Palimpsest: Sri Lanka

Channa Daswatte, Sri Lankan Architect

Co-presented with the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning

2 May, 214

On the island of Sri Lanka, itself an oceanic cross roads, landscapes are imbued with traces of sometimes contentious yet revelatory histories. Making architecture requires one to confront a palimpsest of historical forms, materials and spaces that are complex and difficult to avoid. My approach has been to embrace these spatial conflicts from the start while at the same time revealing the distant and recent past.

In this talk, examples ranging from private houses to public institutions will be discussed as a means to interrogate the following questions: How does architecture become artifact? What is the role and value of precedent today? How do sites, like their “owners,” confer meaning? Can architecture challenge historical forms while creating lenses for recognising the present? Channa Daswatte will trace a personal journey with the history and landscape of the country, mentors and inspirations in over 20 years of working as an architect in South Asia.

Channa Daswatte

Channa Daswatte started his career with a bus shelter design as a memorial to his grandmother which some consider archaeological. In 1991, after completing a Master’s degree at University College London, he was asked to join the office of the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa and then went on to become the Director of the globally recognised practice. With Bawa, Channa completed a number of significant commissions including the designs for a house for the President of Sri Lanka next to the previously built Parliament, and the Kandalama Hotel, sometimes called the world’s “first modern sustainable building.” In 1998, Channa and his partner Murad Ismail created MICD Associates which is currently responsible for over 75 projects throughout Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Uganda. Channa has written widely on Sri Lankan architecture including the widely popular 2006 book co-authored with Dominic Sansoni, Sri Lankan Style, and more recently, Colonial Furniture in the Geoffrey Bawa Collection.