Shaping a design destination | Daily News

Shaping a design destination


Sri Lanka has that romance about it. The sunsets are some of the most beautiful in the world when standing on the white sandy beaches. The Ocean surrounding the Pearl of the Indian Ocean is home to the magnificent whales and colourful coral reefs. Majestic Sigiriya Fortress, created by a Sri Lankan Prince, is home to some of the most beautiful frescoes in the world.

The Sinharaja Forest is a treasure trove of endemic species. One never tires of the wildlife in the national parks. Some of the cuisine available in the country has a distinct unique flavor. It is one of those few places in the world where design and culture can thrive. Arch World speaks to Archt. Philip Weeraratne on this land that it an architect’s dream.

Weeraratne has travelled extensively, visiting countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East but says Sri Lanka, has a unique composition with a diverse mix of culture, history, arts and cuisines.

Archt. Philip Weeraratne

“It has some beautifully preserved old monuments, an amazing climate, rich vegetation and landscape which are fast being ruined and polluted by the very people of this heritage. Its cuisine is distinct, life styles unique and the varied traditions of the Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Muslims and Burghers, add a layer to this multi coloured diversity. We have a very unique production in our hands, compared to most of the countries in the world, but sadly and unfortunately, most people and especially our politicians and policy makers show a callous indifference in maximizing the potentials’ of this product in a holistic manner,” said Weeraratne.

Destroying the amazing land

“The apathy and lethargy of the people and their self-preservation and self-centered ambitions, further compound and allow this very product to be plundered and destroyed by all and sundry. It is not just the uneducated, but quite shockingly, the educated and the elite who, with their partisan political alliances, allow a free run for the destruction of Sri Lanka. Simple examples are visible in day to day life such as the polythene marring beautiful scenic locations and beaches, garbage strewn along the streets and this pollution is jointly collaborated on by both the educated and elite and the uneducated and poor elite,” laments Weeraratne.

According to Weeraratne, there needs to be a change of attitude and mentality, but because of self-centered attitudes, we are missing the opportunity of capitalizing on the absolute treasure trove we possess and are slowly but gradually destroying it.

There is no point blaming the politicians alone, he says the elite and educated have kept a numbing silence. This is the predicament of overall society today. At the end of the day if the educated, rich and elite get together, and say ‘We want to protect this national heritage’, that itself will inspire the younger generation in capitalizing on this, and thereby leading to great by-products, innovations, design and a whole host of other services.

“We can become a design destination that people can come to. We have amazing talents, from artists, craftsmen, songwriters, poets, choreographers, dancers, film producers, culinary experts to Architects. Inherently, our people are a sensitive people, and this sensitivity has produced and created some amazing artistic work in the past. It is a pity that people do not value and understand what we possess,” stated Weeraratne.

However he added that there is hope, the younger generation in Sri Lanka understand the potential what we have, and are capitalizing on it. Because they have travelled the world, they have been to London, they have been to New York, travelled to Sydney and experienced Tokyo, and they have seen what these cities have produced with amazing arts, culture, crafts and cuisines with virtually nothing. He stated that it is heartening that the younger generation is moving in the correct direction.

Weeraratne disclosed that as Architects, “we would like to design tropically sensitive open houses, with minimal doors and windows blending indoor and outdoor spaces, but there are challenges in building such houses. One of the unfortunate and realistic fears of clients is the devastating curse of ‘dengue’ brought about by excessive pollution.”

“Air-conditioning seems to be the easy way out and it is unfortunate that we have created ‘prisoner of our own selves’, living in such lush and tropical climate with amazing landscape and vegetation around us. Our parents, grandparents and many generations before have lived in spaces with close engagement with nature. He stressed that we have an amazing climate and amazing potential, but the clients want to take the cheapest and easiest way out,” pointed out Weeraratne.

Weeraratne is a man who has identified the importance of the element of romance in architecture when he says that he likes to create houses where you can enjoy the moonlight, see the sky, enjoy the breeze, sit out in the evening and even partake of a meal outdoors.

Climatic change-a challenge

Pictures by Sarath Peiris

He pointed that climate change and erratic weather and temperatures, are becoming a challenge to architects. So architects are now trying to re-invent designs and produce ways and techniques that can actually make a difference.

Having travelled across the globe, he points out that if you look at Asia, it is difficult to identify a single country that has many mega-projects, with a lot of contextual identity. He mentioned the Asian style of architecture was inspired by Sri Lanka. A lot of the architects in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia looked up to Geoffrey Bawa and was inspired by his work. Many resorts in these countries have being inspired by the Geoffrey Bawa school of thought.

“But when it comes to high rise buildings, there is really no specific Asian style but a very international style. I am really not sure how to answer the question if a high rise building could be reinterpreted in a contextual relevance to Sri Lanka. As much as people may speak of it, criticize it, or even analyse it, I would be very interested and excited to see one of these design pundits really produce a contextual relevant high rise building that goes deeper than superfluous adornment and mere words,” added Weeraratne.

He also pointed out that malls have become the alternate recreation space to open parks and city squares, and Sri Lankans are perusing this avidly. He says that it is sad that the younger generation is opting and also being encouraged by their parents to be occupied with their iPads, mobile phone games or just a visit to the malls.

“When we were younger, we engaged the outdoors, played cricket, climbed trees and cycled the streets. This no doubt opened our inner beings to a greater degree of sensitivity and reality. Sri Lanka must use its infrastructure – its parks, public squares, and other gathering spaces meaningfully, have weekend fairs, markets, outdoor theatre, exhibitions, cultural and social events, as an alternate form of entertainment rather than meaninglessly walking up and down a mall. It will be interesting to see if the younger generation will eventually choose the outdoors, rather than walking the marbled paved streets within a mall,” pointed out Weeraratne.

Weeraratne summed things up when he asked ‘When you talk of Sri Lankan identity you have to ask the person – What do you expect?’ It is very easy to talk about Sri Lankan identity, but are you willing to make drastic change in your life style choices, from your comfortable air conditioned homes, to naturally engaging spaces, from artificial materials to more natural materials, from your high tech gadgets, to the simple curiosities of nature? Weeraratne added that at the same time we must understand that we are global citizens; we cannot hide behind pseudo cultural and Sri Lankan identities that eventually cultivate racism and extremism. We need to not be ‘frogs in a well’ when it comes to everything that is happening all around the world.

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