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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

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Art of Architecture

Mention architecture and his name evidently comes to mind. His profession is all about a leap from imagination to reality. Known as those who ‘design dreams’, architects design monuments and dwellings that finally take shape to house many life stories and generations.

Our ‘Encounter of the Week’ is one such creative visionary. A graduate from Moratuwa University, a post graduate diploma holder in architecture at the University College, London, and a Master of Architecture in advanced architectural studies at London University, Channa Daswatte.

A friend, confidante and principal assistant to Sri Lanka's most prolific and influential architect Geoffrey Bawa, Daswatte has worked in many prominent projects: the Kandalama Hotel and the new residence for Sri Lankan President with Bawa, the Four Seasons Hotel in Landaa Giravaru, Maldives, Ganga Kutir in Raichak-on-Ganges near Calcutta, the Waters Edge golf course and clubhouse, Kotte, Chaaya Bey, Beruwela, Chaaya Blu, Trincomalee, The Lighthouse Spa, the Blue Water Spa, Saman Villas Spa and restoration projects with the Dutch House, Galle Kandy House, Kandy, Fort printers, Galle Fort Hotel and Warwick Gardens, Nuwara Eliya.

The top-notch architect was made a Director/Partner of Geoffrey Bawa Associates Private Limited in 1997. He co-founded MICD Associates and partnered Murad Ismail from 1997. He had lectured at the Colombo School of Architecture and the Moratuwa University. He also pens consistent articles for international and local journals.

Q: Is architecture a form of art?

A: This is a question that has been argued by philosophers and scholars who have different opinions of it.

My view is that as much as architecture is about making and arranging spaces and sequences of spaces and objects that uplift the spirit of those persons using it, it becomes an art. In as much as it is the about holding up the structures that form these spaces and objects and putting specific spaces together to fulfill specific functions, it becomes a science.

Q: Do architects need a creative flair?

A: Indeed. As in anything that requires the solving of problems, creativity is an essential part of any profession.

Professions are what they are, as the problems thrown at professionals have no stock answers and thus need to be creatively handled and solutions found.

Q: How important are open spaces in a building?

A: If you mean the spaces around a building by ‘open spaces’, well then it depends on the circumstances and situation. In many buildings set within urban settings there may not be much space around the buildings as there is within them in the form of courtyards etc as one sees in the cities of north Africa such as Fez and Marrakech.

Channa Daswatte

This is true especially of residential and everyday buildings. Spaces around buildings become important when it comes to buildings that represent power. Large open spaces usually surround palaces, religious buildings and buildings of government. While this may have originated in the need for a field of fire to protect the rulers against any dissent, it has now become symbolic of the power represented in that building. Other than that spaces around a building help set off a building from its surroundings if that is what is required as part of its function.

Q: Why did you decide to co-author Sri Lanka Style?

A: It was hardly a choice. Dominic Sansoni is an old friend and we had done a couple of articles about interiors and architecture for magazines before.

It was Dominic who invited me to put words and context around his beautiful pictures as we still continue to do in the LIVING magazine.

Q: You refer to ‘the essentials of the Sri Lankan lifestyle-spaces open to the environment’ in Sri Lanka Style. Does this mean the most suited form of Sri Lankan architecture is to blend the constructions with the environment?

A: In our search for identity and modernity many of us forget what a special country we live in terms of practical things like great climate, and beautiful scenery. Traditionally all the communities that have lived on our shores have acknowledged these aspects.

The typical Sri Lankan house is really a small room in which to store ones valuables with verandah spaces surrounding it to protect the walls from rain and sun.

These spaces were also used for conducting day-to-day chores such as sleeping, cooking and working. In some cultures these verandahs were formed around courtyards open to sky for privacy and protection though much of the day-to-day activities were conducted out of doors.

So, yes, for all these reasons making those spaces that can afford to open into the environment should do so. Others such as bedrooms for practical reasons may not be possible to open out, but most spaces can. I for one live in such a house.

Q: How can you cultivate the sense of peace and discipline through décor?

A: This is a purely personal choice of whether you want peace and discipline. Some people revel in contrast, juxtaposition of colours forms and textures that inspire them to look at things differently.

Harmonizing form, colour and texture brings about peace in décor. No single element jumps up and shouts out its existence. However for both, discipline is necessary as in all other activities of design and architecture without which what you want to and need to achieve will most certainly go wrong.

Q: What is the best advice that Geoffrey Bawa had given you?

A: Never say anything that need not be said.

Q: According to your opinion what is the greatest project that you have taken part in and why does it stand out from the rest?

A: Building the Kandalama Hotel will probably be hard to top. In retrospect, what it has done and the influence it has had, not only on architecture, but as a responsible project that brought about social change in a remote rural area as part of the continued evolution of Sri Lankan society, is difficult to match with any of the of the other projects I have been involved in.

One of the great pleasures of my life is to see some of the young guys who were employed in the hotel from the surrounding villages when it started almost 20 years ago, still there as confident men, in some cases as managers, contributing to the local economy. They also remain as a part of that rural society albeit in a different way.

Q: You have had sessions in the Galle Literary Festival for several years. How would you describe your experiences and what drives you in taking part in the festival again and again?

A: Well, I have been invited to take part in the Literary Festival year after year as one of its side shows!

I believe in the vision that started it in the first place. In doing some of the architectural work in the Galle Fort, especially the Galle Fort Hotel, the Fort Printers and Barefoot and the Dutch House outside the fort for the founder of the festival, Geoffrey Dobbs, I believe like him, that Galle is a special place. I will do anything I can to contribute to make it a better place.

Q: Is there a good market for books on architecture?

A: Indeed there is. Architecture is something that touches people on an everyday basis and increasingly people look to books on architecture and interiors to be inspired in their lives. Every year hundreds of books on architecture, design and interiors are produced which have a ready market.

Q: Whose work inspired you in your own creations?

A: Geoffrey Bawa’s. Obviously as I worked with him for many years and much of my own architectural philosophy derives from those seven years of working with him. Analendran, my first guru in architecture, taught me the need for discipline, if I have any at all, in making good architecture and the enjoyment of life.

Q: What’s the present architectural trend?

A: Anything to do with the environment has become the most important concern in architecture today. Architecture and buildings do use a large proportion do the material and energy of the earth. Thus with the looming and dramatic environmental crisis that the earth faces today, architects and designers too have a responsibility and a role to play in

making an architecture that is less reliant on non-renewable resources for energy and construction. Therefore sustainable architecture is the watch word of the moment.

Q: Are you working on another book these days?

A: No but I do have a few ideas that I would like to explore.

Q: What are the other projects that you are involved in?

A: There are many architectural projects that I am involved in my profession. With the rejuvenation of tourism in the country many of them are hotels. There are a couple of heritage projects on the drawing board in the Galle Fort as well in addition to my work for a Calcutta real estate developer in West Bengal and Sikkim.

As a trustee of the Geoffrey Bawa and Lunuganga Trusts I am also involved in the projects of the trust including getting the Ena de Silva House rebuilt at Lunuganga through the architect Amila de Mel.

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