Envision Minnette De Silva through the lens of D.S. Senanayake flats

“There are personal, emotional, ornamental elements in a building. Ceylon and the East are alive with colourful features. To deny these natural expressions without establishing a discipline of colour and ornament, results only in the garish. Wholly on assimilated modernity is Expressed those who try to ‘build modern’ with aesthetically disastrous results.”

( The life and work of an Asian woman architect 1998)

frontal image of the D.S . Senanayake flats

Minnette De silva’s architectural spaces contains an amalgamation of western and traditional craftsmanship. We observe that when creating architectural spaces she’s concerned about creating an enveloping habitat of cathartic inclination to the dwellers, creating ‘living memories’ within the space. There’s an infusion, a rupture of light and space creating a meditative flow gradually building up from level to level. We observe organically she merges inwards Sri Lanka’s traditional craftsmanship and aesthetics, as well as architectural components. Gradually creating a space inclined to the essence of the Islanders. (‘Ceylon, like the whole of the East, is striving to synthesize European and American ideas and technology with indigenous ways of living and traditional expression’ De Silva observation in her entries to ‘History of Architecture’ Banister Fletcher’s edition)

Throughout her life her career has been overshadowed only upon the aspect of being a woman. Yet in the aftermath we observe some of her incredibly designed spaces succumb to ruination. Selva Sandrapagas expresses in an article stating she would have hated emerging colossal structures like Port city, or demolishing of heritage sites. She believed that the aspects of sensitivity must be captured by architecture to the habitat, geography and cultural identity of the landscape.

Chathuri and Lojithan Ram envisioned to capture within this project how they interpret space ‘Senanayake flats’ (Designed in 1957). Juxtaposition of materials and infusion of traditional materials forms into the architectural space. The essence of flow, irregularities, sensitivity of the space and its existing narratives, which the contours of the space tends to communicate.

They follow up an urgency to create a dialogue to envision a fragmented presence of the space. To give us a peek upon the vulnerability upon the unforeseen future to conserve and archive these sites. What if it falls onto the trajectories of being succumbed to loss, are we able to encapsulate the lived experience of these bodies?

Chathuri Nissansala is a multidisciplinary artist based in Colombo working with performance art, painting, sculpture and graphics. Her focuses on cultural identity and socio-political conundrums affected by communities and landscapes. Her practice revolves around archaic material and
extensive research on cultural and traditional practices. How archives or processes of archiving are affected by its volatile habitat. Through incorporating layers of performativity in her practice, she creates a discourse upon ‘archiviolithic’ nature. Chathuri is a recipient of the Commonwealth Scholarship, South East Asia by Indian Council for Cultural Relations, ICCR (2012), and acquired Bachelor in Fine Arts (Painting) from Chitra Kala Parishath, Bengaluru (2017) and Master in Visual Arts (Painting) from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara (2019).

Her recent body of work focuses upon memorization as a symbolic existence, infusing aesthetical elements from her long-term mentorship and research under artisan Somapala Pothupitiya. Infusing Southern curative aesthetics to create a discourse upon reinterpreting cultural identity and aspects of healing and reconciliation. Chathuri interviews with textile patterns of the southern curative tradition of Sri Lanka. Onto to the sediments, objects or materials collected, creating a transient embodiment of healing and repair. Unfolding new nuances upon seeing an architectural space encompassed by an envelope of fragmented individual existence

Lojithan Ram is a multidisciplinary artist, with profound work based on lens based medium. Originally from Batticaloa but based in Colombo. Within his practice, addresses aspects of how migration and the continuous effects of deterritorialization create a psychological impact on the human psyche and memory and upon the space of habitat. There is a presence of nostalgia, presence and absence, and fragmented identity within his work. Acceptance of this fragmentation and nostalgia erupting through his personal journey; he’s coming to terms with aspects of displacement as a universal occurrence. Through incorporating mythology, oral narratives from literary texts prevail in the Indian subcontinent related to Hinduism. His work incorporates lens-based mediums and transcends into sculptural and other forms of tangible materials. They exist as forms of ghostly apparitions in between presence and absence.

He successfully completed BFA specialization in painting at the Ramanathan Academy of Fine Arts, University of Jaffna. (2018). He is the founder and Director of Mount Studio established in 2022. He is part of numerous community engagements; Founder of Batticaloa Photo-History archive, (since 2021). Co-founder, of we are from here, community based art project (since 2017); and Humanity and earth Documentary project (2018). Visual archivist for Dominic Sansoni’s family art and antique collection (since 2020). Also Visual art teacher and the Master in charge of those Design Club and Rover Scouts of S Thomas College, Mount Lavinia.
Lojithan captures the essence of sensitivity within spaces. Architectural spaces inhabit the dwellers’ longing, memory, and nostalgia but also, as living beings, emit a narrative of their own existence. He attempts to converse and create a dialogue in those muted spaces.

Senanayake flats built as adjacent twin structures.

The east and west wing holds open aired staircases gradually elevating within the three floors.

The structures were built for air and sunlight to be constantly in circulation for the dwellers. As many apartments consisted of inbuilt stairway series; we can observe Minnette making changes accordingly for accessibility and habitat.

Lojithan adds layers of photographic collages (captured parts of the Senanayake flats) and markings of literary texts. He gradually showcases the thick mid rib structure and geometric angels manually crafted by himself.

Open vends later modified and transformed by the occupants

The original floor plan contains and entrance , open passage way built with RC pillar structures as trapeze openings 

These spaces were utilized as open garage parking plots. Allowing ventilation to emit toxic fumes and heat emitted from the vehicles to defuse and circulate.

The openings gradually allowed light and air circulations for the lower level floors and as well to the inner courtyard spaces.

We observe gradually changes made by the residents closing these open air passageways. Omitting its original trapeze open door ways ; plaster walls to vent structured walls gradually takes its formation onto the original Senanayake flats architecture.

“There are personal, emotional ornamental elements in the building. Ceylon and the East are alive with colourful features. To deny these natural expressions without establishing a discipline of colour and ornament results only in garish. Wholly unassimilated modernity is expressed by those who try to build modern with aesthetically disastrous results”

“Rich effects can be seen today only in old structures- in the juxtaposition of different materials – rough natural stone on smooth plaster, and timber that was painted or lacquered, or used for its own natural colour and grain…. These things can be brought in a contemporary way”.

(Quoted Minnette De Silva – For Architecture for me: A continuing Experiment 1950’s /extracted from ‘ Minnette De Silva; The life and work of an Asian woman architect 117-119)

Minnette gradually tends to liberate her shackles from the historical and ornamental impediments of colonial westernized architecture.

Chathuri begins to envision new additions of ornamentations embedded into the architecture. Patterns which distinguish from southern ritualistic textiles added as an additional element. Beginning to retrace Minnette’s renderings of overlapping oriental languages with western minimalist architectural designs. What if the light and airy vends were designed by the patterned grills or cemented ducts. Retaining the simplicity and the utilization together needed on the demands of the occupants.

As we discussed timelessness and ecological co existence intends to be visioned when designing architectural spaces. Minnette’s foreshadows the necessity to create a conversation with her methods of allowing her works to be built with environmental sensitivity.

Her initial architectural space shows planned roof top garden areas , large airy balconies for plants. She potted large trees which are still alive bringing shade and greenery to the building. It would have been a new initiative if she would have had the privilege to build the garden scapes as she planned yet was never could be solidified until this date. Now we carry the moss that Carries the wetness of the flat rooftop gradually dies and merges to soil bares the death of her roots to an idyllic vision.

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