Milinda Pathiraja

In striving to preserve heritage in an evolving society, sustainability becomes an integral part of the process. Explored and lived by many nationalities in the past and present, Sri Lankan architectural heritage consist of multi-layered personas and characteristics. Significantly, the island’s lush environment contributes to the heritage of Sri Lanka of which, architect Milinda Pathiraja conversed with ARTRA in re-instating the manner through which sustainability in architecture should be a part of the conversation on the preservation of Sri Lanka’s culture and heritage as well. Director and Co-founder of the Sri Lankan based Robust Architecture Workshop (RAW), architect Milinda Pathiraja bases his research and practice on the belief that architecture has the power to integrate and contribute to the resolution of social, political and economic challenges. RAW has undertaken major commissions throughout Sri Lanka, including the Community Library at Ambepussa, which was awarded the Global Lafarge-Holcim Silver Award in 2015. In 2014, Milinda Pathiraja won the LafargeHolcim Bronze Award for Asia Pacific with his with “PostWar Collective: Community library and social recuperation in Ambepussa, Sri Lanka”, winning the Global LafargeHolcim Awards Silver 2015, soon after. In conversation with Milinda, ARTRA explores the interaction of architecture, society, environment, and sustainability in its cultural basis and analyses the plausible outcomes of a sustainable culture.

Q | In your opinion, how does sustainability contribute to architectural heritage?

A | For me, sustainability is a broad concept. There’s certainly an environmental and ecological aspect to it. But there’s also sustainability from a social point of view, sustainability from an economical point of view, and also from a production point of view. Usually, when we say heritage, it’s more or less a conversation of old physical fabrics and buildings. But heritage is something that goes beyond that; heritage is a way of life. There’s a culture to it, including a landscape. So sustainability is all about how we preserve a place as a whole, including the social fabric, the physical fabric and the ecological fabric. So I think it’s very relevant, especially in this day and age where architects have embarked on different types of development projects. On one hand, there’s the pressure to respond to commercial needs, on the other hand, there are environmental concerns one needs to look at closely too.

In our project, ‘Post-War Collective: Community Library and Social Recuperation’ which involved the inclusion of soldiers in the town of Ambepussa, we had this beautiful landscape to work involving the responsibility of placing a building with many positive qualities. We placed the building in such a way that we did not intervene within the landscape by cutting any trees. From an environmental point of view, with relation to performance, we relied on cross-ventilation, using natural light and courtyards. Also, we looked at construction in such a way so that we were able to use the skills of soldiers to build the space. Since the soldiers were not trained craftsmen, we trained them during the construction process itself with professional guidance. The building was in fact, designed in such a way that while building it, we incorporated adequate tolerance so that we can have up-skilling interventions. Sustainability in that sense, is not necessarily about responding to the environment which is also obviously important, but also about building up skills so there’s a social aspect to sustainability, which contributes to a narrative of culture and heritage.

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7th November, 2019 Applied Art