Anantara Kalutara — The Last Bawa Project

Growing up I was completely oblivious to the soul-lifting visual delight of structures and spaces. This has changed in recent years. My awareness and love for architecture blossomed when I visited Europe for the first time. The cab ride from the Vienna Airport to my hotel in Stephansplatz was a splurge of awakened gratification – witnessing the baroque style buildings, particularly within the Ringstrasse. As I marvelled with eyes open wide, I was intrigued; I delved into details.

Long story short; since then I am quite aware of delectable European architecture, but it was not until a couple of years ago that I opened my heart to the brilliant work of my homegrown architects.

Read more about why I fell in love with Vienna 

Nurturing my new-found love for architectural designs and elements I was turning pages of a local magazine when I came across an elaborated article on Geoffrey Bawa; why he was considered one of the greatest architects of his generation and why so many draw inspirations from his life’s work in this beautiful tropical island. Intrigued by this 20th century Sri Lankan architect, we booked a two-night stay at Bawa’s final project – Anantara Kalutara, for our babymoon – a much-awaited vacation!

The Grand Entrace – Anantara Kalutara Resort(photo courtesy hotel website)

Located in the Kalutara district, about an hour and a half from the vibrant metropolis of Colombo, this remarkable property is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city. As we arrived, we were welcomed with warm Sri Lankan hospitality and was escorted to the lobby while traditional dancers clad in colourful attire graced our pathway with Kandyan dance and music. I absolutely love when Sri Lankan hotels serve thambili as a welcome drink. I mean, nothing can be more refreshing than a freshly cut king coconut! After relishing our welcome drink, we were directed to our rooms.

The refreshing welcome drink at Anantara Kalutara Resort

As I entered the room, my eyes wandered. I liked that it was spacious. I also noticed how they had incorporated a local speciality to lift the aesthetics of the interior. Batik! Yes, and this reminds me, there was a large batik wall hanging at the reception hall as well. It was definitely pretty but also as someone passionate about reviving local craftsmanship, it was amazing to see this incorporation. There are many traditional artistries that are dying with the older generations. Not being able to earn substantial incomes to support their living makes the younger generations take on different work pathways that pay comparatively better wages. Personally, I believe including elements such as this by local corporates and industry leaders in their businesses can contribute to the survival of these industries.

Batik bedrunner – Anantara Kalutara Resort
Batik throwpillow – Anantara Kalutara Resort

I love Geoffery Bawa’s story. He starts off as a lawyer in Sri Lanka and later leaves for Europe with the hope of settling there. Embracing his love for architecture Bawa then enrols for a diploma program at the Architectural Association School of Architecture.

Upon his return to Sri Lanka, he commences his work under the guidance of three well-known architects at the time— a complete career change! It gets interesting when he becomes close friends with one of the three architects whose work was also based on the concept of tropical modernism. They work on may projects together as their architectural concept preferences seemed to align well with each other.

Now referred to as the Father of Tropical Modernism, Geoffrey Bawa was undoubtedly one of the most influential architects of his era.

I am not an expert but a mere admirer of his marvellous work. For me, the most appealing feature about his designs is the seamless extension of the interior to the vastness of the natural environment outside. That connection is astounding! Walls and other vertical barriers obstruct the depth of a space, making you feel somewhat trapped or enclosed. I have done my fair share of travelling – staying at hotels/villas and I must admit that I absolutely love properties designed by him and his protégées.

The view from the upper deck – Anantara Kalutara Resort
Upper deck – Anantara Kalutara Resort
Beautiful artwork sprucing up the upper deck- Anantara Kalutara Resort

Coming back to architectural aspects of Anantara Kalutara; The gable roof of the main building was beautiful and considered to be one of the most iconic design features. I love high ceilings! Especially here at Anantara, it allows the free flow of the breeze and we were able to enjoy the uninterrupted view of the lagoon and the ocean while being indoors. It was almost like we were outdoors. I think Geoffrey Bawa designs are special because he designs them around a natural point. Like in this instance the lagoon. It is easier for us to imagine now that he has already built this but just imagine how he would have looked at the empty space and envisioned it when there was nothing! 

The entire property is one big aesthetic treat to your eyes and I couldn’t have imagined a better place to rest my tired preggy feet. 

Pool time – Anantara Kalutara Resort

Just a year following the demise of this 20th-century architect (2003), Tsunami struck (2004 December 26) damaging some parts that were on the lagoon and seaside of the property under construction. Channa Daswatta – a protégé of Bawa was later appointed as the lead architect of the project.

When you stroll across the public spaces of Anantara Kalutara, you will see – despite the demolition and reconstruction, Bawa’s core concepts have been preserved in most parts of the hotel.

I also loved seeing so many traditional woodworks and other pieces being used to decorate the interior of the property. Another favourite spot at Anantara Kalutara was the Geoffrey Bawa library.

Geoffrey Bawa Library – Anantara Kalutara Resort

I could have easily been there for a couple of hours. Many of his sketches were displayed on the wall and a variety of books on architecture and design. Most of the furnishing in the library was said to be either designed or used by the great Geoffrey Bawa himself. The Bawa library was put together to reflect his style. I mean, what better way to keep his loving memory alive? Such a tribute! Trust me, you can while away your hours reading a book or just admiring this space or his work. I did a little bit of both.

Geoffrey Bawa Library – Anantara Kalutara Resort
Geoffrey Bawa Library – Anantara Kalutara Resort

I can’t even begin to do justice to the beauty of this architectural masterpiece. Like I said; I am simply an admirer of Bawa’s amazing work, and I indulge in the cultural authenticity of his design. It is incredible to see his proteges embracing these concepts. Seeing them incorporating these aspects in their work, promises continuity and preservation of these beautiful designs. 

Deluxe Pool View Room – Anantara Kalutara Resort
View from our room – Anantara Kalutara Resort

I hate cluttered tiny rooms. Letting your eyes to wander as they please, is a luxury; there is nothing more relaxing than a spacious and well-planned room. Our Deluxe Pool View room at Anantara Kalutara was large and airy; the same Bawa philosophy that was evident throughout the property. We had a beautiful view of the pool and a partial view of the lagoon from our spacious balcony. The neutral colour of the room contrasted well against the teak furnishing bring in more elegance and sophistication to the room. The pops of pink, yellow (throw pillows) and the blue batik bed runners added that perfect pop of vibrancy. The interior was well thought out; the layout to furnishing. I love a roomy bathroom with a standalone bathtub and rain shower. The layout was cohesive and did I say spacious? (I think I did!)

I love luxurious hotel stays; surely most of us do. What was remarkable about Anantara Kalutara was the cultural authenticity that was in perfect fusion with luxury comforts throughout the property. That makes it more than just another luxury hotel in Sri Lanka. If you are really fanatic of architecture or you just want to explore the locality during your stay at Anantara Kalutara, book a day excursion to Lunuganga. It is worth it! I will speak more about our Lunuganga explorations on another day.

The Lunuganga Estate – the country house of Geoffrey Bawa

On a completely different note, please excuse my bad photography skills! Surely you’d find plenty of reviews with better professional photography. This is simply my take. Besides my staycation was about two years ago and I hadn’t even thought of blogging about it then 🙂 Have you visited Anantara Kalutara yet? If you have, how was your experience? Do leave me a comment, I would love to hear all about it.

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