From the far pavilions

Anjalendran's building at Mirissa Hills   | Photo Credit: GRJGM

A pavilion, a happy haze of yellow-green foliage, a shelter emerging from a rugged rock face, a school surrounded by paddy fields, a red ball of sun simmering and a peacock atop a dome: Golden Award-winning Sri Lankan architect C. Anjalendran leaves us lingering with such images at the end of his recent talk at the Book Building, Tara Books. His zen-like philosophy permeates the evening. It is rare for an architect to dwell more on landscape than his design. It is even more unlikely for an architect to say, “Building is not as relevant as the view.”

Anjalendran’s architecture, woven betwixt trees and fields, is restful and meditative, a contrast to the times of war-torn Sri Lanka in which they were often constructed. “Through effective organisation of space you can create tranquillity,” he proposes. His design for the SOS Children’s Village was built from 1989 to 1992 at the height of insurgency. Trees were grown over 20 years to form an arcade. “Often, it’s not the building that ties it together, it’s the tree,” says Anjalendran. Even his cowshed gives the cow the privilege of looking out of a window! This organic symbiosis of Nature and the manmade evolved over 10 years in a guru-shishya relationship with famed Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, for whom Anjalendran often ran errands.

He mischievously laughs, showing slides of finished architectural plans. “In typical Geoffrey Bawa style, we do the drawings when the buildings are over!” Quite the maverick, Anjalendran worked from a veranda office for years, which he would fold up in the evening. His minimalist outlook is a core strength, permeating through his lifestyle to date. In a 5,000-square-foot plot with a banyan tree, Anjalendran envisaged a 4,000-square-foot house that merged with the tree. Through fronds from upper levels, we see fish in a pool. The outer view of the building is all but obscured by the banyan. Says Anjalendran, “I only cut two branches. As you go up, the tree grows over the terrace. The banyan tree is equivalent to about six air-conditioners. The three-storey home belongs to a pilot and his grandchildren play Tarzan in it.” Materials used in his projects are low-cost and robust — well-finished cement floors and brick work. At SOS Village, recycled woodwork complements the structure. “In each house, an old column, an old door and an old cupboard.” As SOS lacked funds for artworks, the children painted murals over two months under an artist’s supervision. Famous colourist Barbara Sansoni used the “warp and weft of colour” altering the spatial experience in ready ways. Pillars were painted red, orange and yellow, differentiating courtyards.

Anjalendran does not work stylistically. “I don’t know how to do style,” he told British advertising executive Miles Young when he was invited to build his home at Mount Cinnamon. They arrived at the flatlands of Mirissa Hills to the magnificent view of a sunset. Through the house, Anjalendran captured many vistas: the sea, the forest and the sunset. Further, the pavilion became a device to explore viewpoints. “A pavilion anchored the project. At the right end of the building you are on the left side of the pavilion. When you are on the left, the pavilion is on the right.” At the Cinnamon Museum and Visitors' Centre on the estate, laterite and cheaply-salvaged industrial elements were brought together to make a vibrant and colourful space.

Anjalendran takes pride in effort. Yet, his approach to building is humble. Looking out, he makes us look inwards, to find our centre saying, “You have to find your own truth.” Communing with Nature, we once flourished as communities, Anjalendran reminds us. Apart, we have become disparate, allowing commercialisation to take away simple pleasures gifted to us by Nature. In the end, paradoxically, he notes, “You have destroyed your luxury.” He leaves us questioning — how did we drift so far?

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2021 7:37:00 PM |

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