BRIEF: for a brief split of escapism | Sunday Observer

BRIEF: for a brief split of escapism

11 August, 2019

One of the most famous landscape architects in Sri Lanka, Bevis Bawa, having had to take over the management of his family rubber plantation at the age of 20, gets away to this place near Aluthgama and decides to have his home there for the rest of his life. Thereafter, this captivating showpiece of nature has just happened over the years. At a glance, it doesn’t look much like a typical Sri Lankan garden landscape with its touch of English and Japanese gardens. But, one wouldn’t be guilty feeling that way now, entering the garden, climbing a half-circular staircase and walking through the main reception area. “Mr. Bawa was a person who couldn’t stay doing nothing, so he had been breaking and making structures whenever he thought things should look better” said Dooland De Silva, the former Assistant Manager of Bevis Bawa and the present owner of the garden. ‘BRIEF’ had been one of the fictional houses in a book of three isolated houses read by Bevis Bawa to whom ‘BRIEF’ sounded the best to call his garden.

In 1969, the hotels designed by his brother Geoffrey Bawa came in and on the request of somebody, BRIEF was also open to the public since 1970. When the hotels and resorts came up, there had been many tourists. The marvel of BRIEF lies in its phenomenalistic nature of being the first tourist attraction of its kind at a time when there were no other tourist attractions in the area except the religious places; and BRIEF bears the grace of becoming the ‘most-talked-about private garden in Sri Lanka open to the public’.

“So, I’ve been the owner since Mr. Bawa died 26 years ago. Before he passed away, he persuaded me to have my own nursery. People came asking me to landscape their properties, obviously because of Mr. Bawa’s name. Over the years, I became a landscape designer myself. My guru was Mr. Bawa” said Dooland De Silva gratefully.

BRIEF by Bawa has tourists and other local visitors dropping by. Each day, they get 15-18 visitors and the expenses are moderately high. At the time the Sunday Observer paid a visit to the garden, a couple of months after the Easter Sunday attacks, the garden came off idyllically tranquil that not a single soul had shown up until we stepped in. We noted that Dooland De Silva was delighted by our presence. He had two craftsmen working there “after the New Year, we had much to repair. We have now built a private toilet for visitors, a pavilion and a special place for drivers”. Dooland wishes to see the unprecedented architectural artifice of Bevis Bawa as long as BRIEF exists and therefore he has not changed anything there, being a designer himself. “Because, if I change anything, it won’t be BRIEF anymore” he said.

Bevis Bawa had not got through any examinations, nor had he studied architecture. In school, he had once been promoted to a class called ‘the removed’ and asked to choose between learning and departing. Since then he had not attended school and that had been the happiest day in his life, as he mentioned in an article. Thereafter, he had taken to planting at the age of 16 or so and that’s why he had been sent here by his mother. Bawa had served the last four British Governors in the army as the ADC” added Dooland De Silva. Gazing at the walls we could catch up with pictures that show 6’7 tall Bawa in his Aide-De-Camp costume standing snappy and smart. Bawa had chosen to enjoy his aesthetics living in his garden where we could also feel nudged and touched by the intrinsic vibrations of the unperturbed nature. Even if he had built his home there, the pastoral richness has not got dried up, instead, the place has grown to be a dramatic hideaway where one can be all ears to his inner conversations getting away from the everyday hullabaloos.

Strolling through the garden may make the visitors ponder about the sway of sculptures upon the architectural buds of Bevis Bawa that some significant sculpture such as Hanuman the monkey king, the stone sculpture- horse and a sculpture of a nude man, many of them done by Bawa himself can be spotted whatever side they turn to. The synopsis of Sri Lanka covering all of its cities punctuated with what they are renowned for serves the wishes of any foreigner to know about the nooks and crannies of the country. When walking in the corridors inside his house one would try reading between the photos that hang close to each other making a sequence out of the junctures of Bawa’s life. Those framed photographs could speak to us louder than what our guide had to say.

Even though he had not passed any examination, Bawa had been used to painting, writing to the newspapers, sculpting plus being a garden designer, and all his work still gets applauded for being so exceptional. He had travelled often to get fresh ideas to upgrade his home-garden. Bawa had distributed about 18 or 19 acres among his personal staff and had been left with this house and the garden. Towards the end of his life, he went blind and had remained a bachelor until death came to him in 1992 at the age of 84.

“Now we have a registered landscape design company called ‘Brief Garden Designs’. We have our office in Nawala. We have seven landscape architects and have larger projects like Havelock City apartments and the Altair building project” added Dooland De Silva.