Applying 'Adopt and adapt' concept | Daily News


Applying 'Adopt and adapt' concept

The twelfth century Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta described Colombo as ‘the finest and largest city in the Serendib’. It was a desirable location for traders, explorers, and seafarers. The truth is we have never lost the potential to become a progressive, modern, world class, green and top class city.

ArchWorld speaks to Archt. Tharinda Dissanayake who points out that the haphazard development which we see in the country especially in Colombo and its immediate suburbs must be critically controlled. Proper planning for waste management, urban sprawl, architectural control, zoning, and regulations must be understood and executed by the Urban Development Authority and other relevant officials.

“For an instance, are we able to give a proper solution for Urban Sprawl where development haphazardly expands out-bounds Colombo? If we had a proper master plan with a good vision, then we won’t see the congested and polluted environments especially in Nawala, Dehiwala and Ratmalana.

Architect Tharinda Dissanayake.
Picture by Ruwan De Silva

I have to say that I appreciate the present Megapolis master plan for the development of the Western province. But the problem is, due to various political influences, parts of the plan are hard to achieve because of public resistance. In my point of view, I think, the public should be well aware about the plans - the vision and goals of the master plan or otherwise. It is easy to plant bogus fears inside the citizens’ minds for political advantages. What we currently have are a set of useless, non-flexible set of regulations and colored maps called “Zoning Plans” with no use. This has to be first changed,” said Dissanayake.

Dissanayake also commented on the strategic attraction of Colombo for visitors. The Colombo and Greater Colombo Resort Region spreads along Mount Lavinia in the south to Negombo in the north. Colombo city is the main part of the zone, and is the center for business activities, conferences and sport events in the country. Colombo serves as both a gateway and stopover point for international tourists. Thus, we can see that because of the inherent popularity of Colombo as the trade hub, there is indeed a need of accommodation, entertainment and recreational need for those who come to visit the country. He added that the government intervention obviously is necessary to amplify the natural demand mentioned above.

“Thus, my point is, there are many underdeveloped, grey lands within the heart of Colombo and its suburbs, which are not utilized. Either the authorities have not identified the untapped potentials of these lands or there is a problem within our national policies. More than 80 percent of the land in this country belongs to the government, under various land laws. These lands include forests and beaches. Let’s take the railway reservation lands, abandoned short wave transmitter lands of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and many more. The problem is we are keeping huge land plots for the purpose of single use. We do not have an attitude to maximize land productivity and use by mixing various activities. I think the problem is that we don’t value land as a scarce resource,” stated Dissanayake.

Dissanayake added that as a general comment, he thinks the development trend of port city and related regeneration is necessary because it will open up various potentials for the country. Thus, we have to remove our colored spectacles based on political agendas. We have to face the world with a common goal -a livable country!!

Dissanayake explained that the first approach of making a green city is to reduce the number of vehicles entering the city while introducing pedestrian friendly roads and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems and Park and Ride Systems. At the first glance, we don’t need mega projects like Mono Rail or Light Rail (LRT) wasting public funds. As the time passes and when the demand rises, we can implement such systems. As we all know, we must start from what we have.

“I have to state at this point, thinking big is good, but acting big is always troublesome. Development is not mere construction projects creating high-risers and mega malls. Development is having a good strategic plan, utilizing all the potentials. At this point, I need to appreciate the National Physical Plan 2050, proposed by the National Physical Planning Department, which at least have a proper vision about the development of the country. But I also have doubts about some of the proposals. But for the moment, it is a good approach. We need the active participation of the general public. Otherwise, Sri Lanka will be a developing country forever,” explained Dissanayake.

He proposes that what needs to be done is to improve the public transport system, removing the existing unpleasant, uncomfortable Leyland busses and introduce new, human friendly, standard busses while completely stopping the barbaric private bus mafia. Improving the railway system is the next approach or shall be done in parallel.

The truth is that in an urban context, we know the heat is high. This phenomenon can be described by the theory of Urban Heat Islands. An urban heat island (UHI) is an urban area or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities. There are several causes of an urban heat island (UHI). For example, dark surfaces absorb significantly more solar radiation, which causes urban concentrations of roads and buildings to heat more than suburban and rural areas during the day.

Materials commonly used in urban areas for pavement and roofs, such as concrete and asphalt, have significantly different thermal bulk properties (including heat capacity and thermal conductivity) and surface radiative properties (albedo and emissivity) than the surrounding rural areas.

This causes a change in the energy budget of the urban area, often leading to higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas. Another major reason is the lack of evapotranspiration (for example, through lack of vegetation) in urban areas. With a decreased amount of vegetation, cities also lose the shade and evaporative cooling effect of trees.

“UHIs have the potential to directly influence the health and welfare of urban residents. As UHIs are characterized by increased temperature, they can potentially increase the magnitude and duration of heat waves within cities. One example I can take is the reflective cladding material that has been introduced to the faces of Colombo. Luckily, now the trend is slowly evading. There is no advanced theory needed to understand the effect of such poor materials.

Everyone knows that, introducing reflective materials to the west face of a building directly reflects the heat and light waves from the sun. What will happen to the Galle Road, where all the land side buildings are facing the west sun? The heat of the road will be increased. Thus, It is the responsibility of the authorities to have architectural control by specifying restrictions for such actions. Thus, it is not only the responsibility of architects to design naturally ventilated buildings but also, it is the responsibility of the authorities to have proper codes implemented to control such use,” pointed out Dissanayake.

He emphasized that in the long term, if we control the city’s vehicle load, then the amount of dust and carbon pollution will be reduced at first. This will allow the inhabitants to use natural air which is filtered through a green belt of trees. If you remember the old duplication road near Bambalapitiya had this concept, but now the vehicle load is unbearable.

“The most crucial fact to consider is the orientation of the building. That means we need to provide openings more towards the North and South where we can acquire the indirect sunlight. Generally, the sun radiation is harsh especially after noon which means, the west face of a building receives more harsh solar radiation. Thus, having openings and high heat transferring materials within the west side of the building will increase the internal heat load,” said Dissanayake.

Dissanayake has some suggestions. One is that occupancy controlled air conditioning and lighting systems be introduced. Another suggestion is the re-use of grey water for toilet flushing and landscaping activities. A rain water harvesting system could be further used for toilet flushing.

Implementing solar systems is the other aspect. The solar energy can be used for many activities which require constant power supplies. The Solar PV technology is developing day by day removing the barriers it had earlier. Further, opening for natural light will not only reduce the energy loads, but also diseases like sick building syndrome. Another thing that must be said is the mentality of the Sri Lankans. Most of the Sri Lankans prefer Air-conditioned, well lit (artificial), cubicles to maintain their ‘status’. This typical mentality must first be cleared.

Dissanayake warned that we are not responding to our climate. We are forcefully forgetting that Sri Lanka is a tropical country. What we do is we adapt neo-liberal architecture and concepts in full, without modifying it to the context. The Dutch did this adaptation nicely. They had modified their Dutch architecture while responding to the tropical climatic needs. If you go to the courtyard houses at Galle Fort, you can see this. Copying and planting is not development. Adopting concepts and adapting them to the context is the solution.

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