-.-/ 0, 1"# 2+3+-.43 "+0'#

Ceo"rey 8awa quall!ed as an archlLecL from London's D(2".1#210(43 D''+2.4!+- (AA) ln 1937,
and reLurned Lo Srl Lanka soon a$er Lo begln hls professlonal prac!ce. Among hls professlonal
ln"uences was Mlnne#e de Sllva who also quall!ed from Lhe AA some years earller. ln Srl
Lanka boLh began Lo produce bulldlngs LhaL drew on Lhelr 8rl!sh professlonal Lralnlng and Lhe
ln"uences of lnLerna!onal Modernlsm and 8ruLallsm LhaL Lhey had been exposed Lo ln Lurope,
buL slmulLaneously boLh were comml#ed Lo bulldlng ln ways LhaL provlded approprlaLe culLural
responses ln a formerly colonlal socleLy. 1hls meanL engaglng wlLh Lhe colonlal archlLecLures
and bulldlng prac!ces LhaL had domlnaLed meLropollLan Ceylon and lLs planLa!on hlnLerlands
for a good few cenLurles. 8uL unllke much of Lhe cruder overLly na!onallsL, posL-lndependenL
archlLecLure LhaL employed Slnhala and kandyan symbollsm Lo slmply re[ecL colonlallsm, llke
for example Wynne-!ones' monumenL ln Colombo's lndependence Square bullL ln 1931, 8awa
and ue Sllva were much more a#uned Lo an adap!ve approach born from Lhe complexl!es of
llvlng Lhrough Lhe Lransl!on Lo lndependence, and seelng Lhe Lemporal movemenL as one of
con!nulLy and adapLa!on raLher Lhan rupLure. 1he soclal and poll!cal freedom Lo lmaglne,
bulld and play wlLh space was channeled Lhrough a deslre Lo deslgn approprlaLe raLher Lhan
alLerna!ve bulldlngs, bulldlngs LhaL began Lo open ouL Lhe colonlal house by drawlng upon a
pas!che of elemenLs of 'good', lndlgenous deslgn and maLerlals LhaL ar!culaLed whaL archlLecLs
llke ue Sllva and 8awa percelved as a unlquely Srl Lankan response Lo Lhe lnapproprlaLe
elemenLs of colonlal and modernlsL deslgn. lmporLanLly, approprlaLe deslgn dld noL have Lo
come from Ceylon's domlnanL Slnhala hlsLorlcal Lradl!on, on paper aL leasL good deslgn was
lnherenLly plural. lL was abouL Lhe opporLunl!es LhaL bulldlngs a"orded for approprlaLe llvlng.
As 8awa hlmself would clalm:
l prefer Lo conslder all pasL good archlLecLure ln Ceylon as [usL LhaL - as
good Ceylon archlLecLure, for LhaL ls whaL lL ls, noL uuLch or orLuguese or
lndlan, or early Slnhalese or kandyan or 8rl!sh colonlal, for all examples of
Lhese perlods have Laken Ceylon lnLo !rsL accounL (8awa quoLed ln 8obson
2002: 41).
1he adapLa!on of Lhe colonlal house lnvolved a number of qulLe slmple manoeuvres
Lo make Lhe bulldlngs more cllma!cally and culLurally sulLable, llke clearlng away asbesLos
roo!ng and bare bulb llgh!ng, reLhlnklng "aL roo!ng and paylng a#en!on Lo Lhe sllmy black
Volume I South Asia Journal for Culture 8
mould LhaL grew on walls wlLhouL drlp ledges. 1hls was all accompanled by a reallza!on LhaL
Lhe colonlal sLyle bungalow, Lradl!onally seL aparL ln generous grounds wlLh clear dls!nc!ons
beLween Lhe ln!maLe and prlvaLe recesses of lnslde space and publlc gardens and recep!on
areas on dlsplay ouLslde, was no longer sulLable for a dl"erenL sLyle of meLropollLan llvlng
ln fasL-growlng Colombo where space and prlvacy were aL a premlum. 8awa and ue Sllva
Lherefore relnLroduced 'Lradl!onal' Ceylonese deslgn elemenLs borrowed varlously from
Lradl!onal Slnhala medleval archlLecLure, uuLch courLyard houslng and Musllm row houslng,
Lhlngs llke generously sloped roo!ng, overhanglng eaves, Lhe lncorpora!on of verandas and
lnLernal courLyards, all ln order Lo open Lhe colonlal and modernlsL house, Lo Lurn lL lnslde
ouL ln order Lo achleve new sLyles of urban llvlng wlLh hlgh levels of openness, ven!la!on
and Lransparency, yeL also Lo preserve prlvacy.

1he house 8awa deslgned for Csmund and Lna ue Sllva ln 1962 ln Lhe hearL of
Colombo ls for many a Lurnlng polnL ln hls career, Lhe polnL aL whlch 8awa's work began Lo
exhlblL a sensl!vlLy Lo many of Lhese lssues, and accordlngly, lL o"ers a good example of some
of Lhese feaLures aL work [llgure 2]. 1he house was deslgned around an lnLernal courLyard
- lLself a relnLerpreLa!on of vernacular Slnhalese domes!c space - LhaL a"orded a greaL deal
of openness and Lransparency Lhrough Lhe maln llvlng areas. 1he plLched roofs were deslgned
wlLh large overhanglng eaves LhaL exLend way beyond Lhe sLrucLure's walls crea!ng a veranda
space LhaL leads one lnLo Lhe lnLernal courLyard, anoLher e"ecL of whlch ls LhaL space "ows
seamlessly from lnslde Lo ouL. 1hls llluslon of ln!nlLe spa!allLy and connec!on Lo Lhe ouLslde
ls accenLuaLed by Lhe allgnmenL of doors and wlndows such LhaL long Lhrough-vlsLas are
creaLed LhroughouL Lhe properLy.
lmporLanLly however, Lhls was noL [usL sLylls!c lnnova!on. 1hls new approprlaLe
mode of archlLecLural praxls was also born from Lhe proLo-na!onal soclal and economlc
conLexL. Srl Lanka's par!clpa!on ln Lhe non-allgned movemenL Lhrough Lhe 1960s had a las!ng
lmpacL on Lhe developmenL of Lhls archlLecLural genre, as Lhe llkes of 8awa and Mlnne#e
ue Sllva bullL Lhrough !mes of severe shorLage and lmporL resLrlc!on. Class and sLeel were
expenslve and almosL lmposslble Lo geL hold of, Lhus for Lhe Lna ue Sllva house Ceo"rey
llgure 2. Pouse deslgned for Csmund
and Lna ue Sllva, Colombo
(Source: 8awa 1rusL WebslLe, h#p://
www.geoffreybawa.com/prevlew.
php?Lemp_ld=33)
9 South Asia Journal for Culture Volume I
8awa had Lo lmprovlse, and he relled heavlly on locally produced maLerlals and locally Lralned
cra$speople, someLhlng LhaL remalns lnLegral Lo Lhe sense of vernacularlsm LhaL one reads
ln Lhe modernlsL movemenL Loday. 1he ue Sllva house assumed a vernacular pale#e Lhrough
Lhe use of feaLures llke Lhe omnlpresenL roof Lrlple clad wlLh local !les, Lhe rough sLone "oor,
and Lhe presence of local mlll sLones and waLer urns used for ornamenLa!on. lL was Lhls Lype
of consldered lmprovlsa!on and adapLa!on wlLhln a par!cular SouLh Aslan poll!cal and
economlc conLexL LhaL became lnLegral Lo Lhe developmenL and evolu!on of a sLyle. As one
archlLecL sLressed:
.lL became Srl Lankan because of Lhe maLerlals used, because back Lhen ln
Lhe 1960s of course we couldn'L lmporL maLerlals. We had Lo be self-rellanL
and LhaL poll!cal conLexL LhaL we had Lo go Lhrough made sure we had Lo deal
wlLh Lhlngs our own way (lnLervlew wlLh Anonymous ArchlLecL 16.02.03).

Also lmporLanLly Lhough, Lhls conLexL dld noL [usL lnfluence maLerlals and
ornamenLa!on. 1he ue Sllvas were adamanL LhaL Lhey could noL a"ord lmporLed and
unrellable alr condl!onlng sysLems, as a resulL Lhe archlLecL had Lo deslgn a sLrucLure LhaL
was well-ven!laLed and cool due Lo economlc necesslLy. Pence Lhere was also an economlc
func!onallLy Lo openlng Lhe colonlal house ouL, of brlnglng Lhe ouLslde ln and keeplng llvlng
spaces as ven!laLed as posslble.
E0.36.-/ 7.1" 81(+,.2439 -410(#F 34-6'24,#* #-)#3+,#* '.1#
lf, ln Lurope, modernlsL houses had Lo nego!aLe Lhe rela!vely sLable characLerls!cs of
LemperaLe naLure, anyLhlng LhaL Ceo"rey 8awa and Mlnne#e ue Sllva deslgned ln Srl Lanka
had Lo cope wlLh Lhe llvely, super-fer!le maLerlallLy of a Lroplcal naLure LhaL posl!vely crashes
lnLo and engulfs bulldlngs. 8awa's !rsL archlLecLural parLner, ulrlk lesner, had grown up
wlLh Scandlnavlan modernlsm ln Lhe early 1930s, whlch valued Lhe clean llnes of absLracL
func!onallsm. Powever, a$er a few early experlmenLs (for example, 8lshop's College, Colombo
1960), 8awa and lesner soon became aware LhaL Lhe sharp-edged prlsma!c forms of absLracL
modernlsm were noL aL all sulLed Lo Srl Lanka's envlronmenLal exLremes of humldlLy, monsoons
and arldlLy. ConsequenLly, Lroplcal modernlsm was drlven by a process of adapLa!on and
Lransla!on. 8awa reallzed LhaL, lnsLead of Lrylng Lo achleve crlsp whlLeness, Lhe archlLecL
worklng ln a hoL and humld cllmaLe should accepL Lhe lnevlLablllLy of decay and explolL Lhe
pa!nas LhaL were unavoldable resulLs when bulldlng wlLh Lroplcal naLure.
lor example, when he was commlssloned Lo bulld Lhe lns!LuLe for lnLegral Lduca!on
aL lllyandala near Colombo, he Lackled Lhe lnevlLable problem of keeplng Lhe large lecLure
LheaLre cool all year by slmply openlng lL on Lhree sldes, se% ng Lhe rows of seaLs back from Lhe
walls and uslng deLachable woven LaLs Lo provlde barrlers agalnsL Lhe souLh-wesL monsoons
[llgure 3]. Some years prevlously aL Lhe olonLalawa LsLaLe bungalow, he wenL even furLher
by reduclng Lhe sLrucLure Lo a slmple roof spannlng Lwo exls!ng boulders [llgure 4]. 1hls Lype
of archlLecLural phllosophy ls perhaps nowhere more apparenL Lhan aL Lhe kandalama hoLel
Volume I South Asia Journal for Culture 10
[llgure 1], whlch of course ls llLerally carved lnLo Lhe rock face: a hoLel deslgned Lo merge
wlLh Lhe [ungle, for Lhe vegeLa!on Lo engulf Lhe sLrucLure such LhaL slLe and conLexL merge.
WhaL one !nds Lhen, noL [usL ln 8awa's archlLecLure buL also ln more conLemporary
developmenLs of Lhe Lroplcal modernlsL genre, ls LhaL bulldlngs are deslgned Lo se#le lnLo
Lhelr surroundlngs. Srl Lanka's Lroplcal modern archlLecLs a#empL noL Lo keep naLure ouL or
Lame lL, buL Lo bulld wlLh Lroplcal naLure, and Lo bulld such LhaL !ve or Len years down Lhe
llne Lhe lnevlLable relenLless onslaughL of engul!ng palms and wlld grass, and Lhe exLremes
of heaL, raln and arldlLy do noL pose a problem Lo a bulldlng deslgned Lo become properly
woven lnLo lLs envlronmenLal conLexL. ln her work on ar!s!c Lroplcal modernlsm ln 8razll,
nancy Leys SLepan emphaslzes LhaL Lhls mld-Lwen!eLh cenLury movemenL consclously
a#empLed Lo conLrol Lroplcal naLure and space Lo creaLe arL and ar!facLs (SLepan 2001: 210).
1hls ls also Lrue of Srl Lanka's Lroplcal modernlsLs whose e"orL Lo weave Lhelr sLrucLures
lnLo Lhe surroundlng envlronmenL musL also be seen as a form of conLrol and regula!on of
space, however, lL ls worLh emphaslzlng LhaL Lhe deslred e"ecL ls always someLhlng qulLe
dl"erenL. 1he deslre ls Lo creaLe Lhe llluslon LhaL Lhere ls ll#le conLrol of naLure and space, of
sLrucLures LhaL exlsL ln harmony wlLh slLe, !meless sLrucLures LhaL seem Lo emerge from Lhe
over-abundanL surroundlng Lroplcal naLure. As one archlLecL puL lL, .Lhey're commonplace
bulldlngs from commonplace maLerlals. So LhaL Lhey become bulldlngs LhaL . when you look
aL Lhose bulldlngs ln Lhe landscape Lhey look llke Lhey've always been parL of LhaL landscape
- commonplace" (lnLervlew wlLh anonymous archlLecL 16.02.03).

llgure 3. LecLure 1heaLre, lns!LuLe for lnLegral Lduca!on, lllyandala
(hoLography: 1arlq !azeel)
WhaL ls par!cularly reveallng here ls Lhe Lenslon ln Lhe use of Lhe word 'landscape'.
lor landscape ls a palnLerly Lerm whlch holds wlLhln lL lmpllca!ons of dlsLancla!on, vlsuallLy
and Lhe scenlc (see Cosgrove & uanlels 1988, Cosgrove 1984). Pere, however, Lhe Lerm ls
used qulLe unproblema!cally Lo convey a sense LhaL Lhe deslre ls Lo collapse slLe and sLrucLure
11 South Asia Journal for Culture Volume I
lnLo one anoLher, Lo creaLe and produce Lhelr lnseparablllLy Lhrough ways of deallng wlLh
Lroplcal naLure LhaL acLually provldes a challenge Lo Lhe over-rldlng vlsuallLy of Luropean
landscape aesLhe!cs (SLepan 2001: 208). AlLhough Lhe word 'landscape' ls used by Lhe above
quoLed archlLecL Lo re"ecL on Lhls bullL space, s/he was also aL palns Lo polnL ouL LhaL one of
Lhe fundamenLal precepLs of Lhls archlLecLure ls lLs ablllLy Lo collapse Lhe dlsLance beLween
sub[ecL and Lhe surroundlng envlronmenL: 8ecause he [8awa] !rmly belleved LhaL bulldlngs
were noL meanL Lo be seen, buL Lhey were meanL Lo be background Lo people's llves. So lf
you're ln Lhe bulldlng you hardly sorL of no!ce Lhey're around" (lnLervlew wlLh anonymous
archlLecL 16.02.03).
llgure 4. olonLalawa LsLaLe 8ungalow, olonLalawa
(Source: ArchneL dlglLal llbrary
h#p://archneL.org/llbrary/lmages/one-lmage-large.Lcl?loca!on_ld=9012&lmage_ld=30371)
lL should be no surprlse Lhen LhaL one of Lhe guldlng phllosophles of Srl Lanka's Lroplcal
modernlsL archlLecLural praxls LhaL has emerged from Lhls necesslLy Lo bulld 7.1" Lroplcal
naLure, ls Lhe a#en!on Lo produclng ',4!43 #B,#(.#-2# raLher Lhan vlsually promlnenL and
symbollc sLrucLures. 1hls archlLecLure ls abouL bulldlng experlences Lhrough space foremosL,
and Lhe "uld connec!ons beLween lnslde space and ouLslde space become lnLegral Lo Lhls
process such LhaL Lhe very Lerms 'lnslde' and 'ouLslde' begln Lo come unmoored from Lhelr
accepLed meanlngs. Many of Lhe deslgn Lechnlques already lden!!ed, llke for example
overhanglng eaves, open walled sLrucLures and unenclosed rooms, lndoor courLyards, and
exLended Lhrough vlsLas, have all evolved gradually slnce Lhe laLe 1960s Lo become more
Lhan [usL func!onallsL responses Lo Lhe need Lo bulld wlLh Lroplcal naLure. Specl!cally, Lhey
Volume I South Asia Journal for Culture 12
have become cenLral Lo Lhe a#empL Lo bulld cerLaln Lypes of spa!al experlence, as Lhe same
archlLecL sLressed:
.Lhe envelope [sLrucLure] ls noL as lmporLanL as Lhe space you bulld ln. So
when you say Ceo"rey's conLrlbu!on, LhaL ls . LhaL your concern wlLh Lhe
envelope should noL be as much as your concern wlLh Lhe places you llve
ln, whaL you walk Lhrough, whaL you lnhablL (lnLervlew wlLh anonymous
archlLecL 16.02.03).
1hls ls clearly lden!!ed as a deslgn legacy LhaL pervades Lhls archlLecL's own work:
.a loL of Lhls phllosophy comes ouL ln [our] smaller work. MosL of our houses
look llke noLhlng on earLh, lL's [usL a roof and columns, buL whaL lL ls, lL ls abouL
movlng Lhrough Lhe walls, movlng pasL Lhe columns, abouL Lhe columns,
and Lhen engaglng Lhe ouLslde, engaglng Lhe le$ space nexL Lo Lhe columns
and so on. So LhaL ls parL of Lhe way we work. 1here ls a whole genera!on
of archlLecLs ln Srl Lanka, our genera!on and a$er, who have had Lo make
[bulldlngs Lhls way] (lnLervlew wlLh anonymous archlLecL 16.02.03).
G(+602.-/ :;(. <4-=4- -410(#>
WhaL we have Lhen ls an archlLecLural sLyle LhaL noL only nego!aLes Lroplcal naLure ln a
par!cular way ouL of necesslLy, buL a genre LhaL also ,(+602#' naLure ln a qulLe specl!c way,
or ln oLher words an archlLecLural genre LhaL produces experlences of belng ln a par!cular
klnd of 'naLure' LhaL ls noL easlly separaLed from culLure. Srl Lanka's Lroplcal modernlsL
archlLecLure produces ways of llvlng and lnhabl!ng, ways of movlng Lhrough and engaglng
"uld spaces, LhaL are aL one and Lhe same !me human and non-human. ln Lhls sec!on Lhen,
l o"er a few brlef examples of Lhese klnds of archlLecLural produc!ons of human connec!ons
wlLh Lhe naLural world, and hlghllghL some lmpllca!ons of Lhese Lypes of "uld spa!allLy.
As Lhese examples show, Lhls archlLecLure and movemenL Lhrough Lhls bullL space acLually
con[ure par!cular Lypes of &+6.#' 4-6 -410(#' .- 1"# C4=.-/. 1hose belng bodles LhaL do noL
easlly dls!ngulsh 'naLure' from 'culLure', and do so ln ways LhaL have over Lhe years become
emblema!cally Srl Lankan.

13 South Asia Journal for Culture Volume I
llgure 3. 1he porch area a#ached maln house aL Lunuganga
(hoLography: 1arlq !azeel)
llrsLly, l wanL Lo hlghllghL a very small deLall agaln ln one of Ceo"rey 8awa's bulldlngs,
Lhls !me aL Lunuganga, Lhe archlLecL's own prlvaLe esLaLe and gardens on Srl Lanka's souLhern
coasL. llgure 3 shows Lhe porch area a#ached Lo Lhe maln house, whlch opens ouL Lo
specLacular vlews on Lwo sldes, and on anoLher backs on Lo a planLed well. !usL behlnd Lhe
concreLe seaLs LhaL are bullL lnLo Lhe walls separa!ng Lhe porch area from Lhe planLed well
Lhere ls a seemlngly lnconsplcuous deLall LhaL hlghllghLs Lhe me!culous archlLecLural a#en!on
and e"orL LhaL has gone lnLo crea!ng an enclosed space ln whlch sub[ecLs are supposed Lo
experlence some klnd of bodlly connec!on wlLh Lhe space ouLslde Lhe porch area. lL ls Lhe very
slmple meLhod of noL encloslng Lhe bo#om frames wlLh glass panes, whlch Lhe archlLecLural
lnLerns Lold me was a dellberaLe manoeuvre Lo allow alr Lo clrculaLe around one's upper back,
neck and head when one slLs ln Lhese seaLs, lL allows Lhe body Lo breaLhe.
1here are counLless oLher examples of feaLures llke Lhls ln Srl Lanka's conLemporary
Lroplcal modernlsL sLrucLures where sensorlally, physlcally, one seems prompLed by bulldlng
deslgn Lo physlcally merge wlLh Lhe envlronmenL beyond Lhe properLy. 1ake Lhe ln!nlLy pool,
for example, where over"owlng waLer levels splll excess waLer lnLo a Lrough from where lL ls
pumped back lnLo Lhe pool, cruclally of course crea!ng vlews from wlLhln Lhe pool LhaL exLend
seamlessly Lo Lhe lake, sea or reservolr beyond. AlLhough by no means unlque Lo Srl Lanka,
Lhe ln!nlLy pool has become Lhe swlmmlng pool of cholce amongsL Lhe counLry's Lroplcal
modernlsL archlLecLs preclsely because of Lhe powerful llluslon lL creaLes, and Lhe ways LhaL
Lhe llluslon ln Lurn prompLs conLempla!ve momenLs when Lhe ouLslde comes ln, when Lhe
sub[ecL merges wlLh Lhe naLural envlronmenL beyond.
1hese Lypes of feaLures o"er examples of Lac!cs used by archlLecLs Lo connecL lnslde
and ouLslde Lhrough experlence, Lo creaLe "uld spa!all!es, or as one archlLecL puL lL: .lL's all
abouL LhaL somehow Lhere ls no dl"erence beLween whaL's ouL Lhere from yourself, you are
parL of LhaL and LhaL ls as much parL of you" (lnLervlew wlLh an anonymous archlLecL 16.02.03).
8uL more per!nenLly, Lhese experlences acLually produce par!cular Lypes of worlds, bodles
and en!!es, par!cular Lypes of non-CarLeslan, SouLh Aslan naLures and bodles, bodles LhaL
do noL ob[ec!fy an exLernal 'naLure ouL Lhere' ln Lhelr engagemenLs wlLh Lhe world, buL raLher
Volume I South Asia Journal for Culture 14
llve, and are lnsLan!aLed, Lhrough Lhe experlen!al accumula!on of "uld connec!ons beLween
self and world. lor many, Lhose connec!ons wlLh an ouLslde ln Lhe experlen!al momenL such
LhaL self and world merge, where lnLul!on Lakes over from Lhe !ve oLher bodlly senses ln Lhe
experlence of everyday llfe, hold par!cular sallence wlLhln 8uddhlsL phllosophy. 1hese Lypes
of "uld spa!al experlence where you are parL of LhaL and LhaL ls as much parL of you" can
be, and as l show below are, o$en phllosophlcally woven Lhrough 8uddhlsL LruLhs abouL Lhe
composl!on of a cosmlc unlversal reallLy LhaL cannoL be known Lhrough reason, loglc and
ob[ec!vlLy alone, buL musL be lnLul!vely experlenced by Lhe mlndful sub[ecL who seeks Lo
purge hlm/herself from cravlngs and deslre (as Lhe enllghLenmenL sub[ecL may experlence
reallLy).
Cne of Lhe lmpllca!ons of Lhls Lhen, ls LhaL desplLe 8awa's archlLecLural secularlsm,
and LhaL of probably mosL conLemporary Lroplcal modern archlLecLs, Srl Lanka's Lroplcal
modern bullL spaces con[ure spa!al experlences LhaL are o$en lnLerpreLed Lhrough a very
subLly ln"ecLed 8uddhlsL (and by exLenslon Slnhala) rellglo-phllosophlcal framework. 1hls ls
an lmporLanL polnL LhaL ralses Lhe specLer of a culLural/spa!al poll!cs LhaL works and lnscrlbes
lLself ln Lhe na!onal consclousness merely Lhrough Lhe experlence of space, anoLher example
of how 8uddhlsm pervades everyday llfe and never dwells far from soclal reallLy ln Lhese parLs
of Lhe na!on-sLaLe.

llgure 6. 1he vlew souLh across Clnnamon Plll, Lunuganga, from Lhe maln house
(hoLography: 1arlq !azeel)
1wo furLher examples perhaps more clearly demonsLraLe how a Srl Lankan, 8uddhlsL naLure
slLs squarely wlLhln a Lroplcal modern archlLecLural praxls, and also how subsequenLly we can
suggesL LhaL 8uddhlsL bodles are produced Lhrough Lhe "uld experlen!al momenLs ln Lhese
Lypes of space LhaL Lroplcal modern archlLecLs seek Lo creaLe. 8oLh examples Lake us back Lo
Lunuganga, and Lhe !rsL revolves around a vlew from Lhe back of Lhe maln house [llgure 6]
souLh across Clnnamon Plll.
ln Lhe far dlsLance (lnvlslble ln !gure 6 because of Lhe phoLograph's overexposure)
Lhere ls a gleamlng whlLe Lemple ln Lhe ad[acenL hlll LhaL seems Lo gaze over Lhe esLaLe. llgure
15 South Asia Journal for Culture Volume I
7, Laken ln Lhe mlddle dlsLance, where Lhe archlLecL has placed a large [ar under a Lree on
Lhe hlll, plalnly shows Lhe Lemple nesLled lnLo Lhe verdanL vegeLa!on LhaL engulfs Lhe hllls
beyond Lhe esLaLe. lmporLanLly, Lhe Lemple ls clearly vlslble wlLh Lhe naked eye even from Lhe
maln house. ln a book on Lhe esLaLe, 8awa's words o"er a clue as Lo Lhe naLural phllosophles
woven lnLo Lhe aesLhe!cs LhaL he has consclously composed Lhrough Lhls choreography of
space:
Cver Lhe years movlng Lhrough Lhe garden as lL grew, one saw Lhe poLen!al
of varlous areas whlch had lnherenLly dl"erenL aLmospheres. lor lnsLance,
Lhe long vlew Lo Lhe souLh ended wlLh Lhe Lemple, buL ln Lhe mlddle dlsLance
was a rldge wlLh a splendld anclenL C++-4C43 Lree and when l placed a large
Chlnese [ar under lL, Lhe hand of man was esLabllshed ln Lhls mlddle dlsLance
(8awa ln 8awa, 8on & Sansonl 1990: 13).
llgure 7. 1he vlew souLh across Clnnamon Plll, Lunuganga, from Lhe mlddle dlsLance
(hoLography: 1arlq !azeel)
unsurprlslngly, Lhere ls no easy dls!nc!on Lo be made here beLween 'naLure' and
'culLure', Lhe hand of man" seems aL home ln Lhese naLurallzed vlsLas (and Lhere ls also a
femlnlsL crl!que Lo be made of 8awa's mascullnlzlng landscape gaze, buL LhaL ls noL Lhe Lask
of Lhls paper). More expllclLly Lhough, Lhe klnd of envlronmenL LhaL composes Lhls vlew seems
lrreduclbly 8uddhlsL accordlng Lo 8awa's Les!mony: Lhe Lemple, Lhe sLupa, belng Lhe lnLegral
focal polnL of a surroundlng envlronmenL LhaL creaLes Lhe speclal aLmosphere lnherenL" Lo
Lhe place. 1he sLupa ln facL comes Lo slgnlfy Lhe naLuralls!c and harmonlous reallLy ln whlch
Lhe esLaLe ls seL, so lf Lhe hand of man" ls esLabllshed ln Lhe mlddle dlsLance, Lhen Lhe sLupa
Volume I South Asia Journal for Culture 16
ls posl!vely woven lnLo Lhe envlronmenL beyond. 1hls ls a vlew, moreover a sensorlal sllce,
of 8uddhlsL naLure.
1he lasL example agaln comes from my own eLhnographlc research aL Lunuganga.
l and Lhe Lwo lnLerns l was shadowlng were sLaylng ln Lhe Clnnamon Plll house deslgned by
8awa slLuaLed ln Lhe esLaLe's grounds a shorL walk from Lhe maln house. CharacLerls!cally,
Lhe house opens ouL Lo Lhe surroundlng !eld and encroachlng [ungle.
llgure 8. 1he house aL Clnnamon Plll, Lunuganga
(hoLography: 1arlq !azeel)
We spenL an evenlng ln Lhe porch area cha% ng abouL Lhe esLaLe, our conversa!ons seL agalnsL
a backdrop of "lckerlng candlellghL and Lhe sound of clcadas, crlckeLs and oLher nocLurnal
[ungle rhyLhms LhaL felL [usL meLers away. Curlous, l asked one of my companlons how he
felL belng ln a place llke Lhls. Pe was sllenL for a whlle, before he Lurned and asked hls frlend
a ques!on ln Slnhala. ln!nlLy", she replled lmmedlaLely. Pe LhoughL a ll#le longer before
respondlng, l feel llke my mlnd keeps maklng Lhese connec!ons, one a$er anoLher and
anoLher, Lo ln!nlLy. lL's dl& culL Lo explaln, words can'L really explaln lL. AcLually ln 8uddhlsm
Lhere's a good explana!on for Lhls." Pe Lhen proceeded Lo Lell me a sLory abouL Lhe Lord
8uddha, Lhe ArahaL Ananda and Lhelr conversa!ons abouL Lhe search for Lhe sphere of Lhe
ln!nlLy of consclousness, a$er whlch he added LhaL he felL llke hls mlnd ls growlng and forglng
connec!ons wlLh someLhlng beyond hlmself. llnally, he added LhaL he LhoughL LhaL Lhls Lype
of Lhlng could happen only ln Lhls Lype of place.
ln Lhls brlef encounLer, lL ls evldenL LhaL belng ln Lhese "uld spaces, belng nelLher
lnslde nor ouLslde, ln 'naLure' nor 'culLure', does more Lhan [usL provlde a backdrop for non-
secular, non-CarLeslan modes of corporeallLy. lL seems LhaL Lhe 8uddhlsL body ls e"ec!vely
,(+602#6 ln and Lhrough Lhls mode of spa!allLy, Lhrough Lhe sorLs of experlen!al momenLs
LhaL Lhe bullL space con[ures, space becomes an ac!ve agenL ln produclng a cerLaln Lype
17 South Asia Journal for Culture Volume I
of non-secular, non-CarLeslan sub[ec!vlLy. lar from roman!clzlng Lhls Lype of experlence,
however, l would emphaslze Lhe very normallLy of Lhls Lype of belng-ln-Lhe-world. ln facL, Lhls
ls an everyday Lype of engagemenL wlLh place LhaL Lroplcal modern bullL space (amongsL oLher
modes of spa!allLy) ln Srl Lanka sLrongly evokes, ln ways LhaL are lrreduclbly and quallLa!vely
dl"erenL from spa!al experlences ln Luropean and norLh Amerlcan modernlsL archlLecLural
spaces and naLures where senses of lnslde and ouLslde seem much more clearly de!ned. WhaL
emerges Lhen are ques!ons abouL whaL Lypes of bodles and sub[ec!vl!es are produced ln
and Lhrough whaL ls deemed qulnLessen!ally Srl Lankan space, and poll!cally, whaL role do
Lhese spaces play ln shaplng lden!!es, and ln ar!cula!ng par!cular forms of raclallzed, and
class specl!c hegemony Lhrough Lhe prac!ce of everyday llfe?
H#,(#'#-14!+-* &0.31 ',42# 4-6 1"# #)+30!+- +? 4 /#-(#
non-dualls!c concep!ons of Lhe naLural world, as well as bodlly experlences of Lranscendence,
ln!nlLy or ln!maLe lmmenslLy are by no means specl!c Lo 8uddhlsL phllosophy and experlence.
lurLhermore, lL ls falr Lo say LhaL on Lhe whole, Lroplcal modernlsL archlLecLure ln Srl Lanka
has avolded expllclL rellglous symbollsm, 8uddhlsL or oLherwlse. Powever, Lhese rlders do noL
negaLe Lhe role LhaL 8uddhlsL dlscourse plays ln Lhls archlLecLural praxls, par!cularly aL Lhe
polnL when pleces of 4(2".1#210(# enLer lnLo Lhe broader parameLers of socleLy as &0.36.-/',
sub[ecL Lo hablLa!ons, manlfold publlc consump!ons, nego!a!ons and processes LhaL make
meanlng from maLerlal form. Pere ln Lhls lasL sec!on Lhen, lL ls lmporLanL Lo ouLllne Lhe
slgnl!canL role LhaL represenLa!on, dlscurslve frameworks and hlsLorlcal narra!ve con!nue
Lo play ln Lhe evolu!on and meanlng of Srl Lanka's Lroplcal modernlsL genre, and by exLenslon
Lhe role LhaL represenLa!on plays ln Lhe ln"ec!on of spa!al experlence. More o$en Lhan noL
lL ls cllenLs LhaL demand "+7 archlLecLs varlously sLory Lhelr bulldlngs, and so Lhe lnsLan!a!on
of 8uddhlsL naLures and bodles Lhrough Lhe sorLs of spa!al arrangemenLs and experlences
dlscussed ln Lhe lasL sec!on cannoL be undersLood ln lsola!on from Lhe represenLa!onal
frameworks ln whlch Lhese bulldlngs come Lo be locaLed.
SLeadlly slnce Lhe 1960s, Srl Lankan Lroplcal modernlsL archlLecLure has become
more or less emblema!c of Srl Lanka. lor example, ln some of Ceo"rey 8awa's besL hoLels
Lhe more expenslve sulLes come fully equlpped wlLh a copy of Lhe glossy, co"ee Lable book
en!Lled @#+"(#I E474F !"# A+C,3#1# J+(=', by uavld 8obson (2002). Lunuganga lLself ls now
open as a 'bou!que' hoLel on Lhe souLh-coasL, lLs popularlLy ln no lnslgnl!canL way due Lo lLs
assocla!on wlLh Ceo"rey 8awa and Lhe archlLecLural movemenL LhaL he slgnl!es. 8oLh Lhese
observa!ons lndlcaLe LhaL Lhese hoLels and Lhe spa!al experlences Lhey a"ord Lhelr vlslLors
have come Lo be percelved as an lnLegral parL of one's 'auLhen!c' Srl Lankan experlence.
noLwlLhsLandlng Lhe Lypes of 8uddhlsL soverelgnLy LhaL are posl!oned and ar!culaLed
as 'hosL' ln Lhese modes of hosplLallLy archlLecLure, lL ls a Lrulsm Lo say LhaL Lhere ls now
someLhlng sLylls!cally qulLe 'Srl Lankan' abouL Lhese specl!c modes of Lroplcal modernlsL
archlLecLure and Lhe spa!al experlences Lhey creaLe. Accordlngly, many of Lhe counLry's be#er
known Lroplcal modern archlLecLs are lncreaslngly ln demand wlLhln Lhe resL of Asla. Cruclally
Lhen, a deslre LhaL spa!al experlences sLand for Srl Lanka - and a par!cular Lype of Srl Lankan-
ness - has become cllenL drlven. Cne archlLecL who collaboraLed wlLh 8awa on Lhe kandalama
hoLel spoke abouL Lhe consLanL ba#les Lhey foughL wlLh Lhelr cllenL, AlLken Spence, Lo auLhor
Lhe space. WhllsL he sLressed how as archlLecLs Lhey wanLed Lo keep Lhe place free from any
klnd of hlsLorlcal reference, AlLken Spence were falrly lnslsLenL LhaL glven Lhls hoLel was Lo be
Volume I South Asia Journal for Culture 18
locaLed ln Lhe hearL of Lhe CulLural 1rlangle,
1
Lhe space should have some klnd of hlsLorlcal
referenL Lo Lhe reglon's Slnhala hlsLory, Lhe sorL of narra!ves popular wlLh LourlsLs, buL as many
scholars have shown, varlously exclude ln Lhelr founda!onal !c!ons and narra!ons of Lhe
na!on (see 8habha 1990, erera 1999, Cunawardana 1993). lL cerLalnly seems worLh asklng
Lhen wheLher Lhe Lypes of spa!al experlences LhaL Lhls paper has ouLllned, also geL locked
lnLo a chaln of assocla!on and meanlng LhaL moblllzes a cerLaln Lype of Slnhala-8uddhlsL Srl
Lankan-ness Lhrough Lhose cllenL drlven pressures Lo reproduce an emblema!cally Srl Lankan
spa!al experlence.
AnoLher archlLecL spoke of a hoLel pro[ecL for anoLher hoLel corpora!on aL koggala
Lake. 1he brlef was Lo come up wlLh someLhlng LhaL u!llzed Lhe lake and was, ln hls cllenL's
words, very Srl Lankan". 1he ambl!ous and cap!va!ng deslgn LhaL Lhe archlLecL presenLed
lnvolved Lree houses, decklng and pavlllons "oa!ng on Lhe lake, Lhe lnsplra!on and LemplaLe of
whlch was one of Mar!n Wlckremaslnghe's early works, D,# @4C4 ('our vlllage'). 1he archlLecL
sLressed LhaL Lhe narra!vlza!on of Lhe deslgn, lLs connec!on Lo all LhaL Wlckremaslnghe and
hls work slgnlfy, was a ma[or facLor ln convlnclng hls cllenL of Lhe vlablllLy of Lhls ambl!ous
deslgn. Agaln, for LourlsLs (forelgn or domes!c) who use Lhls hosplLallLy archlLecLure, Lroplcal
modern spa!al experlences become locked lnLo a chaln of meanlng and assocla!on LhaL
evokes a cerLaln Lype of Srl Lankan-ness, and Lhls genera!on of meanlng and assocla!on ls
drlven prlmarlly by corporaLe cllenLs.
8uL Lhls cllenL drlven pressure also presenLs a ma[or challenge Lo Lhe developmenL
of Lhe archlLecLural genre, wlLh some archlLecLs who are closely assoclaLed wlLh Lhe classlcal
modes of Srl Lankan Lroplcal modernlsm LhaL emerged wlLh 8awa and Mlne#e de Sllva sLresslng
LhaL when Lhey Lry Lo lnnovaLe, Lo develop new concepLs, cllenLs wlll Lell Lhem ln no uncerLaln
Lerms LhaL Lhelr plans are Loo modern, or noL Srl Lankan enough. Cne archlLecL, for example,
Les!!ed LhaL . [cllenLs have] an ldylllc ldea of Srl Lanka LhaL has been processed Lhrough
SouLh-LasL Asla whlch ls now comlng back Lo us because LhaL's whaL we do, whlch ls a wasLe
for me, lL feels llke l'm golng back ln !me Lo someLhlng LhaL we've done, meanwhlle we need
Lo geL on wlLh lL" (lnLervlew wlLh anonymous archlLecL 16.02.03).
Cn Lhe oLher hand, some conLemporary archlLecLs known for bulldlng more modern
and absLracL sLrucLures and uslng more conLemporary bulldlng maLerlals Lhan Lhe vernacular
sLones, clays and woods preferred by oLher Lroplcal modernlsLs, employ Lhe sorLs of Srl Lankan-
lsL, Lroplcal modern dlscourses LhaL Lhls paper has ouLllned Lo sLory Lhelr bulldlngs. Lven
Lhough Lhelr sLrucLures may evoke more 8ruLallsL deslgn aesLhe!cs and appear sLylls!cally
very dl"erenL Lo Lhe archlLecLural Lroplcal modernlsm skeLched ln Lhls paper, Lhe facLors LhaL
archlLecLs Lhemselves use Lo draw Lhese dlsparaLe bulldlngs lnLo a common genre are Lhe
common dlscourses abouL Lhe "uld spa!al experlences Lhese sLrucLures a"ord Lhe cllenL.
lL ls a cerLaln Lype of spa!al experlence whereln 'naLure' and 'culLure' merge, and lnslde
space "ows seamlessly Lo ouLslde LhaL ls deemed 'Lyplcally Srl Lankan', Lhereby ls used Lo
knlL sLylls!cally dlverse bulldlngs lnLo a common /#-(#. Cne archlLecL who l spoke wlLh
sLressed LhaL alLhough he favors Lhe sLralghL llne over Lhe curve and conLour, sLeel over sLone,
concepLually he percelves ll#le dlscrepancy beLween hls bulldlng phllosophy and LhaL of oLher
Lroplcal modernlsLs wlLhln Srl Lanka because of Lhe a#en!on he pays Lo openlng Lhe house,
Lo ge% ng Lhe garden on Lhe lnslde, and Lo havlng LhaL "uld llnk beLween Lhe lnslde and Lhe
ouLslde. lor hlm, Lhls ls whaL makes hls sLrucLures very Lroplcal and very Srl Lankan" (lnLervlew
wlLh anonymous archlLecL 21.02.03). ConcepLually Lhen, Lhe lmporLanL polnL Lo Lake from
19 South Asia Journal for Culture Volume I
Lhese noLes around represenLa!on and meanlng, are LhaL Lhe ways space ls sLorled, elLher
hlsLorlcally or aesLhe!cally, play a ma[or role ln produclng Lhe nexus of meanlng ln whlch Srl
Lanka's Lroplcal modernlsL bullL space and subsequenL spa!al experlences become locaLed.
A0-:*?8$0-
lf, as soclal sclen!sLs and oLher scholars, we open ourselves up Lo Lhe ldea LhaL 'readlng'
archlLecLure can lnvolve more Lhan [usL an engagemenL wlLh Lhe semlo!cs and symbollc
meanlngs of bullL sLrucLures, Lhen we can begln Lo see and more cau!ously speculaLe on whaL
bulldlngs acLually do ln Lhe world as we move Lhrough Lhem. ln Lhls paper, l have Leased ouL
Lhe no!on LhaL Srl Lanka's Lroplcal modernlsL bulldlngs acLually produce people and socleLy
ln cerLaln ways LhaL are lrreduclbly 6."#(#-1 Lo ways LhaL modernlsL sLrucLures ln Lurope or
norLh Amerlca mlghL do. 8eadlng conLemporary Srl Lankan archlLecLure Lhen becomes a Lask
of engaglng noL [usL wlLh archlLecLural lnLen!on and auLhorshlp, buL also wlLh Lhe ways LhaL
bulldlngs are used, nego!aLed wlLh and llved ln, whaL Lhey do ln and Lhrough socleLy once
Lhey become parL of Lhe worlds we lnhablL.
1hls analysls has polnLed Lo Lhe ways LhaL phllosophlcally a very dl"erenL Lype of
'naLure' ls maLerlally llved wlLh and engaged ln Srl Lanka Lhan ln Lurope or norLh Amerlca.
Pere, as wlll be evldenL by now, l do noL [usL mean a Lroplcal as opposed Lo LemperaLe 'naLure'.
l mean a 8uddhlsL 'naLure' LhaL ls lrreduclble Lo phllosophlcal lnvesLmenLs ln Lhe excluslvlLy
of an ob[ec!ve blo-physlcal world 'ouL Lhere', wlLh super-organlc 'culLure' rendered as Lhls
'naLure's' opposlLe. WhaL Lhe prac!ces around Lhls bullL space e"ec!vely produce are 8uddhlsL
'naLures' from whlch Lhe human sub[ecL ls lnseparable, connecLed Lo, parL of, woven lnLo.
8eadlng Lhe complex connec!ons beLween Srl Lanka's Lroplcal modern archlLecLure and Srl
Lankan socleLy allows us Lo see Lhe ways LhaL Lhose and slmllar phllosophlcal dlscourses are
made maLerlal, produced, ln Lhe prac!ce and experlence of everyday llfe ln ways LhaL also
lnevlLably shape people. Cne !nal and lmporLanL word Lhough. ln Lhe lnLeresLs of fosLerlng
progresslve forms of plurallLy wlLhln Lhe conLemporary na!on-sLaLe, and because of a
bellef ln Lhe open generoslLy, plurallLy and ceaseless crea!vlLy ln Lhe currenL communlLy of
conLemporary Lroplcal modernlsLs, lL ls dlslngenuous and of dublous poll!cal loglc Lo cede
whaL have been osLenslbly secular modes of archlLecLural praxls Lo Lhe hubrls of Slnhala-
8uddhlsL na!onallsm, and LhaL ls noL Lhe lnLen!on of Lhls paper. Powever, Lhls paper does Lrall
clouds of poll!cal connoLa!ons, and l hope lL does ralse poll!cal ques!ons of Lhe prac!ces
LhaL surround Srl Lanka's Lroplcal modern bullL space. AL Lhe very leasL Lhls paper suggesLs
we Lake more serlously Lhe cons!Lu!ve rela!onshlps beLween bullL space and socleLy.
E-. F0>)8
1. CulLural 1rlangle cons!LuLes an area de!ned by Lhe Srl Lankana governmenL llnklng Lhree hlsLorlc
Lowns wlLhln whlch many archeologlcal slLes are locaLed.
+$G*$03#"9=/
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Wlllls. A(.!243 L-T0.(I 28 (2).
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Volume I South Asia Journal for Culture 22

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