A clever negotiation of terrain and a masterful mix of living spaces makes this urban house in Makola, Sri Lanka exemplary for its integration of architecture and landscape.
Palinda Kannangara belongs to the third generation of Sri Lankan architects since legendary architect Geoffrey Bawa.
Palinda worked for leading architects including Geoffrey Bawa’s gifted protégé Anura Ratnavibushana, prior to starting his independent practice. He tasted success with an early project, an estate Bungalow in Ginigathena, that won him the commendation award in the first cycle of the coveted Geoffrey Bawa Awards.
Palinda’s background in mathematics, architecture and landscape infuse his projects with technical as well as poetic sensitivity. A contemporary approach to understanding and designing Sri Lankan living, experimentation with materials and innovative detailing defines his architecture.
The vast (7000 sq ft) urban house in Makola, Sri Lanka situated on an expansive 80 perch site (1 perch =272.25 sq ft) is much inspired by the potentials of the location.
The site was acquired by the clients over a period of time in three parcels and the architect also managed to convince the clients to acquire the remnants of an adjoining small stone quarry, which was lying derelict filled with debris and waste.
Apart from designing with the terrain, preserving the existing canopy of trees was of prime importance. The living room has been placed at the highest level. The natural depression in the quarry was used to create a grotto like swimming pool with the jagged stone face of the quarry providing a sculptural effect especially when illuminated in the evenings. The living room overlooks this dramatic area.
The plan of the house is T shaped. The short arm of the T contains the living and dining areas, with the master bedroom and entertainment suite at a higher level opening out to a private garden terrace. The long arm of the T accommodates the services including the kitchen, dining and domestic quarters at the lower level while the upper floor contains the children’s bedrooms.
Bridges and passage ways connect this arm to the main living area. A linear axis of movement defines the design of this house. Hence a sequence of steps and terraces are an integral part of the house. The transition spaces consist of colonnaded passageways, wood trellised corridors and bridges.
The ascension is through a series of landscape experiences, paddy fields, a shallow pebble pool and a courtyard that houses gnarled trees, lawns and a grotto pool.
A sense of porosity and connectedness permeate the design while the scale of each of the individual spaces has been kept human to avoid an overwhelming feeling of vastness. The informal living spaces, bridges and terraces help balance the private and public spaces within the house.
The internal treatment of the spaces within the house remains clean and minimalist while the external spaces have been treated as outdoor rooms and are fairly diverse and adapt to the site condition.
The living area has expansive views of the boulder landscape and pool and the double height dining area (containing a study area at the upper level) has contrasting views of the rough strewn rock boulders from the quarry along one end while glazed doors open out to an internal courtyard composed of a lawn and an old mango tree that provides shade as well as casts filigreed shadows.
The architect establishes long visual connections with the garden spaces, throughout the house. The participatory quality of the open spaces and the juxtaposition of the organic nature of the landscape such as the rocky boulders of the quarry, the wild grasses and the grotto swimming pool as they intersect the strong axial geometry of the building not only blur the demarcation between the exterior and interior spaces but also make the design dramatic.
The material palette is simple and the tactile qualities of them are emphasised throughout the design. Accessible rooftop gardens, arresting views and the drama of the fluid forms of the landscape intersecting the rigid geometry of the building make this urban house a rather fascinating setting for the daily routines and occasional celebrations of a family of five.
Text By Varna Shashidhar
Photographs By Waruna Gomis