Sasha Bhavan, daughter of Jaffna born Nadarajah Bhavan, and her husband Simon Knox have carried off the Manser Medal for 2006 - the `oscar` for small or medium architectural projects awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
This is not the first time the work of Sasha and her equally talented husband has been recognized as outstanding. Only last year she received a Civic Award for her café in London`s Russell Square, close by the University Senate House, and Simon`s amazing building, The Tudor House in St. Helier Guernsey received the Aluminium Imagination Award in 2003. If you look at their web site www.knoxbhavan.com you can see a list of the many prizes they have won.
A few years ago Sasha did a make-over of a house in South London. I was lucky enough to be shown round the house by one of the owners. `Look how lovely these cupboards are. I would never have thought of doing them like that,` the owner said to me. `This is one of our favourite places now. It`s so unusual. It was just an attic space before. Sasha is so clever.`
Her remarks reminded me of what I learnt when Sasha and Simon designed an extension to my Seventeenth century farmhouse in Kent. Architects have the imagination and experience to create spaces far more elegant and pleasant to live in than you could ever dream up on the back of an envelope. I also learnt about the importance of detailing.
Simon sent back the cherry wood panelling several times until he was satisfied the grain matched, and he made the masons demolish and rebuild the ragstone wall because he insisted on randomness in the use of the rough hewn stone.
At the time I might not have noticed such things but having lived the new part of the house for six years now, I am very much aware of how much a flawless finish, where all the details such as knobs and switches, joints and trims have been carefully integrated, adds to the pleasure we get from our surroundings.
Sasha was a student at Portsmouth where she achieved a double firt in her final professional exams. She also won the design prize for all of South England with a house designed for a blind client. The building which won the Manser Medal for her firm is a beautiful barn reconstruction built for a man in a wheelchair.
`We contrived to make sure everything was integrated,` Sasha`s husband Simon told me. Protruding edges were rounded off, corridors were widened. An undulating seat along the windows was designed so that the client could position himself freely without having to move his neck too much. Careful attention to the requirements of the client is a hall mark of Knoxbhavan Architects.
I asked Sasha what modern architects she admired. `There are so many,` she said. `Ted Cullinan for whom I worked before Simon and I set up our own practice. And of course Sri Lanka`s own Geoffrey Bawa, whom I admired even as a teenager`.
About twelve years ago Sasha designed a stunning first floor flat overlooking the sea in Colpetty for her father and mother. I asked her whether she planned to do any more work in Sri Lanka. `I would love to,` she told me. `I hope I get the chance.`