Friday, April 9, 2010

House for Dr. Bartholomeusz


In 1961 the house in Alfred House Road that had been designed for a Burgher doctor called Noel Bartholomeusz was cancelled as it was nearing completion and Bawa persuaded his partners at E. R. & B. to take it over as their office. The original design was developed in the spirit of the Ena de Silva House, though the plot was narrower and longer. A first courtyard, separated from the street by a two-storey lodge containing garages, servants' accommodation and an entrance archway faced a single-storey pavilion containing a dining room and kitchens. Beyond, a formal pool court led to the main pavilion, which was occupied by the principal living room with bedrooms on an upper floor. The living room opened via a covered verandah into a final garden court. The change from house to office was effected with so little effort that one is left to wonder whether Bawa had prior knowledge of his client's intentions. With its courtyards, loggias and verandahs, the building created a pleasant and comfortable working environment that obviated the need for air-conditioning and offered a sample of the practice's work to any prospective clients. The design of the building incorporated two innovations: polished coconut trunks were used in conjunction with granite bases and capitals to protect them from termite attack, and the 'tile-on-cement' roof made its first appearance. Bawa had already concluded that the roof was the critical element in tropical architecture and experimented with a number of alternative materials and methods of construction: flat roofs were difficult to seal and tended to get hot, though earth-covered slabs had yielded interesting results; interlocking 'Calicut' or 'Mangalore' tiles were lightweight and required relatively minimal timber support but offered little insulation; traditional flat Kandyan tiles needed high maintenance and had to be laid to steep pitches; corrugated cement sheeting was light, easy to support and highly waterproof but unbearably hot and totally unattractive; the half-round 'Portuguese' tile produced a pleasing texture and good thermal mass, but its double layering required a complex and costly timber structure of battens, close-spaced rafters, purlins and trusses. While seeking a solution for the roof of a house in Jawatte Road, Bawa hit upon the idea of laying Portuguese tiles in and over the corrugations of cement sheeting. This marriage combined the advantages of the two materials - excellent waterproof qualities, good insulation and attractive appearance and minimized their disadvantages. Extra tiles were laid at the ridge and the eaves to prevent slippage and improved adhesion was achieved by adding cement fillets.The new office offered the perfect opportunity to try out the new idea on a substantial building, and its immediate success prompted its adoption for many subsequent projects.

The office was used until the end of the 1980s, when Bawa slowly withdrew from E. R. & B. and began to work more and more from his home off Bagatelle Road. In the summer of 1997, after eight years of disuse, Poologasundram and Bawa finally agreed to wind down the holding company that owned the office and Bawa became its sole owner. The house was then rented out to Shanth Fernando, the proprietor of a chain of design shops. A simple roofed pavilion was added to the furthermost garden to serve as an open-sided restaurant, and the rest of the ground floor was turned into a gallery and shop. This conversion has given a new lease of life to the complex, while respecting something of the spirit in which it was designed.

Robson, David. 2002. Geoffrey Bawa: The Complete Works. London: Thames and Hudson

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