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Geoffrey Bawa: It is Essential to be There

Geoffrey Bawa: It is Essential to be There is the first major exhibition which draws from the archives to look at Bawa’s practice. Exploring relationships between ideas, drawings, buildings and places, the exhibition explores the different ways in which images were used in Bawa’s practice. Over 120 documents from the Bawa archives will be on view, including a section on unbuilt work and Bawa’s own photographs from his travels. This exhibition was first presented in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from February–April 2022.

Geoffrey Bawa is regarded as one of the most important and influential Asian architects of the 20th century, and his work remains inspirational to date. Bawa’s distinct practice as an architect began with the purchase of an abandoned rubber and cinnamon estate, which he would transform into the garden that is now Lunuganga, in 1948 – in the wake of the country’s newly gained independence from the British Empire. From this very first project, Bawa’s oeuvre is marked by architecture that seeks to understand the notion of place. In a practice so attuned to the generative aspects of place, drawings play a complex role. These works show the particularity of each project’s location and the efforts undertaken by the practice to explore site across the many layers of culture, history and environment that characterize a place beyond its position on a map.

Although Bawa’s work has been exhibited at multiple venues in Sri Lanka, The United Kingdom, North America, Australia, India, Brazil, Singapore, and Germany, this is the first exhibition to focus on the archive, and the first retrospective exhibition of his work to be shown internationally since 2004. The exhibition is curated by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust’s Chief Curator Shayari de Silva, and includes new photographs and video works by Sebastian Posingis, Dominic Sansoni and Clara Kraft Isono with works on loan from the Aluwihare Heritage Centre and Barefoot Ceylon.

This exhibition is produced through generous financial support to the Trust from India and Sri Lanka including the Initiating Partner Kohler India, together with Primary Partners Aitken Spence Hotels (Heritance Kandalama), and Cinnamon Bentota Beach, Airline Partner/National Carrier of Sri Lanka, SriLankan Airlines and Logistics Partner, CF Global. The Trust is also grateful to its collaborators Eka Resources, Dayanita Singh, Raw Mango, Viraj Kataria (AKA Design), MICD Associates, Luka Alagiyawanna, Tauseef Khan, Martand Khosla and Decon Lighting Pvt. Ltd.

Project team:

Shayari de Silva

Thilini Perera and Christopher Silva

Programme Manager:
Shanika Perera

Channa Daswatte, Suhanya Raffel and Michael Snelling

Assistant Curators:
Aneesha Mustachi and Larissa Guimaraes

Colour Photographs:
Sebastian Posingis, and Dominic Sansoni

Lunuganga and Kandalama films:
Clara Kraft Isono

Geoffrey Bawa Archival film:
Christoph Bon (recording),
David Robson (images)

MICD Associates, Eka Archiving Services, Viraj Kataria (AKA Designs), Dayanita Singh, Aluwihare Heritage Centre, Barefoot Private Ltd, Luka Alagiyawanna, Tauseef Khan, Martand Khosla and Decon Lighting Pvt. Ltd.

Udaya Hewawasam, Bandu Manamperi, Chinthaka Gunathilake

Project Assistants and Interns for exhibition in Colombo:
Dharinya Ganesharaja, Rajitha Perera, Meghal Perera, Lara Wijesuriya, Arundhika Weerasekera, Indeera Lokuliyana, Alvin Van Gramberg, and Nilanika Goonetilleke


Using a phrase by the late Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa as a starting point, this series of explorations looks at the interplay between drawing and building, photography and site, and architecture and archives. Following over three years of research at the Geoffrey Bawa archives, through a series of oral histories and site visits, we will take stock of our findings in the following formats, expecting of course for these conversations to continue.

An exhibition:
Geoffrey Bawa: It is Essential to be There

On view for the first time in Sri Lanka, this exhibition is the first attempt to understand Geoffrey Bawa’s practice through the archives.

A book:
Drawing from the Geoffrey Bawa Archives

Published by Lars Müller, is a richly illustrated anthology of essays looking at the Bawa archives with texts from Channa Daswatte, Shayari de Silva, Sean Anderson, Jyoti Dhar, Tariq Jazeel, Meghal Perera, Shirley Surya and a reprinted statement by the late architect.


A series of public programmes:
It is Essential to be There

From March 18 – May 7, 2023 the Geoffrey Bawa Trust will host a series of tours, talks, seminars and workshops using the exhibition and website as a starting point to delve into thematic explorations. 

Supported By

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