First town planner of Sri Lanka
Thirty first death anniversary tomorrow:
Tomorrow, January 20, 2011 marks the 31st death anniversary of Oliver
Weerasinghe the first town planner and an architect who at one time was
the Sri Lankan Ambassador to United States of America.
In order to honour the unblemished record of service he rendered to
this country as an innovative city planner and a faithful civil servant
a garden seat has been erected in his name at the Vihara Maha Devi Park,
where he died of a heart attack, while making his morning stroll on
January 20, 1980.
Oliver Weerasinghe’s father who was one of the first two engineers of
Ceylon, married Maria Caroline Thudugalla and Oliver was one of the five
sons they had in addition to a daughter. Oliver proceeded to Cambridge
University, UK straight from Royal College, Colombo and thereafter
joined the University of Liverpool, England for his higher studies,
where he preferred to study under Sir Patrick Abercrombie who was an
eminent and most respected Town Planner in England.
Abercrombie later served as a consultant when Oliver was designing
the new city of Anuradhapura. In both fields of town planning and
architecture, Oliver gained theoretical and practical expertise and
qualified as a fellow member of the Royal Town Planning Institute and a
fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
He also a life member of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects and
Institute of Engineers and became the head of the Department of Town and
Country Planning and the first Government Town Planner of Sri Lanka. The
articles he presented in international forums and journals in Sri Lanka
and abroad are proofs of his proficiency in widely different fields.
Articles on Buddhism and cultural relations denote his affection and
dedication to the Sri Lankan culture and Buddhism.
Much has been written on Oliver’s contributions in planning the new
city of Anuradhapura as the first town planner of the Department of Town
and Country Planning and his vision on the preservation of ancient
cities was displayed in the new town development exercise. The growth of
the modern town on the site of the ancient city was inevitable, but to
make it in the manner that will preserve the ancient perspectives and
address modern requirements was a remarkable one. Oliver before making
any suggestions for the protection and preservation of ancient buildings
in Anuradhapura had reviewed the approaches in other countries in
handling similar problems. It is amazing to see Anuradhapura New Town as
a garden city which attracts not only Sri Lankans but also the
international tourists, who visit Sri Lanka.
There are other architectural and planning contributions which should
be known to the present and future generations of this pioneering
personality. Designing of the new wing of the Lake House building during
the regime of late D R Wijewardena, Managing Director of the Associated
Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd, (ANCL) which continues to house the countries
largest newspaper group and planning and the landscape design of
Peradeniya University of Ceylon which is regarded as one of the most
attractive and beautiful seats of learning are of remarkable creations
of Oliver Weerasinghe.
He was the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States from 1965-1970,
after completing his diplomatic assignment, he was appointed as the
Inter Regional Advisor in Urban Development of United Nations from 1971
to 1973 and carried out several responsible assignments in the Middle
East, Africa and the Caribbean. Since 1974 Oliver has been practising as
a United Nations urban development consultant.
There is a saying that behind every successful man there is a woman,
this recollects of Cristobel the wife of Oliver Weerasinghe, the only
daughter of Sir Henry Kothalawala who represented Uva and Badulla in the
Legislative Council and the State Council of Ceylon for 28 years. She
says of her husband as a most wonderful husband.
Cristobel Weerasinghe after serving the United Nations as an
alternative representative of the World Federation of United Nations
during 1956-1965, her time is now devoted for the benefits of the poor
children of the underserved settlements in Colombo, teaching English,
dancing and music for children under Methodist Dancing Centre.
Oliver Weerasinghe an outstanding personality has left two children
to follow his traditions. Rohan Weerasinghe a duel USA and Sri Lankan
citizen is heading a New York based global law firm, Sherman and
Sterling which have branches in many European and Asian countries. He is
the first Sri Lankan to hold such a prestigious position. Daughter
Menaka serves the University of Michigan as a senior academic and has
her own firm called Eclectic LLC Alpha Capital Inc of which she is the
After the death of Oliver Weerasinghe a dual fund was established by
his wife, son and daughter to widen the reading materials available to
the students of architecture and town planning forming trust funds for
Oliver Weerasinghe’s contributions to the country will be long
appreciated and remembered for many years to come.
A V G C Karunathilaka, FITPSL, Chartered Town Planner Past President,
Institute of Town Planners Sri Lanka