Modern Architecture

Long before the colonial influences of the British, Portuguese and Dutch paved the way for art to develop, Sri Lanka could claim ownership to a thriving atmosphere of art and culture, including literature, paintings, performance as well as architecture. This unique identity continued even after independence as artists carved out an esoteric for themselves thus defining a larger aesthetique for the country. Architecture is one of the spheres that has thrived with the passage of time, especially in the city of Colombo. With post-independence urban development with the capital at the center boomed, different types of fascinating buildings designed by architects of laudable design talent emerged. Daily ARTRA presents four such buildings of modern origin located in Colombo that we consider to be the best of the best. These public buildings can be categorised to have distinct design concepts coupled with beauty and functionality while also being attempts at defining a modern vernacular of Sri Lankan architecture. 



Sri Lankan architecture owes much to the legendary architect Geoffrey Bawa, whose centenary falls this year. One of the iconic designs he did during his lifetime was the design of the New Parliament Complex located in Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte. Although located in the district of Colombo, Kotte is a few miles away from the central hubbub, based in the suburbs. In 1979, Bawa, upon the request of the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, took upon himself the daunting task of developing the building upon the waters of Diyawanna Oya, flowing alongside the lands of Colombo. The building is a powerful manifestation of the Sri Lankan vernacular, with its regal appearance borrowing from ancient local architectural patterns of temples. As the political hub of the country, the building gives an outlook of symmetry with a sharp contrast between the waters and the structure. It was opened in 1972 by the then President J.R. Jayawardena to much acclaim, and even more than 4 decades later, it signifies the beginning of development and the growth of a modern vernacular of local architecture. 



The Lotus Tower or the ‘Nelum Kuluna’ is one of the most recent architectural wonders to be unveiled in Colombo. A tower shaped like a lotus bud, it is situated in the middle of the city, at a height of 350 m/150 ft. It is currently in the last stages of construction and when completed, will be the tallest self-supported structure in South Asia. The pink lotus petals lie on a base of eye-catching dark green leaves giving the structure an attractive, colourful outlook of vibrancy. The lotus symbolizes purity, placing great importance on the urban regeneration and development occurring rapidly in various areas of the city. Most importantly, to complement the beauty of the building, the site comes with significant functionality facilitating communication, observation and other leisure facilities. The Lotus Tower stands tall as the most prominent building of Colombo, visible along the skyline of the city and its suburbs and major highways surrounding the area. When fully constructed in late 2019, the tower is expected to be a crucial aspect of tourism in Sri Lanka, depicting to the world the manner in which beauty is preserved on the road towards development in the country after thirty years of war. 



What makes a building suited for the perfect experience of theatre and entertainment? The Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre located in the heart of Colombo 7 is an iconic building again based on the symbol of the lotus. The theatre opened on 15 December 2011, and pays tribute to the legacy of performance in the country while metaphorically highlighting heritage and purity through its shape of a lotus pond, which can be seen in its aerial view. Formerly named the National Performing Arts Theatre, the building was designed by the reputed architectural firm Kahawita De Silva and Associates. The theatre is enormous, equipped with ultra modern facilities including approximately 1300 seats and a library. Apart from the main indoor theatre it also includes an open air theatre that allows audiences to enjoy the light breeze that spreads across the trees of Viharamahadevi Park, located just opposite the building. Despite these prime features, what has gained the theatre the attention is its facade, fitted with glass glittering in the sun, allowing the building to shine amidst the rumble and tumble of daily life. The Nelum Pokuna Theatre is a modern treasure of national significance the country can boast of, being a building of experiences designed to showcase experiences of concerts, conferences, performances and other entertainment shows. 



“Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design,” said Charles Eames, the famous architect of American origin. The World Trade Center is a manifestation of this principle, where the designers have indeed taken the need for a building located in Central Colombo fulfilling the need for the growth of commercial enterprise. The World Trade Center was opened in 1997 by the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and despite being attacked twice during the civil war, the building of two twin towers connecting large scale businesses still stands strong. It is a hub of activity that represents the vibrant economy of the country, with state-of-the-art offices and facilities placed in an adept manner alongside several restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. Each tower’s 39 storeys are built over a four storey retail podium, coming to a total of 43 floor per tower, making it one of the tallest buildings in the country. The structure depicts Sri Lanka thriving in a global market economy with the support of its people, businesses and atmosphere of development. It is maintained by Overseas Realty Ceylon PLC. 


ARTRA is Sri Lanka’s Art Magazine exploring curated content on Sri Lanka’s visual art, performance art, applied art and written art. Launched in 2012, ARTRA Magazine is a compact monthly art read providing a comprehensive understanding on Sri Lankan artists, art events, monthly art calendars and the Sri Lankan design landscape. In sum, all you need to know about art in Sri Lanka.

8th August, 2019 Applied Art