Refurbishing an existing extension to his ancestral home near Colombo, Srilankan architect Chinthaka Wickramage is mindful that his interventions become one with the mood of the surroundings and the rusticity of the original structure.
There is no lofty architectural statement here. After a labyrinth of small bylanes in Nugegoda, Colombo, a simple wrought iron gate leads to this unassuming, ‘L’ shaped, two-storey home. Painted blue, the modest pitched-roof structure rubs shoulders with other homes which sit in close proximity.
“In an urban environment, where considerations of costs often override aesthetics, it is shape, light and colour that must work seamlessly together to maximise space,” says Chinthaka Wickramage. Completed within a modest budget, the refurbishment of the annexe to the compact home includes a ground floor of approximately 1250 sq ft and an upper floor of about 950 sq ft, consisting mainly of a timber deck.
The cool blue exterior has a double height verandah, with a recycled teak timber door bearing a panelled façade being used to scale down the height. Within, a double height lounge has warm terracotta tones which convey an ‘always been there’ feel.
Local tiles and titanium cement floors indicate that this is a functioning house meant to be lived in, rather than be showcased. Simple wooden stack shelving hold knick knacks and rough, cement benches are scattered throughout the house, accented with cotton cushions in bold prints. The timber shutters and the chunky coffee table carry forward the earthy aesthetic. The ceiling is a lattice of timber against white, from which round paper lanterns and energy saving LED lights provide soft illumination.
More shelving is tucked under the wooden staircase that leads to the mezzanine, creating an abstract composition of squares and rectangles. This floor houses a small home office and a TV, keeping the living room below peaceful for personal interactions. The spacious master bedroom has a ‘kumbuk timber’ (a rich brown coloured wood which is difficult to machine cut, as pebbles and even larger stones from the rivers grow into it) bed and an ensuite bathroom with a cement vanity counter, in addition to a spacious balcony. Recycled windows salvaged from old manor houses have been used in this airy room.
The lounge and dining room both open out onto a secluded courtyard garden, with large windows framing a view of the minimal design with a Zen motif of pebbles, rocks and scattered tropical plants. A ferro-cement cupboard in the dining area provides storage, with a wooden dining table and simple chairs creating a relaxed, informal ambience. Used by either family or guests, the ground floor also has two bedrooms, which overlook the garden.
The kitchen sits adjacent to an interior courtyard which naturally ventilates the middle of the house and also acts as a light well. The permanent residents here are a mature seasonal fruit tree and a temple tree, both of which dictated the location of this courtyard.
The comparatively ‘thin’ section of the house with a garden in the front and a garden at the rear, help cool the house due to shade and induced natural cross ventilation. The front and rear verandahs are painted in special cement paint composed of rubberised glue and standard Portland cement, creating a contrast against white-washed walls and the natural grains of the extensively used timber.
The rear garden of the house is overlooked by a combination of timber framed fixed glazed windows and multiple sashed top-hung timber framed glazed windows. Due to privacy issues, the rear boundary wall of the house has been raised by 20 ft using a custom-made concrete wall, as the house is located in a high density urban area with back-to-back houses.
A keen awareness of light and colour, an in-depth knowledge of materials and surfaces, and a sharp sense of spatial proportion has provided Chinthaka with the requisite tools to realise his unique vision of architecture. The frugal palette of materials includes white washed plastered brick walls, natural timber decks, timber framed glazed windows, titanium dioxide mixed cut and polished cement floors, white cement board ceilings and corrugated cement roofing sheets.
A traditional roof is fused with the tropical modernist emphasis on flowing spaces and clean lines, paying close attention to how the designed environment interacts with the climate and the needs of the users. Also true to context, contemporary furniture used in the interior has been carefully selected to maintain a stylistic continuity with the low-maintenance feel of the space.
The generous use of doors and windows in both levels of the house ensures that the barrier between interiors and exteriors is blurred to a high degree and encourages natural cross ventilation in the hot tropical climate of Sri Lanka. This results in high energy savings, as air conditioning is not required.
Says Chinthaka, “We have a free thinking yet functional conception of how buildings can work both inside and out. Though mindful of the traditions that have shaped Sri Lankan Architecture, we never allow them to become unbending rules, inhibiting our freedom to design or the comfort of those that will occupy that building.”
Privacy and simplicity of design have come together comfortably in this home. “We share an exciting vision of how architecture not only is, but can be, an environment for working and living with an eye to the past but both feet firmly planted in the future,” he says.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs Eresh Weerasuriya