Green is beautiful! | Daily News

Green is beautiful!

Archt. Shayan Kumaradas puts it so succinctly when he talks about the present trend in the growth of cities and towns in Sri Lanka. He says his observations are always from the view of a laymen or the user of cities and towns, and not totally theoretical or academic. He says that while traveling, when you fall asleep in one town and awaken in another town you do not know where you are! This is because our towns have lost their identity.

ArchWorld speaks to Shayan Kumaradas, who is very proud Sri Lankan architect, proud of his cultural roots and sees the need to be far sighted while keeping in mind our identity. Kumaradas addressed the topic of a lack of identity in Sri Lankan new towns and cities. This is a problem he really worries about. Every city should have its own identity. Because in the name of development and expansion what has been done is bulldozing and making all the roads wider. We are not sensitive to what is happening on either side of the road before it was demolished. This he says is when we lost our heritage. But in the West, old cities were kept as old cities. They were not touched and they were not widened and the old cities were pedestrianized. We lost our character in the holy name of expansion and development. He further stressed that development is important. He is not saying that development is wrong. We do need to move forward. But we must keep in mind the methodology. So, you need to keep the culture and keep the identity and then at the same time work for development. We also need to be far sighted. We tend to think in the short term. We only worry about what we can do within around five years.

Implementational mechanism

“Colombo should become what it is thriving to become. It needs to evolve the way it has to evolve. Cities cannot grow according to the whims and fancies of one person or a particular Government. It is actually a combination of many things, he says. Every time there is a government change there cannot be a different plan and policy. Colombo is growing and it is trying to become something. And that will go on and on,” said Kumaradas.

Colombo today is going to become something tomorrow. Academics and professionals alone are not going to be enough. They can have fantastic theories, but you need a very strong implementational mechanism to implement these decisions and plans, test them and improve on them continuously.

Shayan Kumaradas.
Pictures by Ruwan De Silva 

“Totally everyone talks of the Colombo Port City. As an architect I really do not know if it will be good or bad! We will have to wait and see! But can I go and stop it? No I cannot! Port City is of course almost done and the time for debating as to whether it should have been done or not has passed. Now that Port City is happening, we have to accept this fact. And now we need to see how we can make the best out of it. I actually want to be positive. If Port City thrives, I would not be surprised if there is another part which gets added to the Colombo city. It could well be a thriving city in South Asia. We must see if we can make the maximum out of it,” stated Kumaradas

Ordinary people

It is interesting to study Colombo these days. Before the second Covid19 outbreak Galle Face Green was packed during the weekends. And who were these masses? Not the affluent but the people from North of Colombo! These are not the people who drive around in luxury vehicles. These are the people who come in three-wheelers and buses. They patronize Galle Face. It is the working middle class who come or lower middle class. To Kumaradas that is beautiful. Even if you take Galle Face One, you will find these people window shopping. The same crowd.

“I am happy that these public spaces are being used by people. To me this is a very positive thing. I am so interested in seeing how these people behave. When it came to Colombo in 1993 there were very few malls. One was Liberty Plaza. At that time when I was boarded in Colombo, Majestic City was just being built. So, I used to go to Majestic City in a bus when it was just built, and observed that those who patronized Liberty Plaza were then coming into Majestic City. Majestic City was the happening place. People gave up their shops in Liberty Plaza and came over to Majestic City. Colombo got its first shopping mall with a Cinema under one roof. MC was built in two phases. The rear was built first. I remember watching ‘Pretty Woman’. So, I saw Majestic City evolving in Bambalapitiya. So, my pastime was going to MC and looking at the world pass by in the first integrated mall of its kind. I saw young couples coming in and families shopping. That was affordable shopping for them. Before MC happened, Bambalapitiya was pretty much residential other than these few shops down Galle Road. It was for the middle -class people holding respectable jobs. Most of them did not even have cars. Using the bus was the mode of transport. It was fantastic!” explained Kumaradas.

So, Colombo evolved and it did not stop there. There was an influx of Jaffna people coming into Colombo because of the war. They ended up staying in Wellawatte, and Bambalapitiya. So, there was a demand at that time for apartments. So, the apartment culture started. People who lived in Jaffna in massive properties with huge trees, came to Colombo and became cramped up in small apartments.

Proper vision necessary

“Don’t we need a vision? Our forefathers knew where they were when traveling around Sri Lanka. Without looking at the boards, by looking at the activities there they would know where they were! Our forefathers knew their identity and we are losing it. Where are my landmarks? They are all gone now. We have bulldozed our identities. There is a lot we can do to contribute to our city. But every citizen needs to be mindful of what they want. They cannot be selfish. If I want to see greenery, I need to do it myself not expect the politicians to do it and my neighbor to do it. It does not work that way. Charity begins at home. Why don’t we bring in a rule to say that every balcony needs to have something green? I practice what I preach. I have done a corporate building and in that building I have tried my best to bring in the green. The roof was covered in green and that is how I contributed towards making my spaces green. All I have done is to plant trees. To me it takes a lot to grow and it is very easy to cut down. Green makes the whole space look nice as well as providing oxygen,” pointed out Kumaradas.

He further added that there is nothing wrong working in a glass box if what you see outside is green. And if there is a shading outside, and the space is cross ventilated, then the energy used within the building is very much less. Then spending on that glass can be justified. It is bio shading.

Green culture needed

You can create a Green City if everyone takes on the responsibility of doing it in his/her own garden. If every citizen does that you will have a green city. Lee Kuan Yew made sure that Singapore became green. Singapore was not green before! The only good thing the civil war did was it prevented Jaffna from being overbuilt. Today Jaffna is still green. You will see the entire peninsular is green. All our archaeological sites are beautiful and green. The old city of Anuradhapura is beautiful.

“Here in Sri Lanka, we are having to deal with a billboard culture and not a green culture. This makes the environment very unsightly. Every billboard needs to be shown here in Sri Lanka. We need to get out of this billboard culture. It is all about me and nothing about us,” lamented Kumaradas.

If you take Mumbai which produces the most number of three-wheelers, in the inner core of Mumbai three-wheelers are not allowed. This is because of the pollution. Colombo badly needs parking and we need to create the necessary infrastructure. If the government wants more greenery in Colombo, and more trees and electric cars then there should be proper means. But first think about the infrastructure. The transport problem needs to be sorted out and then we can discuss other fancy ideas!

“Without people there is no city. When I look at Colombo I want to be positive. I want the citizens to make the maximum out of what is given to them in Colombo. But everyone has a role to play. I want the country to move forward. I want to make maximum use of the way Colombo is evolving. There are simple contributions which can be made by every citizen. We have to understand that with the growth of any city, there are pollution and environmental issues. We can all chip in. The best way forward is to make our cities green,” added Kumaradas.

Finally, he pointed out that Colombo has a certain luxury. Towns and cities in Sri Lanka in general have that luxury - you can step out of your house and walk to any shop and buy anything from groceries, to bread and even a needle which broke in your sewing machine.

You have easy access to any mechanic who can repair your vehicle. You can walk into a metal workshop to find that nut and bolt. This cannot be seen in most countries. This trend needs to be continued and that makes it great and special in Sri Lanka – being able to get anything done. That beautiful mixture cannot be seen in most countries. Sri Lanka has a beautiful blend. So, when you decentralize things from Colombo, we need to keep in mind these fantastic conveniences. We need non polluted, efficient and beautiful cities with their own identity!