Thursday, 25 April 2002  
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Government - Gazette

Sunday Observer

Budusarana On-line Edition




Mahamevuna Royal Gardens to regain ancient glory

by Florence Wickramage

Mehamevuna Uyana, known as the Mahamegha Gardens of Anuradhapura during the period of Sinhala Kings has been historically considered as the first hallowed garden in Asia dating back to the period before the advent of Arahat Mahinda to the country. It is also home to the oldest chronicled tree in the world - the sacred Bo Tree (Ficus religiosa) planted in the Gardens 288 years before Christ.

"In the year 176 after the Parinibbhana of the Buddha (368 BC), King Mutasiva succeeded his father King Panduka Abhaya (4th C. BC) who founded the city of "Anuradha" formerly known as Anuradhagama. King Mutasiva continued Anuradhapura as the Capital of Lanka and formed the Mahamegha Pleasure Gardens, according to Mahavamsa (the Great Chronicle), was thoroughly adorned with fruit and flower bearing trees of every description.

Just at the time this beautiful garden was laid out, an unseasonable heavy fall of rain took place. From this circumstance, the garden was called Maha megha, (maha - great; megha - rain). In the year 308 BC King Mutasiva dedicated the Mahamegha Gardens to the Sangha for religious purposes". (The Sacred City of Anuradhapura).


I recall my first visit to Anuradhapura. We travelled late in the evening. There was no hurry and it was a relaxed journey as we rode on in comforting silence until the first streaks of light heralded a new dawn, far away from home, - bound in a misty golden haze - a beautiful ode to nature. Huge trees, venerable, bent over the road, spilling their scent-laden flowers all over the ground. We reached Anuradhapura, the citadel of Sinhala kings - the bygone heroes of majesty and might.

I was struck with awe and wonder as we visited the monuments and archaeological sites remnants of ancient palaces. I trod on grounds, where the earlier kings trod, thoughtfully inspired by what grandeur it would have been in those far away days. Looking at stone pillars and historic ruins I wondered what a task those giants of old would have had in helping in the construction of such majestic edifices - a tribute to the architectural ingenuity and the magnificent culture of a great Sinhala nation the humble inheritors of which we are today.

We reached the Mahamevuna Uyana and made our way to the Sacred Bo tree. History reveals that when it was first planted a prophecy was uttered that it would "flourish and be green for ever" and it still does. Seeing one branch propped up by a support I remembered reading that according to Fa Hien in the early 5th century AD : that "as the tree bent over to the South East, the King feared it would fall, and therefore placed a prop to support it. The tree is still supported in the same way".

However seeing this branch also brought to my mind the impermanence of life according to the doctrine preached by the great Enlightened One who long ago sat under the very same parent tree far away in Bodh Gaya. The Sacred Bo tree was filled with tender leaves which assume a deep pink hue and various shades of green which happens twice a year, and always " shake like an asp "(Knox) in the wind.

I was told that young monks gather fallen leaves in the Uda Maluwa (inaccessible to ordinary pilgrims) in the mornings which in turn are gifted to visiting dignitaries. The Sri Maha Bodhi is regarded comparatively small despite its history and is dwarfed by two other giant trees. Within sight of the temple are another 32 lesser trees known as "parivana Bodhi" acting as a protective barrier.

There had been several newspaper reports about strange phenomena that take place in the site. Pilgrims who meditated under the Sri Maha Bodhi on full moon nights have seen bright multi-hued objects flying towards the Bo-tree and then disappear. These lights are supposed to be "Devata Eli" (meaning that celestial beings come to worship the Sacred Bo tree).

We then went to the Samadhi Buddha, the most moving image of all. Humbled, I stood gazing at it dwelling on the question of reincarnation that the Great One preached. I wondered, am I too on a pilgrim journey in Samsara and where was I during the period Anuradhapura was clothed in regal majesty ? History came to my mind and I dwelt on the thought that the very grounds I stood on were made sacred during the Sinhala kings. I remembered reading that an adjacent gardens, Nandana Uyana were occupied by the Arahats and the entire Mahamegha Garden had been dedicated to the Sangha and the Buddha Dhamma, to remain so until such time Buddhism flourished in the island. A sense of pride enveloped me "that this is my inheritance".

Ancient Glory

I was fortunate to be present at the very spot this year, and also participate in a tree planting ceremony which took place on April 07th under the Mahamevuna Uyana Beautifying and Development Project Programme of the present government. Trees planted on this occasion included Mee (Manduca longi folia), Hulang Hik (Chucrasia velukina), Mora (Nepilium longana) and flowering Saman Pichcha (Jasmine), all provided by the Divisional Forest Office at Anuradhapura.

Most of the early trees in this 750 acre park bounding Thuparamaya Dagoba, Dhakkina Thupa, Halpan Ela, Basawakkulama tank and Mirisaveti Seya had suffered extinction. Some plants had been destroyed by cattle and monkeys. Damage had also been caused by pilgrims who cooked food under these trees.

I learnt that in the olden days there had been orchards of jambu, mango and other trees of luscious fruits. To the North of it was Nandana Uyana provided by King Devanampiyatissa. Mutasiva established parks, playing fields and pleasure gardens one of which was named Mahamegha, a beautiful royal garden, the present Mahamevuna Uyana. During the olden days there had been special varieties of trees such as Aralu, Bulu, Nelli, Sandun, Ehela and Mee embracing numerous dagobas and stone statues and many historic ruins. What is remaining of these large trees that provided shade and coolness to those many monuments were dying in many places.

When large trees die, the undergrowth perishes under the heat of the scorching sun. The turf dies too. According to Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Sunil Sarath Perera, the new program launched by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in collaboration with the Governor of the North-Western Province comprises many sectors.

Landscaping the garden and beautifying it with different tree species and those of flowering kinds. Two thousand trees of indigenous species now threatened with extinction and those suitable for dry-zone conditions such as Palu, Weera, Mee and Madang would be planted. In addition flowering trees including varieties of Jasmine and Frangipani (Araliya) would consist one part of the garden for their fragrance as well as for pilgrims to gather flowers for offerings. Trees to provide shade would be root-balled and planted along the boundaries of the Mahamevuna Uyana which have been identified.

A separate section of the garden would be set apart for meditation with tree arbours to provide shade and coolness. There would be a section for visiting Buddhist Monks and Chief Priests to plant trees in remembrance of their visits which would be identified by memorial plaques. Garden seats and Restrooms would be provided with special facilities for disabled people.

What would a garden be without birds, bees and butterflies and in these areas, chattering monkeys who jump from branch to branch and tree to tree. The project will provide a special niche in this development programme. A section of the garden would be planted with fruit bearing trees which monkeys prefer and useful for birds and other wild animals without whom the natural setting would be incomplete.

People's participation to plant 1000 trees in the Mahamevuna Uyana programme is another component whereby people are expected to grow their own plants and plant them themselves as an offering, in one section of the flower garden.

The Atamasthanadhipathi the most Ven. Pallegama Siriniwasa Nayaka Thera said that the conservancy of the Sacred Bo-tree had been undertaken by hereditary descendants of the guardians appointed by King Tissa and is practice is followed to this day. The Ven. Thera said that several generations of families living in five adjacent villages still look after and care for the Sacred Bo tree. He also mentioned that during the past years there had been instances where at least 19 trees on an average perished per day.

Anuradhapura though resplendent in all its glory as Lanka's ancient capital as well as the Holy city, had undergone drastic changes with the ravages of time and vagaries of weather. But these changes have not in any way left any marked imprints on the immortal Sacred Sri Maha Bodhi.

Documents reveal that the site where the Sacred Bo Tree was planted is the very spot on which stood the southern branches of the Bodhi Trees of three previous Buddhas - Kakusanda, Konagama and Kassapa. From that memorable day up to the present local pilgrims as well as those from distant lands pay their utmost reverences to this venerable tree as well as the Samadhi Buddha and still marvel at the artifacts which today are silent stone reminders of an illustrious and historical Sri Lanka.

Before long, Anuradhapura's Mahamevuna Uyana will once again regain its pristine glory with consistent and continuous efforts by the State and the public with the blessings of the Maha Sangha, since no other shrine in the world has acquired to a like degree the intense religious devotion which Anuradhapura - the sacred city of legend and history - has received for nearly 22 centuries.


Urban regeneration, culture and design

by Amos Rapoport , University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

The terms 'urban' and 'city' are not self-evident. Cross-culturally valid definitions have proved difficult. Also, ideal type definitions are often not useful (Rapoport 1990a). For the present discussion it is useful to regard a city not as an object, but rather as a system of many, heterogenous smaller units, human and physical and the relationships among them.

Of course, a city is also an environment - again much too broad and vague a term, which needs to be dismantled (a general strategy). I find four dismantlings particularly useful, ranging from the most complex and abstract to the most concrete; these are complementary, not conflicting.

1. The organisation of space, time, meaning, communication. (i.e. while space is necessary, indeed critical it is not sufficient).

2. A system of settings.

3. A cultural landscape.

4. Consisting of fixed, semi-fixed and non-fixed elements.

I will concentrate on the two latter. All landscapes are cultural - the whole earth is 'designed' in the sense of having been changed by human action. Settlements, however, especially cities are cultural landscapes par excellence. Cultural landscapes consist of fixed, semi-fixed and non-fixed elements. In addition to buildings which make up the urban fabric, there are the numerous 'furnishings' of the city (the semi-fixed elements) and its inhabitants and their activities (the non-fixed elements). The latter two play the major role in creating the ambience of cities which gives them identity, is not just visual, but occurs in all sensory modalities, is very variable cross-culturally, and can be dismantled into numerous attributes.

The variability of ambience means that the attributes of Sri Lankan settlements that characterise their ambience need to be identified and considered.

Note that ambience is never designed in the traditional sense of the word. It is the result of users, their activity systems, etc. This also applies to cities more generally. Cities as a whole are never designed, especially contemporary cities - their growth and development can possibly be guided. At most only small parts of cities can be designed, and even that may not be possible. The relationships among designed elements, and between those and the urban fabric are even more rarely designed. In any case, they change over time (Rapoport 1999/2000) - and cities are about relationships.

Like all cultural landscapes, cities are the result of the independent actions of numerous people over long periods. Yet they 'add up', become recognisable. How this comes about is a most important question (which, if studied correctly, can do much to clarify design). The short answer is that people share schemata and images which guide their actions, and these are an aspect of culture. Schemata, in turn, are translated into cultural landscapes by applying sets of rules about making choices among alternatives (what I call the 'choice model of design).

It is important to discover and understand these rules systems as an important aspect of culture. Rules can be formal or informal, implicit or explicit and different environments are often due to different rules; in contemporary situations they are often translated into regulations. Rules also play a major role in human behaviour, e.g. in how settings operate.

Even those few parts of cities that are designed are transformed by people and their activities. This dynamic quality of cities means that at best one can design frameworks, within which parts of cities develop, change, are personalised by various groups. More research is needed on the nature of such frameworks (but see the journal Open House International). It is clear, however, that they are not just physical (spaces, infrastructure, etc.) but also rules, rule systems and regulations. The design of those is a most promising approach to townscape design.

Within these frameworks the fixed, semi-fixed and non-fixed elements can change, the latter two quickly in many cases. As already suggested, they are most important in creating ambience, in expressing 'culture' and identity, both at the large scale (the city as a whole) and especially in the many sub-areas inhabited by various groups.

The smaller areas which make up the city and its 'neighbours' and their equivalents are the most important, although I cannot discuss their nature here. Not only can they be more designed than the larger urban scale, although not fully and frameworks are still the key. It is also the case that their size allows their nature, characteristics, their settings and their organisation, ambience, meanings, environmental quality, etc., to be much more culture-specific and hence more supportive of various groups. By expressing these differences the city as a whole becomes more adaptable to change, richer and more complex both in space and time.


The concept of 'regeneration' may imply a revival of something, a return to something. Changes in ideals, images, values, lifestyles, standards, relationships between public and private and buildings and urban open space, etc., make this possible meaning very doubtful. 'Regeneration' also implies that something has deteriorated and needs to be improved, it thus implies a baseline of quality which needs to be made explicit, it needs to be discovered. Cities vary cross-culturally and over time, so that the environmental quality toward which one is aiming (i.e. 'good' environmental quality) is also variable. In any case, what is really being discussed is environmental quality, and improving it.

Environmental quality is a most important and useful concept. It can be made operational by dismantling into the specific positive and negative components that make it up, their ranking and arrangements. It can also be represented by a profile. It enables the setting of goals, the comparison of the profiles among different groups and actors in the planning and design process and hence conflicts among them, etc. As one example, regeneration is often also termed (or includes) 'revitalisation'.

Yet certain groups (e.g. in some US and other suburbs) greatly prefer an absence of activities in public space and hence of public space. One thus needs to discover and consider the values of groups, and to criticise an urban area for being 'dead' is then wrong. The same applies to criticisms of a lack of 'urbanity' which (in the case of Milton Keynes) was a highly positive quality of the environment.

The question then is what is a good or a bad environment, i.e. how do we know that regeneration is needed. In general terms, applicable to urban areas, other settlements, buildings, parts of buildings, etc., all design is for the purpose of creating 'better' environments. One, therefore, needs to know: What is better?, Better for whom?, Why is it better?, How do we know it is better?, What means are available to achieve 'better'?, How do we know we have achieved it? (Rapoport 1983a, 1995a, (1990), 1995b).

One also needs to identify the specific negative attributes, their cues and indicators, and set explicit objectives that will achieve positive environmental quality. These objectives need to be justified on the basis of research-based knowledge. The means available need to be identified and finally implemented (the latter topics I have not researched). In addition to using environmental quality profiles, one can clarify the process by means of a general model within which specifics can be introduced.

As already suggested, groups evaluate environmental quality differently and have different notions of such quality. This depends on values, ideals and wants, which are often more important than needs, involve meanings and are highly culture-specific. Different comparisons standards are used, and these vary not only among groups ('culture') but also with the characteristics of environments (dwellings, shopping, schools, recreation, social aspects, greenery, open space, offices, airports, transport, etc.) Comparison standards, like values and lifestyles also change over time - another reason for using frameworks which allow open-endedness.

Meanings also change and because the evaluation of environmental quality depends critically on meaning, the latter is not something added to 'function' but may well be the most important function. Functions (and activities) can be dismantled into instrumental and latent. The latter, largely related to meaning, are often the most important and also the most variable. They hence explain the great variety of environments cross-culturally and over time, because instrumental functions are much less variable than are latent ones.

As a result the latter are also the reason for the need for cultural specificity and considering wants (rather than needs).

It follows that it is users' environmental quality which is critical. Designers are surrogates for users, and their task is to satisfy users rather than themselves. This is the rationale for EBS which tries to discover the relationships between people and environments, and the mechanisms that link them (in terms of what I call the three basic questions of EBS.


There is a question about the extent to which EBS can be applied to, e.g. Sri Lanka given that most research has been done elsewhere. I believe that the principles are applicable, but that specifics will vary. It follows the local, specific research is essential. Such research needs to begin with existing research (rather than reinventing the wheel), replicate it, apply and test it, etc.

I would suggest that any change to the physical environment by humans is design. That is why I said earlier that the whole earth is designed, i.e. is a cultural landscape. This means that the actions of non-professionals comprise most of design and play a critical role. A recent figure is that less than 1% of buildings are designed by architects and the percentage is clearly less for cities.

In my view, professional design is not a 'free' artistic activity, but more like the application of science (in our case EBS), more like designing materials, molecules, etc., than like painting or sculpture (Rapoport 1995b, c). It is a problem solving. But before problems can be solved they need to be identified (possibly more important). Note: Not defined - problems are out there and need to be discovered. Furthermore, any design can be seen as a hypothesis (or series of hypotheses): If such and such is done, so and so will happen. But it is essential to know why such and such should be done. In fact, three things are essential:

1. An explicit statement of goals and objectives, and their justification on the basis of knowledge and research (i.e. what to do and why, which precedes 'how').

2. The identification of the means (including non-physical) available to achieve these goals (how to do it).

3. An evaluation of the success of the intervention: Were the goals met? To what extent? How do we know?


More generally, it is essential to feed the results of such evaluations back, so that the design professions can develop a cumulative body of knowledge (which is now lacking), learn from both successes and failures. That is the only way to make design more predictable, able to achieve goals, and also the only way that "design can be a form of research". It is also the only way to make the design professions more influential and successful.

One should begin by defining 'culture', but I cannot do this today (see Rapoport 1995d (1986) 2000a). I thus begin by pointing out that although the importance of 'culture' is increasingly acknowledged not only in environmental design but in many other fields ranging from sport and medicine to economics and military affairs, it is rarely (possibly never) actually used. One is reminded of Mark Twain's quip: "Everyone talk about the weather, but no one does anything about it".

The question regarding design is why? My answer is that the concept of 'culture' is too broad/general and too abstract. It is, therefore, a prime example of the need to dismantle such concepts. As it stands 'culture' can not be used in analysis, programming, design or evaluation. When it is dismantled it immediately becomes usable (for detailed discussions see Rapoport 1998, 2000b).

It is also important to identify the scale at which culture operates, i.e. the size of groups defined by it. Clearly U.S. and Sri Lankan cities are different, but cross-national comparisons are not useful. Although the size of relevant groups is an under-researched topic, it increasingly seems that they are rather small.In as yet unpublished work I argue that there are dozens, hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of groups, and these need to be taken into consideration.

The number of groups, their characteristics, their activity systems and corresponding systems of settings, the extent to which they cluster, their subjective definition of neighbourhood and environmental quality, etc., all need to be discovered and used in design. This is where cultural specificity comes into play and designers need both to maximize the range of environments so as allow maximum choice, and also to maximize open-endedness to allow identity through personalization, for migrations, ecological succession, etc.

Open endedness is thus needed because culture and its expressions and components (e.g. values, lifestyles, activity systems, ideals, social structure, etc.) continue to change. As a result, open-endedness is a need in both building and urban fabric and rules and regulations as well as physical frameworks need to allow such change, and themselves be able to change, albeit more slowly.

There is one topic which is implicit in the title of this meeting and which I have not yet discussed. This is the role of the various professions, and specifically that of architects. If the purpose of design is to achieve (increase) certain positive attributes of environments and eliminate (reduce) negative aspects then one can also ask who needs to be involved in the process.

In dealing with the environmental quality of cities there will, in addition to users, be many actors involved: Politicians, business people, economists, engineers, managers, planners and designers (architects, urban designers, landscape architects). It should be pointed out that some aspects of environmental quality cannot be changed by any of the actors e.g. climate, topography, views, population and its social composition etc.

Other components can be changed by politicians (national, regional, local), managers, business people and economists but not by planners or designers, e.g jobs and economy, taxes, school quality, social and urban services/street cleaning maintenance, garbage collection, water, air quality, etc. Others yet, planners and engineers can influence, but not designers, e.g. public transport, major infrastructure, location of various uses and activities, systems of open spaces, overall frameworks and policies, etc. Others are up to the various users - groups and individuals finally there are those things designers can do.

It is useful to identify what distinguishes designers from the other actors, i.e. what architects, urban designers and landscape architects have in common. It is partly scale, their domain is the middle to small scale. Here they overlap with users and thus need to take cultural (group) specificity into account and maximize open-endedness.

But there is one aspect which none of the other actors (or those who study cities) rarely, if every, address: The three dimensional (i.e. spatial) and experiential qualities of the urban environment, although it is in all sensory modalities (not just visual), it is dynamic not static, and involves users' perceptions, cognitions and evaluation which need to be discovered. Also, although space organization is clearly essential for the three dimensional quality of the environment it is not sufficient. For example, settings need to be considered in connection with activities, so does ambience, semi-fixed elements and relationships among elements which tend to be neglected. Any new element, building or urban design, changes the relationships in the existing urban fabric.

If follows from the above discussion that designers cannot address urban problems on their own. Even within their domain and at that scale designers will need to work in interdisciplinary teams involving a variety of professions. But there is another important point. Even in their specific role, the specialization is not only professional (in terms of architecture, urban design and landscape architecture). The age of the renaissance designer is long gone.

We need 'hyphenated' designers - theoreticians, researchers, programmers, designers, implementors and evaluators, people specialized in the full sequence of the design process. Also, since EBS is interdisciplinary, many other disciplines will need to be consulted and involved to differing extents at different stages in the process.

I think that designers have less influence in urban regeneration (and other aspects of environmental design) than they should have. They are often 'pushed aside', not listened to, ignored even though they do have special skills and address aspects others ignore. Why is that?My answer follows from the discussion above. It is because their work is not based on research and knowledge. It is difficult for them to demonstrate convincingly their expertise. This can be achieved by making design predictable, to be able to achieve explicit, justified goals. One could ask how one can begin, how one could be given the opportunity in the first place. The answer is to replace 'arm waving', good intentions and emotive assertions by rigorous argument and the use of research based evidence.


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