Think out of the box! | Daily News

Think out of the box!

There is a quote by Roy Bennett who says – ‘No one has ever achieved greatness without dreams’. Our vanity has made us so audacious that we have mastered our environment and created anything that we conceived of in our minds. We can see Colombo growing every day and taking form all around us. However as President, Sri Lanka Institute of Architects, Veranjan Kurukulasuriya points out, there is polarization. Also social issues have sprung up all around us like weeds in a garden.


Most of us are vain. Most of us like to drive one of the top 10 luxury car brands. Most of us like to wear designer clothing. But somewhere down the line society split into the haves and the have-nots and this was long before the luxury car brands and designer clothing. It happened long ago when groups decided to set themselves apart from the others. Vanity is truly our favorite sin.

“We see a polarization of people; the city is becoming a place NOT meant for the ordinary men; it is only for the rich; it is also becoming cosmopolitan- international. Even the Chinese national day is celebrated in Colombo. That is a world-wide trend. But in Sri Lanka we have only one primate city (A primate city usually refers to a city that is dis- proportionately large in terms of population size relative to other cities contained within a given geographically bounded area, such as a region, a nation, or even the globe) and that is becoming exclusive leaving out the common man. It is a socio-economic trend. In the West where the middle class is more than 90 percent, this is not an issue. But in Sri Lanka where more than 50 percent are below the poverty line this is a social issue,” explained Kurukulasuriya.

Entertainment, sporting events, cinemas, carnivals, parks, festivals and restaurants are what we live for. There’s nothing wrong with having fun. Cities should provide enjoyment.

“The City is for citi-zens, i.e. city-people, ‘urban men’ living urban lives in the city, viz. out-going with a lot of options available – entertainment, sporting events, theatre/cinemas, discussion forums, carnivals, parks, religious festivals, restaurants and street festivals similar to cities that we used to have centuries ago. In short a city is to live-work-play. City is not for millions to come in the morning and leave in the evening. So obviously the role of Colombo needs to change and the built form must change accordingly,” pointed out Kurukulasuriya.


“Port City will bring in service providing jobs in hotels etc. It will probably bring in money if the world springs back to a semblance of normalcy out of Covid19. It will also be like Las Vegas! But is that what we want? Gambling has always been considered as a vice- not engaged in by those who have self-respect and pride in their capabilities. This country with so much fertility so much culture and so much wisdom need not blindly follow the West,” added Kurukulasuriya.

We all talk about Green Cities. But a city is not green if it is polluted. One method to mitigate the problem of greenhouse gases is by fixing the transport problem. Because one major source of greenhouse gases is Transport. More private vehicles on the road with the congestion means more greenhouse gas emissions. If we can have a better public transport system and if we had less congestion on our streets through Decentralization, then we can really reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

“Colombo was green anyway and it can become a green city. It is not difficult for us because we have not yet reached the destructive complexity the Western cities (physically, socially and economically) have become. Functions of Colombo must be decentralized to the suburbs. If we want the city to be green, then most of us must walk to work places which means we must live in the city. The mass movement of people on a daily basis requires complex transport systems. Those are not necessary if we plan properly,” said Kurukulasuriya.


There is something about walking that makes sense. One is the exercise. It is healthy. It also reduces the Greenhouse gas emissions that you might release if you were driving a private car. Also when you use public transport you develop an understanding of bus routes. So in the event you are stranded without a car, you will have no problem getting from one place to another if you know the bus routes.“Walking should be the major mode of transport to work. If we get that right, parking will sort by itself. For instance, schools need to be decentralized.

Royal College primaries must be relocated in outstations by converting schools outside as Royal Colleges. So those students do not need to come to Colombo. Colombo has less than 100,000 of school going age and that is what Colombo schools have to cater for. However since the government officers from Colombo schools do not want their schools broken into parts, such proposals do not receive any attention,” pointed out Kurukulasuriya.He pointed out that he has seen Colombo alive day and night about 40 years ago. It is a dead place today. If you can bring back urban activities to Colombo it will become alive again. “The way things are going, and according to the existing plans, I do not have much hope,”

He added that the main impediment is that we have failed to develop an architectural language of our own- especially for cities. But for that matter most countries in the developing world have also failed in that respect. The world cities are beginning to look alike.

Don’t be artificial

“We are aping the West. We do not even have a dialogue on these issues. We have taken the Western lifestyles as the ideal to strive for.

But the FACT is if all the people in the world are going to achieve the average standard of an American, then we need the resources of four additional planets. Since we don’t have that, it follows that we are after a mirage or that if some reach that goal, then some others would have to slide down the scale of standards. And the city form reflects its lifestyles.

So Colombo is becoming an artificial city suitable for only a few who are living American lives.

The main impediment for our development (architecture included) is that most of us are outdated (not the technology). We don’t think out of the box. In this age when services are available online and where one is living does not really matter (work-from-home is easy) have we changed our living patterns or our city functions accordingly? It may be difficult for developed countries but it is easy for us with only 600, 000 living in the main city,” explained Kurukulasuriya.