An aerial view of the main house, set on 15 acres of gardens bordering the Deduwa Lake
Set on 12 acres of once abandoned rubber, rice fields and marshland, the awe-inspiring garden of Lunuganga is home to Geoffrey Bawa’s country residence, final resting place and the relocated home of his dear friend and artist, the late Ena De Silva. The transformation from tangled jungle and mangroves to a marvel in the world of tropical modernism was a 40-year labor of love, wrought with its own share of unique obstacles of the time. Today, we look back at some of the little-known facts about the garden, and the estate’s most recent developments.
An aerial view of the gardens
Formed Under the Feet of Giants
When first acquired by Bawa in 1948, the land between the lake and hills was marsh and partially abandoned rice fields, which required draining and filling with a great deal of earth required – all of which was sourced from Lunuganga’s northern slope, Cinnamon Hill. To stabilise all the newly placed loose soil, the slow and steady use of an elephant was employed to stamp and ‘puddle’ the earth. In his own words from the publication, ‘Lunuganga’, Geoffrey Bawa goes on record to state:
“Looking back on the making of the garden, seeing it as it is now, it seems to me to be almost inevitable that it should be there. The first decision to make a garden was taken at a time when – to me – the world seemed stable, almost anything one wanted to do seemed possible, and the time was there to do it.”
A view of the estate from the water
Water Gate and Water Garden
The Water Gate, located at the edge of the Dedduwa lake is the departure point for boat rides across the lake, is guarded by a lone leopard sculpture created by artist Lydia Duchini, which happens to be one of many mythological symbols found on the estate.
Artists of the time – the likes of Laki Senanayake, Donald Friend, and Lydia Duchini – were central collaborators in the agenda to integrate mythological symbols into Bawa’s buildings (Sansoni & Taylor, 1989).
“There is no winter in Sri Lanka – only monsoons change the mood and light, green ever richer with the rain and the clarity of light after rain. The landscape is large in scale and small village houses disappear behind foliage, the greatest beauty being sunlight filtering through leaves. There are hardly any flowers except for wild hibiscus, ipomea, jasmine, mugerin and alamanda – all casually planted and giving an occasional pointillist moment of varied colour against the background of green. Lunuganga from the start was to be an extension of the surroundings – a garden within a larger garden.” – Geoffrey Bawa, from his publication, Lunuganga
The Master Suite & Swimming Pool
With 20 years having passed since the demise of Bawa, the Geoffrey Bawa Trust announced the opening of the Master Suite (the original room occupied by Geoffrey Bawa) for paying guests. The suite contains a rare collection of original artworks, and his personal library. In addition to this, the addition of a swimming pool built discreetly on the estate grounds overlooking verdant paddy fields, has been a long-awaited addition to Lunuganga and is set in the very location Bawa envisioned a pool. The pool is located a stone’s throw from Cinnamon Hill.
Left to Right: Plunge pool and bedroom of the Master Suite
The bells still toll
A total of 14 brass bells are found across the estate today, each with its own unique sound that can echo back to the main house. The original purpose of each of these bells was solely for Bawa to summon staff, and each distinct sound let his staff know the exact location to find Bawa in.
A 55-year-old traditional heritage villa with a difference, No. 5 is located on the very edge of Lunuganga’s estate. Formerly the Colombo home of Ena de Silva, renowned batik artist and close friend of Bawa, it was transported from its original location in the capital of Colombo, all the way to Lunuganga in 2016 – a process that took just three months to dismantle the house, but six years of reassembly. The design is considered transformative for Bawa as he introduced Sri Lanka to the idea of an urban courtyard – a feature well recognised and almost synonymous with residential homes today, but unconventional at the time.
Left to Right: Exterior along with one of the suites at of No. 5