City for SORE eyes | Daily News


City for SORE eyes

Sanjaya  Jayawardene  Pictures by  Sarath Peiris
Sanjaya Jayawardene Pictures by Sarath Peiris

‘To me the architectural identity is not something that you can see from your naked eye but something that you can sense from your soul’ says Chartered Architect and Accredited Green Building Consultant, Archt. Sanjaya Jayawardene. Archworld features Jayawardene who says the challenge is identifying the present pulse and creating for the future while cherishing all that we hold dear.

“Sri Lanka is blessed with such beautiful nature, climate and topography. The topographical variation, the climate and its characters destroy monotony and create that element of excitement with changes from place to place. When you travel across the island for eight hours you can observe such diversity. We as architects must have good sense to grab these variations from place to place and respond with our own creations to blend in with them,” said Jayawardene.

Office building at Colombo 04

Jayawardene pointed out that architectural training is a long process which takes approximately seven years, from the first day that you enter the architectural school. The curriculum of the education is so systematically formatted, where the students should identify the sites in various locations with its scales, historic background, social and thinking patterns of the communities and environmental patterns.

“When it comes to urban sites there are so many urban forces other than the points that I have outlined. The scarcity of land areas, available infrastructure, economic forces are involved in designing the urban buildings. Therefore the architect’s role is multi-faceted and he/she should have sensitivity and general knowledge when it comes to understanding the total scenario, so he or she may respond with his or her creations,” said Jayawardene

Jayawardene pointed out that the buildings in Colombo, the most developed urban center in Sri Lanka, must address the real needs of the city within the parameters of available and limited land resources, infrastructure, economic and commercial demands. The result is the mushrooming of skyscrapers all over the city. This situation can be witnessed in most of the major cities in developed or developing countries just like in Colombo. However, he added that he sees a major planning lag in our scenario.

Jayawardene expressed his view that here in Sri Lanka, he can’t see a proper direction or vision for the future at large. Having been to Singapore, South Korea, China, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and Maldives, who are close neighbours of us, he has experienced how their approaches are. He commented that among them Singapore, South Korea and now China have set goals to implement their targets and visions. He feels that in Sri Lanka what he sees is an ad-hoc approach which has no direction or cohesiveness.

Maintaining Sri Lankan identity

“To me the architectural identity is not something that you can see from your naked eye but something that you can sense from your soul. We as Sri Lankans had a very strong sociocultural base from Anuradhapura era to date. When we analyze our socio cultural history we had so many influences from time to time. Our architecture also changed in parallel with those sociocultural factors. That’s why we have a very diverse architectural character. Similarly in the present context we are in a paradigm shift in our socio cultural patterns. The challenge is identifying the present pulse of these changes, and based on our past experience, creating for the future. This is what I mean by the Sri Lankan identity in buildings in the present context. This identity is a factor that always changes in parallel with time. Therefore I believe just copying or repeating some elements, characters or scales of our old buildings, when it comes to designing present day buildings is not what we should do for the sake of maintaining a Sri Lankan identity,” explained Jayawardene.

Sustainable  office building  at Colombo 03

Jayawardene reiterated when he says that the way new developments are booming, there is no sensitivity when it comes to understanding our culture and behavior. He maintains, it is one cultural trend which represents the minority elites but not the society as a whole.

“According to the World Bank data over 90 per cent of population growth in developing countries takes place in cities. By 2030 it is expected that 60 per cent of the world population will live in urban areas and in developing countries this will reach 50 per cent by 2020. It is estimated that there are almost a billion poor people in the world. Of this over 750 million live in urban areas without adequate shelter and basic services. This is so in Colombo too. Though so many sky scrapers are mushrooming in Colombo there are so many underprivileged people living here without the basic facilities. That is the hidden reality. Do we need to take this chaos to our villages that are so self-sustained and sustainable leading, healthy and happy lives? We know some villagers suffer without the basic facilities -the lack of clean water, education, poor mechanism to market their products, health and sanitation facilities. If we can fulfill their basic needs, villagers will live happily in their villages and we can control the urban scroll,” explained Jayawardene.

Jayawardene’s wish is that Colombo does not become another Chicago or Las Vegas. Instead let the environment remain peaceful, keep the cultural bonds intact and cherish the ethnic identity and harmony.

“When thinking about this point, my mind went to London, the capital city of the United Kingdom. It has all the ingredients that a developed city should have –an air of inspiration, connectivity, nature (city with parks) and modern shopping. But still it has that sense of humanity, sense of security, sense of relaxation, sense of belonging. We should move forward but without disturbing the most demanding social parameters,” added Jayawardene.

Jayawardene asserted that in any field there are trends. Trends are time related phenomenon. In this digital age, era of artificial intelligence, trends are changing so rapidly. There are so many changes in architecture too. After the end of the war, we have opened up to the world dramatically. Therefore we cannot ignore the current trends in the global village and should be knowledgeable enough to understand those trends and challenges.

Lack of principles

“I believe a city should have these points as its principles - a space or place to have interaction, to achieve, to inspire, to remind of the city’s historic past, to inculcate a sense of identity, to build a vision of the future and to unite its people,” he said.

Jayawardene pointed out that the recent Colombo developments are so poor with these principles. “They are just individual monsters and there are no good ‘relationships’ or ‘response’ to the common society. They are creating strong social barriers. Is this good for the health of a city? Social interaction is a key function of a society. The whole purpose of a city is allowing human beings to interact positively in order to bring wellness to each other. If people are not encouraged to interact, the meaning of living in a city will be lost. Can you tell me how many of these mushrooming buildings achieve this task? I called them ‘selfish’ monsters, just competing with each other but neglecting the mass community,” he said.

“When speaking about the impediments to the evolution of architecture in Sri Lanka, I perceive that there is a reasonable gap in sharing and exposing the new technology, which I see as one of the main impediments we have. There is lack of opportunity for local professionals to contribute and study the new mass scale developments. I can remember in the late 70’s and early 80’s when the accelerated Mahaweli Development Project started, how many of our local professionals got a chance to work hand in hand with the foreign expertise of those projects? The knowledge transfer happened so smoothly and it created so many young talented professionals at that time. Is this happening now? The answer is no. This is due to a lack of policy decisions and narrow vision. There is an ideal platform for the local professionals to gain exposure, but in the present scenario it is happening a very negative way,” stated Jayawardene.

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Well said Sir!

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