M+, Hong Kong, © Geoffrey Bawa/Lunuganga Trust. Photo: M+, Hong Kong
It’s a once in a lifetime to experience. And looking back now, you didn't realize how lucky you were.
Philip Fowler worked closely with the renowned Sri Lanka architect Geoffrey Bawa on the design of a brand-new parliament building, commissioned by the country’s newly elected president in 1979. It was built on an artificial island in the centre of a lake, and represented a deliberate break from the country’s more recent history of living under foreign rule. Philip told us more about the design process of this building.
Geoffrey was given complete control of the project by the president. Absolutely no interference from any other politicians. He took his inspiration from the Royal pavilions, the ancient Royal pavilions on the island, especially the one in Kandy, with a double pitched roof. The steep pitched roofs are characteristic throughout the island because of the huge amount of rainfall that we receive during the monsoons.
Here at M+, you can see a cross section model of the parliament, including that pitched roof. Then, to the left-hand side, is Philip’s favourite element of Geoffrey’s design: the airy main chamber. He takes us through it.
Geoffrey got the chamber, absolutely spot on, laid out like the Parliament in the house of Commons where government and opposition face each other, not in a semicircle like you find in the Indian parliament. You had a visitor's gallery running all around, flanked at regular intervals by silvered flags, which represented the ancient districts of the island.
And the entire roof of the chamber was this beautiful canopy in silver and gold. It was made up of small aluminium panels linked together with brass links. And right in the centre was hung a beautiful, huge, silver chandelier on a theme of palms because the coconut palm and the Palmyra palm are the most commonly found trees on the island. It gives you that spectacular glittering effect, that richness. This is a country that has a proud, rich, historic heritage, and the silver flags, the chandelier, they set that off brilliantly.
Section model of Sri Lankan Parliament building (1977–1980), Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, was produced by Geoffrey Bawa, Edward Reid, and Begg in 2004 with wood, copper and concrete. The model measures 40 centimetres high, 182 centimetres wide, and 122 centimetres deep.
This detailed model represents an architectural complex. The base plate is made of bare concrete and moulded into an irregular shape with straight edges and different levels. There are light carvings that outline the foundation layout of the parliament, including exterior walls, column footings, doors, and interior walls. The interior is divided into over a hundred rooms.
On the upper half of the model stand four 3D wooden structures. They all have pitched roofs and are connected with walkways. The two shorter buildings are located at the top-left and top-right corners of the complex, which, when viewed from above, appear to be one small square and one big square. The other two taller and larger buildings are close to the horizontal central line. Only half of each building has been modelled as if they have been vertically cut. From the cross-section, the interior of the parliament building can be seen. The parliament building is five storeys high, which is the largest and tallest in the complex. Each storey has a corridor that is considerably wide relative to the scale of the model. At the centre of the main building is a spacious hall that vertically extends more than three storeys. Rising from the centre of the hall are rows of seats arranged in tiers, and from the centre of the ceiling hangs a chandelier in the shape of a tree trunk with branches that grow in different directions. The hall is the parliament chamber. Next to the main building is a square building with a courtyard in its centre. But the model only shows half of the building, which looks like half a square frame when viewed from above. From the cross-section, it can be seen that the building is two storeys high. The layouts of the corridors and rooms on each storey are similar.
On the model’s irregularly shaped base plate, there are some slightly raised or lowered areas that resemble roads and lawns.