Of course Sri Lanka is a tropical island and hence, houses should be built accordingly, right? The New Sri Lankan House – a book – highlights these aspects and houses built for the tropics. It is written by Robert Powell, of which the essays are by David Robson and photos by Sebastian Posingis. It was launched recently at the Barefoot Gallery and will also be launched on 20 May in London, UK.
In conversation with Powell
“It was around 2013 when the idea of this project came into hold. I’d already written a few similar books on houses in other countries in South East Asia, and it was only a natural choice to also feature Sri Lankan houses in the same manner. The introductory essays were taken over by Robson and I took over writing the rest of the pieces for each house, whilst Posingis took the photographs.”
While conversing on the subject of seeing each of these houses to feature, Powell admitted that the trio literary travelled from house to house. “We were given a list at first; this included recommendations for our book by architect C. Anjalendran. We also received a couple of recommendations from the Bawa Trust, architect Channa Daswatte and a few other people I know. As is known, it really isn’t easy to identify houses and those that fit the criteria for this book, and so we looked at the choices laid in front of us and cut the list down further to a total of 25. Once this was sorted out, we simply head off on the road to visit each of them,” he said.
“It took us about a year in all to really put together everything we needed. Going from house to house isn’t as easy as it sounds. I actually put together a map and we worked our way through one by one. It also took us another year to work on the photographs and select what we wanted for the book. I have to admit that the houses featured include that of three completed by foreign architects and the rest by local architects. It also makes it right to feature the work of Geoffrey Bawa first and then move on towards the others. So for those who have a misconception that the book is entirely on the work of Bawa, they are wrong. The book also focuses on many fresh and young architects who are making a name for themselves. There is a link however because some of the featured architects did work with Bawa initially before moving out and practising architecture on their own.”
“To be quite frank, this is the first book of its kind that includes the names and work of these young architects. Now when I say young, I mean those aged between 30 and 55. They are immerging architects who have their own practices. This book hence creates a lot of awareness and makes these names well known on an international aspect,” he added.
Houses for the tropics
Basically, the criteria for the houses that the team was looking to feature in the book was simple. The houses had to be made for the tropics being on an island. Tropical houses built ideally are surrounded by lushness and have a open sort of aspect to them. They had to be well oriented, must not have chopped down trees in order to create the space, rather it should be that the house were built around the trees. Also there should be little or less use of glass. Now, of course not all the houses fit into all the criteria but meet the idea of being tropical in some way or the other. The book includes house that have been categorized into four – country houses, coastal houses, houses on the edge and city houses.
“The New Sri Lankan House is a very special book. I must also mention that the people living in these houses were also very amicable and accommodating. When visiting each of these houses, it was also important for us to be able to see the entire space in all lighting and in all its glory, so it was kind of vital for us to also spend a night; to be able to see the space at dusk and also at morning break. The owners were very hospitable and offered to allow us a night’s stay and it was truly a pleasure. You see, because architecture is not for discussing or talking; one must be able to see it from their own eyes and be able to touch and feel too. We were also very fortunate that the weather was good throughout our journey,” said Powell.
What I find most remarkable and a pleasant addition is that Sri Lankan architecture has a connection to the earth. One is always close to the earth. The way that houses are built, you are able to hear the sound of birds chirping in the morning, the lush sway of leaves on trees when a wind blows by and if you’re close to water, the sound of lapping. “So, the connection with ecology is something I find that other houses in other parts of South East Asia does not have. This sensitivity is what makes these houses unique and certainly one of a kind. The people of Sri Lanka are always grounded in this manner, and I also feel that they are all experiencing a new beginning – not with just a new political era but also with this book in terms of it being the first of its kind.”
The New Sri Lankan House is available for sale at the Barefoot Gallery
**As published in the Ceylon Today newspapers**
***Images courtesy Barefoot Gallery and Posingis***