In Conversation with Deepal Wickremasinghe

The relationship between an architect and an engineer is one of symbiosis, each discipline influencing and contributing to the other. It is a focused choreography and a creative dialogue that is considerate of skill and precision in the attempt to create an artistic space of conversation and creation in the process of which the engineer executes the architect’s vision. Throughout his career, Deepal Wickremasinghe has worked with C. Anjalendran on several projects as the engineer. In unearthing the stories and works of Anjalendran, Deepal Wickremasinghe divulged details of on the execution of the former’s meticulous architectural drawings, while reminiscing on the stories that lead up to its creation as he recounted the journey of its completion. In our extensive conversation with Deepal, we explored the manner through which beauty and form emerge in through their collaboration.

Q | Can you elaborate on the relationship between an architect and an engineer?

A | To put it simply, I think that an engineer’s role is to execute an architect’s dream. Architects to me, are dreamers. They are full of ideas and aspirations and as an engineer, I make those dreams a reality. An architect firstly sketches the concept drawing, puts his thoughts onto paper and thereafter, develops a sketch. We call this period of the process, the design development. The architect’s idea is conceived and developed on this very sketch and only then does the structural engineer provide his input. The initial sketch that displays the architect’s idea is developed as the process continues, from the structural engineer to the draughtsman. But it is the architect’s concept that we build on, and it is the engineer who executes it, during which our roles interweave.

Q | What are some of the projects you’ve worked on with Anjalendran?

A | It was in ‘83 or ‘84 that we had a major breakthrough in our practice, having been offered to work on the S.O.S Children’s Village in Piliyandala. The one unique feature in that particular building complex was the concrete rafters we used in place of timber rafters. At the time, we had issues acquiring properly seasoned timber and Anjalendran had suggested we use concrete rafters instead. It still remains, forty years after construction in great condition. This was subsequently used in many buildings, in his own buildings as well as other people also repeatedly used that concrete rafter. He used a lot of colour in his work, as well. The space was made in such manner that there would be cross-ventilation. He used cement tiles on flooring which was cooling. He also used mosaic tiles on the steps. That’s one thing I admire in Anjalendran, how he took the initiative to divert from traditional constraints.

Q | To what extent do you believe in your opinion, is Anjalendran’s work, considerate of sustainable living?

A | Anjalendran’s works are very much considerate of sustainable living. Anjalendran was in a position to use easier, non-sustainable materials because they were easily accessible, and yet he chose not to. When we worked on the S.O.S. Children’s Village, for instance, much of the material we used were of sustainable choices. We used stone for external walls and cement for the floors because stone work needed little to no repainting or retouching unlike brick work and both the stone and cement are cooling materials, so the building would be kept cool. Considering long-term maintenance as well, the materials that were used were sustainable and he was considerate of every detail. In retrospect, I think that before the concept of ‘green building’ emerged, Anjalendran’s buildings have, for a long time, been much closer to nature. He has an extensive knowledge, and his understanding is insurmountable. When he works on a building, he’s not only working on the building  - but he considers the wind, the vistas and even what one may see from the bathroom.

Q | Can you share with us the beginnings of your relationship with Anjalendran?

I met Anjalendran in 1982 when I graduated overseas and came back to Sri Lanka. At the time, he was working as a project manager for a leading consultancy company called Surath Wickramasinghe Associates. When I joined the company, Anjalendran was handling the remodelling of the Colombo International Airport for Queen Elizabeth’s arrival; she was to inaugurate the Victoria Dam. After a couple of months, Anjalendran left the organization, as he was to start out on his own. When he began, he worked from his mother’s veranda on Gregory’s road with a chair and a drawing board in a space of about 150 square feet. After a while, to my delight, I received a call from Anjalendran one day, asking me to be a part of a certain project. In the time that I worked with him, I noticed he was very different from other architects. He would never just give a drawing to a client and say that was what he could do. He got involved in the details of his constructions. For instance, I remember in the earlier houses, he got right down to the details of even picking out the cutlery and crockery. He went beyond what was expected of him, in that he committed to what he was doing and it was not something I’d seen often from anyone else.

Engineer and colleague of Anjalendran, Deepal Wickremasinghe joined the leading consultancy firm Surath Wickramasinghe Associates in 1982 after completing his engineering studies. In 1991, he partnered with architect Milroy Perera and was involved in the prestigious award winning Kandalama Hotel project as a design engineer. During the period of 1991-2000, he worked with architect Geoffrey Bawa and was the design engineer for Sindbad Hotel, Kalutara and Blue Water Hotel, Wadduwa. In 2001, he went solo and since then had completed several local and international projects including the Shangri-La Hotels, Hambantota and Colombo, Mirissa Ambassador Resort, Banyan Tree Resort, Maldives and Visaka Devi Hotel Bodhgaya, India. He has worked on the S.O.S Children’s Village Piliyandala, Nuwara Eliya and Anuradhapura alongside Anjalendran. Deepal has also worked as a visiting lecturer at City School of Architecture teaching ‘structures’ for architectural students for 10 years. 

18th May, 2022 Applied Art | Architecture