An excerpt from the “British Period Architecture in Sri Lanka (1992) by Lakshman Alwis, reads-

“The council chamber is sited in a commanding position, facing the sea and looks majestic with a grand flight of steps leading from ground towards the pedimented portico lined with columns of Ionic Origin.

From this portico one enters the spacious reception hall at first floor. The council chamber which is also at this floor, is carried up through both first and second floors giving a lofty scale and the public gallery is accommodated at the second floor, overlooking the chamber.

Member’s lounge and other retiring rooms, too, were accommodated at first floor and at second floor: offices, committee rooms and a library. On three sides of both first and second floors there are verandahs and balconies lined with massive colonnades. A central lightwell provided daylight to main corridors.

In 1948 when Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain, the Council Chamber was entirely rearranged to accommodate the New House of Representatives of the first Prime Minister Hon. D.S. Senanayake. In these alterations a processional way was created across the central lightwell from Reception Hall to the Chamber.”

The Old Parliament and the present day Presidential Secretariat was built with a powerful vision in mind - “That was that all the deliberations, which will be conducted within those walls may serve to weld the several communities and classes of the population together into an organic unity of national life and national progress, not by the suppression of varying traditions but by their co-ordination on a basis of mutual respect.” ArchWorld talks to Archt. Channa Daswatte on the modern day Presidential Secretariat.

Archt. Channa Daswatte

The building is several hundred meters long and only three- storeys high. It has been created using striking brown granite. The neo-classical architecture incorporates colonnades. It is said that the structure is a typical instance of the official British architecture employed in Asian colonies to reflect imperial glory.

“The architecture of the Presidential secretariat/ old parliament is what is known as a neo-classical building and follows the classical city ego architecture originating in Greece and Rome. It was built as the House of Representatives when Sri Lankan was given Universal Franchise in 1931. The National Parliament met there after independence until the Parliament in Sri Jayawardenepura was built in 1982. The interior was designed as a semi- circular seating layout as it is today, but was changed to a Westminster layout with government and opposition benches after independence and continued to be so till the renovations that made it the Presidential Secretariat,” said Daswatte


In 1929, this Old Parliament was built on the right bank of the Beira Lake, which had previously been a swamp and soon after the council chamber. The building was declared open as the Legislative Council on January 29, 1930, by Governor Sir Herbert Stanley. Today, it is home to the Presidential Secretariat.

Since 1983 the Old Parliament, has functioned as the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Executive President. This is where all important official announcements are made and appointments of state administered. The building, especially the former Council Chamber, is also the venue for various state functions. This is also the place where the President accepts the Letter of Credence of incoming ambassadors as well as high commissioners.

The Old British Parliament is a Neo-Baroque style building that used to house the Legislative Council of Ceylon. The British Coat of Arms adorned the top of the building face till 1948, when it was replaced by the arms of the Dominion of Ceylon and was once again replaced in 1972 with the arms of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The statues that adorn the grounds are that of the distinguished statesmen of Sri Lanka.

“The statues are all leaders of our nation who may at one time or another been a Member of the legislature. The statues are that of the First Prime Minister of Ceylon Hon. D.S. Senanayake, Prime Minister of Ceylon Hon. Dudley Senanayake, Prime Minister of Ceylon Sir John Kotalawela and Attorney General and first native elected member of a Legislative Council in the British Empire, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan,” stated Daswatte.

The chief architect of the Public Works Department, Austin Woodson was responsible for the design of the building with his initial estimate of Rs. 400,000 for the scheme being later revised Rs. 450,000, taking into account the extra expenses involved. Woodson gave the building an open outlook so it would receive the maximum benefit from cool breeze. He was also wise enough to locate the Council Chamber on the east side of the building, away from the noise of the sea and sheltered from the afternoon sun.


“The architecture follows the typical buildings of power built by the British Empire in its long rule. The central section derives from the Ancient Greek and Roman temple fronts. The Asiatic society on Horniman Circle in Bombay has an almost identical front built in 1814 but with Doric columns as opposed to the ionic columns we have in the building in Colombo.

When commenting on the present condition of the architecture of the Presidential Secretariat, I feel it is very well kept. In its conversion during the Jayawardena Presidency by Geoffrey Bawa into the presidential secretariat, a very elegant modern addition was done between it and the secretariat building. A recent addition has been made following and copying the earlier classical tradition which seems a bit unfortunate as it seems to distract from 4th main building, But overall the external parts of the building appear to be in grid order,” said Daswatte.

Visit Kapruka.com Sri Lanka's Largest online shop. Over 125,000 unique categories such as Fresh Flowers, Cakes, Food, Jewllery, Childrens Toys and other Sri Lankan e-commerce categories. Low delivery cost to most cities here and free delivery in Colombo.


Add new comment