Colombo needs to be Colombo! | Daily News


Colombo needs to be Colombo!

A city should be focused on its people and their needs

When designing a city, forced changes create tension and this tension most often leads to chaos. Natural growth is far more relaxing, less taxing and healthier. When you follow this line of thought you tend to understand this concept even applies to our personal lives. ArchWorld speaks to Chartered Architect / Landscape Consultant Architect, Damith Premathilake, on putting certain mechanisms in place and letting natural growth take place.

The flow of the city is of paramount importance. A city should be focused on its people and their needs – they have to be the central focus. They must feel more important than buildings and transport. When this will happen, it will create natural growth. If you try to force change and lose focus that cities are places to live in, then that is when the design goes wrong. However, if you have this culture that is people centric, then natural positive growth will take place. If you just give priority to commercialization that won’t work.

Place to live

“In a utopian sense, bring in people to the city. Cities need people living in it. They are not destinations, but a place to live. Then pedestrianized areas will be created organically. Organic or more natural growth and changes for a city are always healthier than forced changes. It creates less chaos and makes more people accept it. However, in a more practical sense, I see that public transportation need to improve significantly. How would you expect a person to stop driving a car, if the busses and trains are not up to the mark? It is also true that owning a car is a symbol of ‘status-quo’ in the local context,” explained Premathilake

Colombo is right in the middle of the vital trade route. Premathilake states that Colombo needs to be Colombo. Not a Singapore, not a Dubai or not any other city. Most importantly, the city needs to be for its people, catering to their specific needs. He admits that as a developing country, whether we like it or not, sometimes we need to accept certain things beyond our personal or professional perception. With our country’s geographical location, Colombo becomes one of the most important cities in Asia. Specially, for the transportation of goods and trade from East to West. Yes, Colombo needs a change. As Architects, Landscape architects, Urban designers and planners, our duty is to see that this rapid change goes in the right direction without Colombo losing its character and identity. Our strategic position is actually a huge advantage for us, something that other cities in the world do not have.

Rapid development

Today we see Colombo developing at a rapid pace. We see shopping complexes coming up like Marino Mall, One Galle Face and Colombo City Center. Living in an age of information technology the world is now becoming more and more connected.

“Globally, the buildings are becoming similar to each other. One strong reason for that is Globalization, where information is readily distributed, consumed and mass produced. As a trend, yes, it is seen predominantly in developing countries. I would not classify this as an architectural trend per se, but it is a result of globalization and consumerism,” added Premathilake.

As for the Port City, Premathilake points out that it is definitely a breakthrough mega project for the country. When what we have been promised becomes a reality, its magnitude will be unparalleled in Sri Lanka. But his biggest concern is whether the port city is truly for us Colombo citizens? From an economic point of view, the project is highly viable. But whether it is viable socially, remains a question. Will we lose our cultural identity if and when it becomes fully functional?

“Making any city a Green City is not that difficult. I think, making a Green city is an attitudinal change more than anything else. You can design the best possible city, provide the best infrastructure and offer the best facilities, but if you cannot significantly cut down on energy consumption and if it does not offer the citizens a people friendly environment, it is just not sustainable. If we are to be positive, Sri Lanka or Colombo for that matter, need to adopt one solid master plan for the coming years. It should be implemented rigorously, without any political or other influence. Form a ‘think tank’ and see what is best for us,” said Premathilake.

Centralization Vs Decentralization

When it comes to the argument of Centralization Vs Decentralization of Colombo, Premathilake favors centralization. The core idea of a city itself is to centralize resources within a limited geographical area. People are required to live in the city and thereby cutdown on transportation and energy consumption. In the context of Colombo, people are seen moving out from the city to the suburbs. This is commonly known as the ‘suburban sprawl’. In this sense, the megapolis structure plan was thought provoking. It brings in people to urban centers while freeing up suburban and rural land to nature. All infrastructure and amenities are provided in close proximity so that people are more connected and quality of life improved.

“Having more people around does not make a city alive. Liveliness of a city depends on the degree to which people form relationships with each other and the city. Simply put, cities need more activities for people from all types of backgrounds. Cities need to be democratic. The recent developments and public spaces in Colombo target a niche high end market and often neglects the people from lower social classes. Therefore, it is very difficult to commend Colombo as a lively city, day or night,” stated Premathilake

Premathilake draws special attention to the fact that we all know our country’s Architectural heritage is very vivid, celebrated and marveled at. However, there are several factors that have hindered its evolution. Architecture as a profession is scarcely popular amongst people, it lacks the right-minded clientele, lacks the technological advancements and lacks skilled labor. But he points out -we possess very talented architects whose work are acclaimed globally and have won myriad international awards. So, it’s not an issue of the industry, but of the people. As architects, we also need to engage actively in creating the right clientele he says.

“The trade of technology is to find solutions to problems created by technology itself. In the present day, energy consumption is inevitable and what we can do is to minimize that. Solar power can do a great deal. Compared to many other countries, Sri Lanka has the potential to yield more solar energy throughout the year. We need to make a conscious effort to better utilize solar energy into architecture, and everyday life. It is a highly sustainable source of energy. Solar energy will have a high capital cost but can really cut down on operational and long- term energy costs, if it is mass implemented. Afterall, what is ‘cost’ at the face of human extinction?” said Premathilake.

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