A Tour of No 11 Residence

My former office had been down Bagatalle Road, so I used to come to this road daily for seven years. Yet, I had not visited the No 11 Residence. A home turned into a museum. Ever since I learnt that Seema Malakaya had been designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I started paying attention to other places he had worked on. I finally decided this week it was time to visit his home, which has been turned into a museum managed by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust.

Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), for those who haven’t heard of him, was Sri Lanka’s renowned architect. He had studied to be a lawyer in England, following his father’s footsteps, but realized when he returned to Sri Lanka that it was not what he wanted to do. He eventually discovered his passion and became an architect towards his late 30s.

No 11 was his home in Colombo, a place he re-modelled after purchasing four row houses at the end of the lane. The house museum is available for public viewing by appointment. Since the management has taken a lot of effort to maintain the house exactly as it had been during Bawa’s time, the curator is quite sensitive about viewers not touching any objects, which can be a bit difficult if traveling with kids.

When I arrived for my tour, I was led to a waiting hall next to the former home office of Geoffrey Bawa, where there were around ten others waiting for the tour to start. I was given my invoice for the tour as well as a brochure on the house. The curator then started the tour with a short documentary, which focused on the remodeling of the No 11 residence undertaken by Geoffrey Bawa.

Following the documentary screening, we took the stairs to the terrace. Towards the latter part of his life, when it became too difficult for Bawa to walk up the stairs, a lift had been installed in the house.IMG_2813.JPG

The rooftop terrace had been one of Geoffrey Bawa’s favourite places to sit in the evenings.

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We walked down the stairs, passing the floor with the guest suite. The guest suite is now rented out to anyone wishing to stay at the house. It was not part of the viewing tour though. So, we made our way back down to the ground floor and walked towards Geoffrey Bawa’s living area. While no photography was allowed inside the living area, we were allowed to take photos along the corridor.

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One of his trademark design was the use of corners, allowing for natural light to filter through and green trees and ponds to cool the spaces.

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This corner of the house led to his private apartment and the curator mentioned that the pillars were Chettinad style pillars.

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The corner opposite the Chettinad pillars had a couple of chairs designed by Geoffrey Bawa. The curator said that it was part of the furniture collection he designed for Bentota Beach hotel, his first hotel design in Sri Lanka.

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His private area was the most fascinating part of the house and the best part of it too, as it gave a better glimpse of the person than the rest of the house had done. It had a sitting room, dining room and a bedroom, each of which had lovely ponds and trees in their corners or views of a tree across the room. What was lovely about this space was that it was filled with personal stuff, his books and his collections from his travels.

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Geoffrey Bawa’s reading space (c) Geoffrey Bawa Trust, with permission from the manager of No 11

Before Geoffrey Bawa became an architect, he had spent considerable time traveling around the world in the 1940s/ 50s and was most taken with his time in Italy. Apparently, he had liked the Lake Garda region, particularly the gardens, so much so that he had planned to buy property there. However, due to some legal obstacles, he had not been able to do so and when he returned to Sri Lanka, his brother had encouraged him to buy a country estate in Bentota and create his own tropical version of Lake Garda. Geoffrey Bawa’s first landscape gardening project revealed his passion and he decided to pursue a path in architecture, returning to study in England. His first work, Lunuganga, is considered his masterpiece. I have been long meaning to visit the place and hopefully, will do so this year.

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The tour ended at the entrance, where Geoffrey Bawa’s old Rolls Royce was parked. The batik painting covering the wall was by Bawa’s friend and artist, Ena de Silva.

The tour was a fascinating insight into the home and living space of Geoffrey Bawa.

[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #17 and The Weekly Postcard]

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17 thoughts on “A Tour of No 11 Residence

    • That owl was striking in its corner, all by itself, with the sunlight focused on it. I did very much enjoy the eclectic artefact collection in the house – like the different 18th and 19th century game tables in the living room and corridor and the photos from his travels pasted onto old wooden trunks converted into cupboards in his dressing room.

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  1. I’ve heard so much about Geoffrey Bawa in relation to Sri Lanka that it feels important to be able to find out more about the man – and what better way than to tour his house. I love the idea of a corner allowing natural light to enter a room. Thanks for sharing this on #farawayfiles

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    • I guess while I had heard his name before, I had not really paid attention to him or his work until I visited the meditation hall in Beira lake. From that moment, I have been interested in learning more about his work and the person.

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  2. He did a great job with the renovations and I love that painting in the entrance. I think it would be neat to stay in the guest house, but I am guessing it is probably expensive? Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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  3. I always discover new things by reading your posts, Ahila. I’ve never heard of Geoffrey Bawa, but I would have been curious to visit this house too if I lived in that area. You can tell from the way he decorated it that he was an architect. Very simple lines, yet such good taste. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    • Thank you, Anda. I very much enjoyed visiting Geoffrey Bawa’s home in Colombo and I look forward to visiting his country estate and considered his masterpiece, Lunuganga, soon.

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