We visited Brief Garden while staying at Lunuganga. If you can swing it, I would say it is worth seeing both (Lunuganga should be reserved well in advance, phone ahead for Brief). Either one is a welcome reprieve if you've been spending too much time on Bentota's beaches. (I know, not possible for some.)
If you do manage to see both gardens, the comparisons will be inevitable. As you may hear, both Bawa brothers were talented but with differences in their approach. It should be noted that (the older) Bevis' Brief Garden was first and was the precursor to inspire Geoffrey's Lunuganga, if not eventually spurring Geoffrey's entire architectural career. And the two properties are very different to begin with. Brief is inbound within the jungle, while Lunuganga is larger with a lake bordering its opposite ends.
The experience of Brief is intimate in size, the garden is organized by designated paths with lushly dense tropical foliage. Following these paths, you happen upon sudden openings and clearances that are humanly scaled - almost like garden "rooms". Some of these open spaces might have a water feature, formal stairs, or spaces sized for activities. The feeling of the garden as "rooms" is more clearly evident in the garden spaces behind the house (such as the outdoor shower area) that the tour guide will take you through.
Lunuganga is more pastoral in comparison. Indeed, Geoffrey kept cows on it (still there) that maintained its legal status as agricultural land. There is a spatial flow to the rolling hills and stepped plateaus that contrast to the jungle walkways of Brief. Lunuganga is often cited as one of the factors that ultimately led Geoffrey to get formal architectural training. This may add to the sense that Lunuganga is the work of someone more concerned with space. As far as I can tell, Bevis designed his garden primarily as an enthusiast.
I am surprised that few if any comments on TA thus far make mention of what appeared to be Bevis' undeniably overt orientation. In one sense, it should not matter. Yet, I think it provides a fascinating angle from which one can reflect on the brothers and their relationships to their gardens and the world. There are records which suggest Geoffrey may have also veered this way, although they are only inferences, as he did not openly project this image as his brother did.
Entering Brief Garden, you feel like you are allowed into Bevis' private world. Homo-eroticism abounds - some blatantly obvious, some quite suggestive, some with a touch of cheeky humour. It reads as a place where he was free to let loose and enjoy life on his own terms without abandon. Viewed in this light, outdoor spaces which are "intimately scaled" take on a further dimension. (Something happening behind those moving bushes?)
Likewise, Lunuganga is an interesting documentation of Geoffrey's world. You could almost chart his career as an architect in parallel to its evolution. While Brief seemed somewhat of an inner sanctum, Lunuganga had an expansiveness to it where one did not necessarily "hide" so-to-speak. (There are plenty of physical hiding "spots" but I'm referring more to the mentality.) For example, the male sculptures on display at Lunuganga are significantly more demure in posture - classical rather than wildly expressive. Was this the influence of English propriety alongside English landscape design? Was he acting in accordance with the etiquette expected of someone of his growing renown? Or was Bevis so forwardly extravagant it makes us pale in our moralities?
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