‘Geoffrey Bawa is the greatest architect no one has ever heard of. He has influenced generations of architects like Tadao Ando and Kerry Hill, but no one outside architectural circles know just how influential he is,’ says Afdhel Aziz, a blunt assessment he hopes to rectify with his new documentary, The Genius of the Place: The Life and Work of Geoffrey Bawa, which premieres in Sri Lanka on 15 July 2023.
Filmed entirely on location in December 2022 – many of the scenes shot with a drone giving Bawa’s projects a gratifyingly fresh perspective – the 74-minute film is a long overdue cinematic paean to the Sri Lankan architect’s outsized talent and his fabled sensitivity to the terrain.
Geoffrey Bawa: a life celebrated in film
The first hurdle facing Aziz and his creative collaborators – Pasadena-based architectural content agency Here and Now Agency, which lensed and edited the film – was just which of Bawa’s 117-plus residences, hotels and civic projects to feature, a knotty problem Aziz solved by tapping his personal connections to five properties that were pivotal in Bawa’s career.
And so, for instance, Lunuganga, Bawa’s extraordinary country estate, where Aziz held his wedding lunch, makes the cut. As does The Lighthouse Hotel where his family went for their first outing with their adopted son; and Bawa’s last project, Red Cliffs, one of the places Aziz visited with his father before the latter’s death.
Balancing the personal elements of the film, Aziz tracked down key members of Bawa’s inner circle – among them Channa Daswatte, the chair of the Geoffrey Bawa and Lunuganga Trusts, and the architect Sunela Jayawardene – to offer their assessments of Bawa and his legacy. Their inclusion also serves a broader historical purpose, Aziz pointing out that ‘the last generation of people who collaborated with Bawa are getting older and passing away. So in order to collect the oral histories, I have had to move fast.’
Currently living in Los Angeles, where he runs Conspiracy of Love – a consultancy that helps brands such as Sephora, Coca-Cola and Adidas invest in sustainability and social impact – Aziz has high hopes for The Genius of the Place, not least of which is that ‘people will begin to see Bawa for the pioneering visionary of the 20th-century that he was’.
So positive has been the experience making this film that Aziz says he wants ‘to make more architectural documentaries like this about other architects whose work I love, such as Shigeru Ban, Luis Barragán and Oscar Niemeyer’.
In other words: stay tuned.
The Genius of the Place will premiere on 15 July 2023 at 4pm at Colombo’s Scope Cinemas. Negotiations are underway for distribution on cable and terrestrial channels.
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Daven Wu is the Singapore Editor at Wallpaper*. A former corporate lawyer, he has been covering Singapore and the neighbouring South-East Asian region since 1999, writing extensively about architecture, design, and travel for both the magazine and website. He is also the City Editor for the Phaidon Wallpaper* City Guide to Singapore.
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