Dr. Janaka Wijesundara
Dr. Janaka Wijesundara

 Humans are defined more than anything by one goal. And that goal is to give a greater meaning to their lives. Like other animals we also look to the survival of our species. But if that was our sole desire we would all be still living in mud huts. But we aspire to a more refined and magnanimous existence. Otherwise how else could one account for creations of superior craftsmanship? Take our Sri Lankan Civilization and for example the Egyptian Civilization, situated in two continents yet sharing similar genius - the Pyramids and Sigiriya. Arch World speaks to Dr. Janaka Wijesundara on adapting to the climate yet being of one mind.

“As people change their way of dressing, their way of eating, their way of driving and their living, they are also responding to the climate/ environment which is one of the determinant factors of architecture. The outside conditions with extreme cold or hot may be not conducive for living in certain times of the year, and the architecture responds accordingly. Yet the connection with the outside or nature is maintained simply because people cannot live without connecting with the nature- visually. However people in some countries tend to depend on the artificial lighting and ventilation a lot during certain periods when they get less sun during the day. The interior aspects are given much priority, as living is restricted to a closed and controlled space during those periods. The extra efforts are taken to receive the roof sun light to interiors,” said Wijesundara

In Western Countries designing a home that the occupants will fall in love with and creating designs that will interact with the occupants and feel differently morning, afternoon, evening and night is the general idea.

“The priority is given for interior arrangements and artificial lighting and inside air control is heavily used. Sometimes the window blinds are needed to be on during the early and very late sunny periods. On the other hand, the house in western societies seems like a more functional commodity as an electric gadget in the market. Since the houses are built as mass housing, people in those countries fall in love with the neighborhood or the street more than their individual houses,” stated Wijesundara

Timeless beauty

“Whether it is western or eastern, any skillful architect would be able to create a work of timeless beauty. We can enjoy such good works irrespective of the regional, cultural, ethnic, continental boundaries. It is like western or eastern music that can be enjoyed by anyone if done well. Such architecture is created, catering for the human psychological and physical needs employing the aesthetic and spatial organizing principles,” pointed out Wijesundara.

At all times in our history there have been certain patterns of architecture

“Though the technology, material used and forms have changed through the ages, the essence of architecture is same. When the built and spatial forms cater for the essential needs- both psychological and physical of humans, they become well accepted and that architecture lives forever. That means architecture repeats. Some architecture just pops up, and diminishes after a short period of time. Like some music styles,” added Wijesundara.

Concept of sustainability is universally accepted and in each developed civilization or society irrespective of the geographical locations throughout history, it has been practiced as the utmost responsibility of the individuals and communities.

“Initially nature and resources were well regarded and consumed by self -limitation of needs. Therefore according to their environmental settings and available resources, the western countries also have practiced the key sustainability concepts so as in Sri Lanka. However with the industrial revolutions, people began to produce and consume more and more natural resources, and gradually they started to disregard nature and started to work against it. The western countries have been the first to be like that. Therefore today sustainability regards only the technical aspects such as energy efficient equipments, public care accessories, building systems, service systems etc and tropical countries also getting used to follow the same. Many other silent aspects of sustainable living such as socio-cultural values, human wellbeing, happiness, psychological comfort, social security, community identity have become much neglected aspects,” informed Wijesundara.


Trends of course differ in various parts of the world.

“In North America, average middle income house owners cannot afford their personally designed houses whereas in Sri Lanka, still the majority middle or upper middle income people hire their own architect to design their houses. In some western countries the house has become a commodity that they buy, like one buying a refrigerator or an air conditioning system. The house in our societies is much more than that, and lots of other sentimental and personal values are involved and added,” added Wijesundara.

Depending on the type of buildings, today apartment buildings in Sri Lanka are not very different to apartments seen in other western countries.

“In general European architecture responds to the existing settings and historical context while maximizing the building densities. One example is that when you consider urban design, colder countries try to place the building so as not to create shadows .However in tropical countries shadow is promoted as a positive factor to get away from the sun,” explained Wijesundara.

According to Wijesundara life will definitely change in a few decades.

Acquiring skills

“Living will be restricted to extremely tight spaces, people more spend time/live in common areas, streets, plazas (as it happens now in western countries- they come out to eat, recreate, etc), people work and live in the same place, working and living become one (as seen in our ancient societies), travel may not be very much required- even for that the public transit will be used, the remaining nature will be precious and protected strictly. There will not be any ethnic, religious, or social boundaries/separations as seen today,” pointed out Wijesundara.

All architects are going through a 7 years of tough training to become a qualified architect.

“Therefore it is the responsibility of the architect to understand the deeper needs/aspirations of the people while providing the basic needs and providing functional living spaces. The architects are supposed acquire skills to observe and understand the human’s feelings and expectations with regard to their shelters and bring the most appropriate solutions for people’s needs.

In this the spatial forms, textures, materials, light conditions, are appropriately employed with the natural resources and context settings. However in the future the individual identity of cultures will in a way disappear,” explained Wijesundara.

“For example we feel very calm and serene in temple environments, whereas a feeling of subservience in the king’s palaces.

Though the basic components are included in both cases - for example floor, walls, roof, the manipulation of various ingredients, their combinations are quite different. For certain rhythmic compositions of them, varied emotions are generated,” said Wijesundara

Sensitivity is very important for architects. And in order to de-stress oneself, Wijesundara feels that the answer is experiencing and enjoying sensitive architecture of others. Experiencing and enjoying the beauty of nature.

“At the same time, they should be able to be strict, firm and accurate especially when the architect becomes the leader of the team, in guiding all other professionals involved, managing the construction teams, and specially handling the difficult clients to deliver the job in the correct and appropriate manner. Generally as an architect, I see that the creative part of architecture is always enjoyable - it is contemplation - hence it de-stresses,” summed up Wijesundara.

(Pictures by Shan Rambukwella) 

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