The green way to live | Daily News


The green way to live

Colombo Port City
Colombo Port City

Great minds build great networks. And great networks bring balance and create positive change. ArchWorld speaks to one of the UDA’s best and brightest - Chairman, Urban Development Authority, Director General, National Physical Planning Department, Archt. Dr. Jagath Munasinghe whose forward thinking certainly creates room for hope in the minds of many.

To discover or declare something obscure or in the future by prophesy certainly is a gift worth having. Architects receive a holistic training that is thorough and when they start their journey they are professionals to the core.

“Mistakes are detected only after the results are seen. However much we are experts, architects and planners, in different subject areas, one of us are divined to see ‘correct’ things in advance. The only thing that we can do is to put the best of our knowledge into practice, irrespective of the limitations, sceptics and egos, and to update our knowledge in a timely manner, and more importantly not to allow obvious mistakes,” explained Munasinghe.

Archt. Dr. Jagath Munasinghe
Picture by  Saliya  Rupasinghe

Munasinghe pointed out that the Urban Development Authority’s vision is to make Colombo the most sort waterfront business, resident and leisure environment in South Asia and the Smart Garden City in Asia. To accomplish this vision, the present orientation of its physical environment has to change. Currently the city and its functions are road oriented neglecting the most potential and extensive water bodies, which are integrated part of its landscape, the drainage network and the complex ecosystems, and therefore, cannot be ignored for any valid reason.

When examining the emergence of trends in Colombo, one may reflect upon the question – where do they originate from and what term one could use for these trends?

Munasinghe points out that this is a trend with somewhat unique characteristics to Colombo and its suburbs, although we can see similar trends in many Asian and other cities.

“I do not know whether this is given any specific name, but I know many call it the ‘mall culture’. The shopping, eating and recreation facilities as well as the public spaces are being located inside shaded, air conditioned malls, deviating from the conventional streets and open market places. This may be partly because of the increasing unpleasantness, lack of timely maintenance and the issues with safety associated with the outdoor spaces, mainly in streets, of our urban areas. It may also be because of the atmospheric conditions in outdoor environments which are hot, humid and glare. Some scholars are critical with this shift of the city’s people and the activities into internal spaces of large complexes, but they need to be seen as results of the tropical climatic conditions, the question of safety and the demand created by the increasing socio-economic affluence,” pointed out Munasinghe.

Solar energy installations

Though not completed yet they say the Port City will be a something wonderful. There is so much excitement created by this idea that is taking physical form slowly and surely. A dream taking form, a worm becoming a moth. A land of dreams becoming a reality.

“I do not know whether the Port City will bring the wonders of Asia, but I’m certain and wishful of a few matters –

• It is expected to boost foreign direct investment in real estate and other businesses, which is a need of the time for the overall economic development of the nation. That will bring in both business and employment opportunities to Sri Lanka.

• The cost on the reclamation, land preparation and infrastructure provision will be much more than Rs. 1.5 billion, but it shall be organized to earn and bring back returns more than ten times of the capital that has been invested on it.

• The Port City shall not be another Las Vegas, and I do not think anyone wants it to be so. It shall also not be another Marina Bay as in Singapore. It shall be Colombo Port City, which is unique and the only one of its kind.

• Whether the move is right or wrong shall not be the question, we shall look for the most appropriate strategies to get it in the most advantageous direction,” explained Munasinghe.

Building a Green City, according to the knowledge that we already have is a challenge, but certainly not a difficult task. The new planning and building regulations introduced by the UDA have already integrated strategies to transform Colombo and the other urban areas in Sri Lanka into Green Cities. They may not directly intervene, but gradually turn our building stock into energy efficient, physically and visually comfortable and environmentally sensitive habitat, through appropriate designs and sustainable use of material.

Mall culture

“In addition, the UDA has also implemented an Urban Space Shading program which is named ‘Sahasak Thuru’. This is a direct intervention with the highly used urban spaces providing tree covers, walkways and special landscape features. Integrating with the other sectors and agencies the UDA has also endeavored several Green initiatives such as renewable (solar) energy installations, convenient public transport development and polythene and plastic free environments. Even now, the Green Building rating and rainwater harvesting are compulsory for all medium and large scale developments,” said Munasinghe

Munasinghe also stated that to him the idea that we had a conducive climate, seems somewhat nostalgic pointing out that we have throughout been experiencing floods, heat waves and other impacts of the changing climate.

“Maybe we feel it more now, as a result of the intensity of the incidents and our awareness on them. What is important for us is to explore how the issues of changing climate have been handled by our ancestors, and how effectively we shall use modern technology in this regard.

Facing the challenges of Climate Change and the other effects of environmental change need to be addressed in both pro-active and passive measures. They shall be addressed from the National Level Planning. That’s why the updated National Physical Plan 2050, has given special emphasis on this aspect. Out of the four guiding policies, the first two are -

Conservation of the critical and unique environmental systems, landscapes and settings and Direction of the future human habitat developments into the most appropriate geographic areas of the island

In all Development Plans currently been developed in the UDA these issues are addressed at the Local level. The Planning and Building Regulations, address them at the individual development levels,” said Munasinghe

Heat waves

He also maintains that some of our old buildings are more environmentally sensitive and energy conserving than some modern buildings. For those which are not so, there are techniques and technologies that could retrofit them into efficient and pleasant ones. They may need certain modifications, but such modifications will not cost them as much as they cost for total rebuilding, except in situations where they are structurally not fit for use.

“I do not believe that any country has an ‘indigenous’ architecture. Every country seems to have unique architectural tradition defined by certain design principles supported by values of the people. They are building forms governed by the use of local materials, responses to local climatic conditions and organized around the manner in which different functions are performed. They differ from one to another because of the physical or geographic settings of their location. But we shall not forget that such traditions evolve with the internal changes in societies, external influences by other nations, the advancements in technological know-how and the impacts of the changes in climate and the geographic settings.

Sri Lanka, and also its different regions have been having buildings, which show some unique features, evolved over thousands of years subjected to influences of many forces. They are nicely fitted into given functions and locations, a collective of which we may call Sri Lankan Architecture,” explained Munasinghe.

Heat waves

Climate Vs. Beauty is a relevant theme when it comes to any city. Is there anything wrong with beauty? He answers this question with his extraordinary architectural insight -

“The beauty is more or less a subjective judgement. Therefore, different groups and individuals may judge the beauty of buildings in different levels. However, to me, the beauty shall not be skin deep. The external appearance alone will not make any person or a building beautiful. The real beauty of a person is expressed out of how he or she responds to the others under different situations and the manner in which he or she maintain relationships with the others in the society. The buildings are no different. Changing weather conditions and climate provide different situations for buildings to respond,” added Munasinghe

How long will it take for the rural areas of Sri Lanka to follow the urban trend that we see in Colombo? How long before they catch up with Colombo?

“The rural areas may still remain in that character, but according to our studies, nearly 40 percent of the population in our country are more than 50 percent urban in their life styles. This cohort will increase up to 60 percent in the next ten years. They may still live in these so called ‘rural’ areas with less built physical environments, but they will enjoy urban facilities, leading urban lifestyles and bearing urban aspirations,” stated Munasinghe.


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