Today in post war Sri Lanka, Architecture and Planning has become ever more important to us, in order to create beautiful, sustainable and well-planned cities, buildings and houses. Today, Sri Lanka requires Architects that can see beyond and produce a built environment that is visually delightful, practical and efficient. One such Architect is Sonal Balasuriya, who is also the founder of Sonal Balasuriya Architects & Design Studio.
Sonal doesn’t believe in architectural branding and trademark architecture. He focuses on a creative, design led approach that takes on projects based on their merits. He says that, “Inventive, creative, common sense is the basis of all of our work. We are a design led practice and start each project by delving into our clients’ requirements to create something unique from the combination of brief and location/site”. His ideals and concepts lead to an Architecture that is contextual, evocative, efficient and delightful.
The projects his firm takes on are diverse; from contemporary houses bordered by lush landscapes to listed buildings where the conservation of historic structures is of great importance. He further adds, “These projects have given us considerable experience of working on buildings and landscapes that are unique and require solutions based on the merits of each project and client.”
To give you a synopsis about his educational background and qualifications, Sonal is a past pupil of Trinity College in Kandy. He graduated with a First Class Honours Degree from the University of Westminster in 2009. He is also the proud recipient of the Hubert Sands Memorial Prize awarded to the student with the best overall results in the BSc (Hons) Architecture course at the University of Westminster. He then went on to read for his Masters in Architecture at University College London – The Bartlett School of Architecture. The Bartlett being one of the world’s most famous architecture schools have produced a number of world renowned architects along with a couple of famous Sri Lankan Architects such as Anjelendren and Channa Daswatte. Having graduated with a Distinction from the Bartlett, Sonal was also nominated to the Dean’s list of Distinction Students.
His time in the United Kingdom, gave him the opportunity of working at David Miller Architects whose projects gave him a better understanding of society, people and social issues. At David Miller Architects, Sonal worked on a number of schooling and housing projects that were designed to uplift the communities of suburban London. After his Masters at The Bartlett, he decided it was time to return to Sri Lanka and pursue his career in his homeland which has always been very close to his heart. Upon his return, his time with Channa Daswatte helped him to gain experience in handling larger projects and get a better understanding of building in Sri Lanka. With experience from two completely different work styles and a Chartered Architecture Qualification from the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects under his belt, he was ready to take on his next major step and start up his own practise and pursue projects closer to his heart.
Projects that he is Passionate About
His first major project was the restoration cum renovation of two buildings situated in Colombo Fort. They are a couple of identical buildings on Mudalige Mawatha with two distinctly different façade finishers. This shows how Sonal can merge the old-world charm of an exposed brick facade with a contemporary cement plastered, white painted look, seamlessly and harmoniously, standing side by side, whilst catering to completely different business requirements and thus very different interior spaces.
Whilst taking on interior design projects for houses and apartments, another interesting project that Sonal was very passionate about, is a Green House cum Conservatory in Kandy which brings together his ideals of how architecture, interior designing, landscaping and gardening are all merged into one, in order to achieve a coherent and delightful end product.
A project yet in the design stage, is a boutique hotel in Kandy, where the original building and garden was used as a filming location for the award winning film, Bridge on the River Kwai. Sonal and the client have decided to bring back this movie to life through this project, showcasing it’s iconic bridge structure and lush green landscape which they will translate into the architecture of the new villas and common areas of the hotel, whilst also preserving and showcasing the original bungalow that stands atop the hill.
Whilst focusing on a number of interesting projects, Sonal and his practice are very keen to give back to the community even at this early stage and have already taken on a number of charitable and CSR projects whenever the opportunity presents itself. They have already designed and completed a Stupa Complex in a rural town in Habarana. They are also in the process of designing a ‘kutiya’ or a single residence for a monk located in a temple, amongst the hills of Kandy.
Sonal adds that the outdoors inspired him greatly and regards himself as a keen photographer. He enjoys gardening, landscaping, collecting antique and paintings. He is also a keen Ornithologist and has been a wildlife enthusiast since childhood. Having a good eye gives him the chance to look through forms, shapes and contours of every object around him. Sonal has also been a part of some classic car restoration projects which he says was an inspirational process of putting things together in a very detailed manner. He also believes it is important to expand one’s horizons through travel and exploration. “Getting out of one’s comfort zone helps expand one’s mind-set”, he adds.
Carving out Ones Name
Sonal feels that communication is the most critical aspect in this industry. From understanding the client’s requirements to coming up with creations which capture the same, as well as managing a project through costing, planning and construction phases communication is critical, in all project types and scales. All projects are started with a Look and Feel document which captures the requirement and other important features which makes the basis of the project. Sonal believes a strong foundation in the form of drawings and documentation is required for which he puts in that extra time and effort. During the construction process this is invaluable to minimise mistakes that can be costly. He finds that in Sri Lanka good design and creativity is not combined with good management of a project, thus leading to costly mistakes and budget overruns. Hence, he believes that Sonal Balasuriya Architects & Design Studio have the edge because the practice always puts an equal effort into the design and management of the project. He says that the passion for delivering good architecture with a holistic approach and attention to detail is the driving force that make him stand apart from the rest.
What Does the Future Hold?
At times such as these, we see many young industry entrants take a while before they establish their own name or business entity. However, Sonal in a short span of time, moved on forward to build his own name in an ever expanding field where we Sri Lankans are looking to take that leap forward. Having been influenced through the time he had spent in Kandy, the greenery and lush natural setting, having been through a critical phase of war and post war Sri Lanka, has no doubt played a role in influencing his ambitions and desire to create a better built environment. He continuously reinstates that “For us, context plays a critical role”. His team at Sonal Balasuriya Architects believe that when they design a building, it speaks of time and place!
Text compiled by Sara Pathirana
Photography By: Sidath Wanaguru
MUA: Ranga Jayakody