Fashioning iconic cityscapes | Daily News


 

Fashioning iconic cityscapes

Grand Hyatt Colombo
Grand Hyatt Colombo

It is human to think big. It is human to dream big. Man has always striven for grandiosity. Throughout history we have wanted our creations to be bigger and better. We compete with each other in our race to achieve that which is grandeur. And this has always been achieved through architecture. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the New Seven Wonders of the world all are architectural marvels. ArchWorld speaks to Former Chief Architect of the State Engineering Corporation Archt. Vasantha de Silva on high rise buildings - a trend that is here to stay.

De Silva affirmed the fact that we need high-rise buildings in our cities, but as part of an integrated whole. She points out that a new era has dawned for high rise buildings and the time has come for us to admit that high rise buildings is a phenomenon encroaching all over the world. Whether we like it or not the trend of high rise isn’t going to go away and architects have got to do it, and do it well which is an important challenge for both current and future architects.

City transformed

“Do we need high rise buildings? Yes, but as part of an integrated whole. They should respond contextually within the city rather than solely to local clusters, represent design and be a catalyst for lower level regeneration. Many appear to be opposed to high rise buildings where ever they are located and what ever they look like. There are positive as well as negative impacts and these can be only evaluated within certain factors such as social, environmental, economic and safety,” said de Silva.

Vasantha De Silva Pictures by
Saliya Rupasinghe

She added that Colombo, the Commercial capital of Sri Lanka that was mostly identifiable by its colonial architecture has made major strides in developing an upscale appearance.

“One would see that over a short period of time Colombo has seen many high rise buildings spring up in rapid success. This has rendered certain views of Colombo unrecognizable. Many are now under construction such as the twin towers on the banks of Beira designed for Destiny Mall and Residency which comprise of a 42 –storey and a 54 –storey residential apartment and a mall complex. ITC Colombo One, a luxury hotel and apartment building will create a completely different experience and environment to the Galle Face area.

Together with Shangri-La’s Galle Face One, the ITC development project will give a different experience to a drive through Galle road,” explained De Silva.

De Silva further added that the Grand Hyatt of 47 floors features prominently in one’s views on drive down Galle road and from any roof top around. The Colombo City Centre and the Altair which is a 63 floor sloping tower resting against a 68 floor vertical tower has significantly transformed the streetscape around Beira lake and along Sir James Peiris Mawatha.

“One of the main concerns with regard to the negative aspects of high rise building is the problem of placeless-ness and not being inclusive. This happens due to their soaring heights and massive bulk. In addition, universal design templates have begun to make all world cities look alike and foster homogeneity in the urban landscape.

It is high time that Colombo development give adequate consideration to these aspects which are already issues to many other cities with high rise buildings. Architects have a great challenge to minimize the risks due to such impacts. Politicians as well as other professionals such as urban designers, engineers and planners should think of the best methods for development, not just importing new techniques in order to produce architecture suitable for the place and circumstances it will be built in. High rise buildings should be made very responsive to its environment,” pointed out De Silva.

Contextual issues

The question to be asked is does it integrate well with the environment? When designing a building, there is a natural tendency to focus on the building itself, but architects must also consider wider contextual issues such as the micro climate, wind patterns, shadows or glare and building surface temperature. In summary, designing should be sustainable in all aspects.

“One can see that in many cities in the world there is a competition between architects designing specific buildings for particular clients and wanting to display their own dexterities in order to capture the market. But we know that in the past nature was the guiding design principle. There are examples of comfortable living environments answering human, social and climatic needs. So, how are we to incorporate same in our present context? Architects are trained for this. The role of architecture is to satisfy the physical, social and aesthetic needs of the society. Architects play a crucial role in effecting this change,” added De Silva.

Have we created the most appropriate environment in the urban fabric in the design and placing of high rise buildings in our country? “High rise buildings can be appropriately grouped in a cluster or located alone. The suitability of a particular site for a high rise building development will however depend on site specific circumstances in order to create better relationships and harmony between buildings and their urban and environmental contexts,” said De Silva.

De Silva raises the question - Have we considered the streetscape in addressing the quality of life of the users? Streetscapes play a central role in place making and providing spaces for social interaction. Impact of each high rise building should be first understood before making decisions on any proposal.

“Urban design should promote and facilitate social interaction. This can be achieved by the adequate design of public spaces such as plazas, gardens, and streets for pedestrians. Civic and public gathering space should be generous. Unfortunately one cannot see this in many of the already completed high rise buildings in our city. In the high rise development along Sir James Peiris Mawatha, spaces are not allowed for people to linger around and enjoy the pleasant Beira Lake and Seema malakaya precinct,” said De Silva.

Colombo’s future

“Introduction of high rise buildings into the city of Colombo has resulted in an intervention within its urban context. Insertion of a tall building into any urban environment alters the pre existing urban conditions. New high rise building greatly compact the scale and context of the prevailing urban environment due to its scale and proportional mass and height. Therefore it demands a different set of conditions in decision making within the urban environment. Whether standing alone or clusters the interventions of the building types affect day lighting, changing the micro climate of the locality,” explained De Silva.

ITC Colombo one

She pointed out that one would very clearly experience this between Altair and Colombo City Centre. Both buildings have cast shadows on each other as well as on the Moors sports ground behind. The streetscape along Sir James Peiris Mawatha has been totally changed. The changed wind pattern has made it extremely difficult for the newlyweds to take photographs near Seemamalakaya. The changes to the air movements around these buildings may affect their cleansing qualities.

Many major cities require every proposal for a high rise building to include a ‘Sun light Access and Shadow impact Study’. “New buildings should not cast significant shadows on a water body such as Beira which is considered as the lung of the city. We must evaluate our high rise buildings on its shape, orientation, focusing on environmental factors particularly due to the fact that most of the high rise developments in Colombo have been designed by foreign architects. It is time that we carry out an assessment of the high rise buildings that we have at the moment so that we could learn from whatever mistakes done if there are any,” said De Silva.


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