Renowned Sri Lankan architect Channa Daswatte recently found himself in Delhi to be a part of a special exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). The exhibition, titled ‘It is Essential to be There’ celebrated Daswatte’s mentor, and one of the most prominent names in the field, Geoffrey Bawa’s enduring legacy.
The exhibit drew from archives to look at Bawa’s practice comprehensively and had Daswatte, the last architectural partner of Bawa and the chairperson of the Geoffrey Bawa and Lunuganga Trusts, introduce the world to a side of the late architect and his practice that many might not have known.
“His legacy is something that made us look back at what we had as a culture, as people, and as a country. It was all about creating architecture that was relevant to a time and place,” says Daswatte, on what the architect has left behind.
Bawa was one of the champions of Tropical Modernism. The design movement was based on the same principles of sustainable or green architecture that have become buzzwords today. It combined a mindfulness for local contexts and modern form and structure as a design practice.
Daswatte has kept this legacy alive and has built upon it now with his own practice as a co-founder of MICD Associates with Murad Ismail. The architect follows a holistic approach to design, keeping in mind the environmental, cultural, and social aspects of the building’s environment. This is something, he feels, is a key to green architecture.
“Architecture is one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Creating sustainable architecture, therefore, is essential to our survival. I believe that architecture, both from the use of material and the way we design our buildings to last longer and to serve different purposes in time, is something we can do to create more sustainable architecture,” he says.
Daswatte’s own Colombo home, a thoughtfully designed haven, is renowned for its design and has prime elements made from materials that have been salvaged and recycled. Contextual design and use of materials that have a low carbon footprint have become two of his signature elements.
“The problem is that a lot of modern and contemporary architecture form follows function and when the particular function is not of use to society, then the building becomes redundant and irrelevant and has to be demolished. Architects must be careful to plan and design buildings that can be continued to be used over time for different functions,” says Daswatte.
While there are a lot of positive changes that are coming around in the space and awareness is spreading slowly and steadily, Daswatte paints a sobering portrait of the situation, claiming that a major shift in approach to design is what we need to save the planet. “Small things, like planting grass on roofs, are fine but the more fundamental issues of the use of material and use of energy and the use of design and planning to make different kinds of buildings that would be suitable for different kinds of purposes in the changing climate needs to be addressed,” he says.
Here’s hoping the awareness and sensitivity around green architecture and its importance only grows from here and it evolves to be more than just catchy buzzwords.