No place reveals the soul of Geoffrey Bawa, the acclaimed Sri Lankan architect, better than his country home, Lunuganga. When Bawa purchased the site in 1948, it was nothing more than a derelict rubber estate sitting on a promontory in the Dedduwa Lake, 2km inland from the Bentota coast. But over the next fifty years, he painstakingly transformed it into one of the most seductive, passionate pleasure gardens of the twentieth century.
From the heart of the estate, turn to the south, and a wide swathe of green field, fringed by thickets, swells gently upwards to Cinnamon Hill. Beyond, the lake glimmers and draws the eye to the hills in the distance. Turn to the north, and a glorious azure sweep of water and sky swings into view. Here, the edge of the land falls away in a dramatic cliff to reveal a water garden filled with lilies and ornamental rice paddies. This is the complex, Arcadian magic of Lunuganga: a single turn transforms an enthralling, idyllic perspective into an ecstatic, unrestrained panorama. To wander through Lunuganga is to be confronted with a palimpsest of influences, ideas, and memories.
Elements of Italian Renaissance gardens, English landscaping, Japanese garden art, & the water gardens of ancient Sri Lanka are all blended classical Greco-Roman statues pose insouciantly, and bacchanalian grotesque sculptures glare from tangles of undergrowth. Precise, orthogonal lines give way unexpectedly to baroque, serpentine contours. Engulfing everything is foliage of a deep, intoxicating green, broken occasionally by the hues and textures of wrought iron, stone, concrete, and clay. In the midst of Bawa’s personal, tropical Eden, all senses are heightened: to the views of the garden and the lake dappled by light and shade, to the sounds of birds and the rustling of leaves, and to the smell of the wet earth and grass after rain. Lunuganga is an experience of almost overwhelming aesthetic pleasure, and remains Bawa’s most extravagant creation and testament.
The entire estate has been preserved as Bawa left it at the moment of his death, and is now run as a country house boutique hotel offering an unparalleled opportunity to experience the architect’s vision as he intended: by inhabiting it.