Beyond Bawa

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How architects are shaping tropical built environments


Sumudu Athukorala
in conversation with
Lashani Ramanayake


He was drawn to the learning process, and the chance to travel the length and breadth of the island.

Having previously worked under architects such as Channa Daswatte and Murad Ismail, Athukorala now has his own practice.

And with landmark projects such as The Avenue restaurant under his belt, he hopes that people will be inspired to grow through his creations, live meaningfully and cultivate positive emotional vibes.

Q: How has design evolved in an architectural sense in Sri Lanka?
A: Geoffrey Bawa invented the most suitable contemporary architectural lang­uage for our island’s tropical setting. And following decades of foreign influence and technological inventions, young architects have gradually begun going beyond Bawa.
However, with the rapid development of the virtual world, it appears that the younger generation is increasingly losing the true essence of Sri Lankan style. While embracing new ideas has its positive aspects, we must understand the simplicity of our people and the built environment of the tropics – even as we draw on the influences of the emerging digital age.

Q: Is enough being done to expose traditional and contemporary local design and art at an international level? If not, what more can be done?
A: Undoubtedly, local design and art should go beyond our borders to international frontiers and gain recognition for their creativity. I’m happy to say that there’s an abundance of talent emerging in every field of art and design. These young designers are capable of achieving this and are taking the necessary steps to accomplish such feats.
The need for improvement is evident when evaluating Sri Lanka’s socioeconomic and geopolitical environment; and it’s our responsibility as designers and artists to contribute to the betterment of our country.
National development is based on the wisdom of the people, and their discipline and respect for each other. Therefore, it’s crucial that artists have a positive impact through their creations.

Q: How does art contribute to the growth of a culture?
A: Throughout history, artistry has been a prominent part of society and culture. And while art has been used to fulfil poli­tical and religious needs at times, society has functioned well apart from art.
Most often, art has been a mode of entertainment; it has enabled the continuous flow of knowledge and wisdom over generations. Additionally, art is a medium to express and understand individuality in society, and create a path for interaction among different ethnicities.

Q: So how do architects balance design, functionality and aesthetics in today’s context?
A: : Technology and modern innovations have taken the built environment and construction industry to a higher level in recent years. Moreover, investor and client expectations have changed drastically compared to the beginning of the 21st century.
Though design and aesthetics are considered secondary elements in most commercial developments, they remain the main focus in the residential and hospitality segments. So architects should endeavour to create meaningful and functional architecture despite these challenges.

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