Creating a vibrant city | Daily News


Creating a vibrant city

Independence Square. Pictures by Ruwan de Silva
Independence Square. Pictures by Ruwan de Silva

Architecture is matter of the heart. The problems a society undergoes needs solutions and that is a matter of the mind. But the connection and attachment that is so important between citizens and spaces can only be created when you evoke those emotions. ArchWorld speaks to Managing Director H W Architects, Archt. Hirante Welandawe, on giving a city not only a face but also a heart.

Recently the romantic comedy –‘Last Christmas’ shown in theatres in Colombo is a perfect example of this attachment between Citizens and its spaces. Here Kate, a young girl discovers a space, a little secret garden in the city to which she becomes attached to. Next week is Christmas and the magic of Christmas especially in a church is brought out by that attachment between the space and the people. On December 25, church goers will gather within those four walls as they always have and celebrate. The church becomes a personal space that you have visisted for years. It is part of your weekly routine. With the singing of carols and the festivities taking part in that location for almost all your life, that space has an emotional attachment.

You need spaces that engage people with the city says Welandawe or people will just pass through the city like dead corridors when they commute from their homes to their workplaces. There needs to be that bond, that relationship between people and spaces.

Building connectivity

“We have seen a positive direction in creating public spaces in 2010 onwards through an initiative made by the UDA and we need to continue that. I see many people enjoy walking in the early morning and in the evenings at the Independence square and at the wetland park in Nugegoda - and it is a very positive change in the way the city is used. If you walk daily at any of these public spaces, that space becomes a part of your daily routine and therefore a part of your own personal city space. Creating that sense of ownership in the city is a very positive way for engaging the public with the city,” explained Welandawe.

A city has to have a strong sense of identity with its citizenry. Cities are built up by a conglomeration of people but making a city a part of the life of it’s people has to be done through design, specifically Urban Design.

“Unless we dedicate spaces for citizens to dwell in the city or engage in the city they will just pass through the city with dead corridors when they commute from their homes to their workplaces. If we make this journey a pleasant and joyful experience the city population will be in a more pleasant frame of mind and become more productive and peaceful. This is why in history, many ancient cities have used such designed public spaces to ensure public well being. Well known examples such as the Piazza del Campo in Sienna, Champs-Èlisee in Paris and the Spanish steps in Rome are not only great public spaces for their locals but visited by millions of tourists every year.

We have a similar model from the only living heritage city in Sri Lanka, Kandy which is the Magul maduwa strategically placed along the axis of the Pattirippuwa. It was meant for the interactions between the king of Kandy and his people,” pointed out Welandawe.

Welandawe added that in a tropical country with an abundance of greenery the Urban public spaces and parks would be the only respite for the city dwellers who are gradually being pushed in to increasingly smaller dwellings due to the increased land and real estate cost of the city. While admitting that shopping malls are in vogue in most parts of the world and also in Sri Lanka, Welandawe pointed out that street life is suffering as a result of these malls and she fears that it might not bode well for the future.

“Shopping Malls are an American model which has now become a popular building type due to convenience, centralized facilities and perceived by people as exciting due to the cowds that they are drawing. It is a type of building which has seen growth and due to it’s prevalence it is changing the density of cities. The problem of Malls is, it is taking people off the streets and somewhat killing street-life. Unfortunately Pettah and Fort are the only parts of Colombo which offers a proper urban scape for street shopping which is a wonderful model. Allthough shopping in the Fort died due to security in Colombo during the nineties I hope this area will eventually make a come back as a shopping district,” said Welandawe.

Green concept

To her, Port City shows promise. It is certainly an opportunity which we as a country should try to capitalize on. “Reclaiming land has been a method followed in many countries due to the economics as reclaiming always works out cheaper when the state doen’t own vast land areas in their cities. I think it has immense potential if we drive it in a balanced way and create the right mix of uses which is necessary for a vibrant city,” stated Welandawe.

Like the Port city, making Colombo a green city needs to be done with foresight and should be done systematically. There needs to be a proper plan with vision. With the will power and with the brains which we have in Sri Lanka, we can make use of what mother nature has given our country.

“Making Colombo a Green City is within reach because we live in the tropics and in a part of Sri Lanka where there is quite a lot of rainfall. What we need is a master plan on how to achieve it. It must be supported by the state at policy level and implemented by both the private developers through legislation. This way the burden is less on the state,” said Welandawe.

Recently there seems to be an argument amongst architects. Decentralization Vs. Centralization. Some architects say that hubs need to be located around the country. So that there will not be congestion inside Colombo. It will also help us promote our heritage sites because many tourists only stay inside Colombo. Decentralization will also contribute to developing the infrastructure in other parts of the country beyond Colombo.

The only problem with this argument is that our road system is not good. Other Architects support Centralization saying that if the hotels and offices are located in the city, it will be healthy because you can walk from one location to another. Also if we do implement Centralization that means you don’t need to waste your time driving.

“I think Urban densification is important for many reasons, one of which is because we need to save the countryside and preserve nature. However, densification must be planned and should ensure the right mix of urban activities which will lend to a walkable city. It is also important to ensure a mix of housing in the city. Densification must be accompanied with guidelines which provide for dedicated areas for Nature,” argues Welandawe.

She went on to say that Architecture is certainly not only about beauty, it is also how we resolve issues related to people, the community and nature. Today no Architect can ignore the climate change and sustainability principles in construction. It is imperative as the future of our planet depends on it.

The face of Colombo is rapidly changing. Many people have brought up the question - How long will it take for the rural areas of Sri Lanka to follow these urban trend that we see in Colombo? How long before they catch up with Colombo? However Welandawe dissents.

“I don’t think they need to catch up. Certainly rural areas need more infrastructure such as good schools and work opportunities but we need to have small towns as much as we need big cities and each needs to maintan its own identity. I also hope for a green city/ colombo which is more livable where public transport takes predominance and providing a healthy mix of activities allowing for a walkable city. We should have more livable out door spaces for the public and they should be strategically placed so it becomes a part of daily life,” said Welandawe.

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