Colombo Calling

1 May 2015
Image of New Colombo Plan students
UQ architecture students in Sri Lanka

Sixteen University of Queensland students had the experience of a lifetime this semester when they visited Sri Lanka as part of a course on clients and culture in architecture practice.

During the short-term study project, funded by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan Mobility Program, the students worked with City School of Architecture in Colombo to develop housing schemes that support the social and cultural needs of marginalised Sri Lankan communities.

The group gained a firsthand understanding of the rich architectural heritage of Sri Lanka through two study trips conducted jointly with Sri Lankan colleagues, one to Kandy in the ancient capital and Buddhist heartland and another to the former colonial city of Galle.

Bachelor of Architectural Design student Christopher Furminger said he was inspired to take part in the trip because of his interest in the diverse sub-tropical architecture found in Sri Lanka.

“From a chance encounter in Australia I was able to organise a meeting with a local Sri Lankan architect Rehan Tilakaratna, who generously invited me to have dinner with his family, where we discussed the region’s architecture and the possibility of organising site visits with other prominent Sri Lankan architects,” Mr Furminger said.

“Rehan was able to organise for our group to meet with Anjalendran, one of Sri Lanka's best known architects and a student of renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa.”

“We also met with Pradeep Kodikara, a winner of the Geoffrey Bawa Award for Excellence in Architecture, and Hirante Welandawe, a well-recognised female architect.”

“These site visits were invaluable as we toured through projects and discussed architectural principles with practicing architects.”

The students also built meaningful relationships by practicing in an intercultural work environment.

“During our workshop with the City School of Architecture in Colombo we were able to build friendships with our peers, giving us the ability to further integrate into the social fabric of the city,” Mr Furminger said.

“I truly created friendships that I will continue to develop in years to come – we affectionately refer to each other as ‘machang’ (‘mate’) and I look forward to returning soon.”

“I have been able to develop strong connections within the Sri Lankan architectural community and have also been presented with possible internships.”

“While I am leaving my career options open, this has been an awakening to the possibilities of working within the Indo-Pacific region at large and particularly Sri Lanka.”

Project leader Dr Timothy O’Rourke said the students gained valuable interpersonal and employability skills through the experience.

“Such a complex built landscape and mixed demographic—unlike anything in Australia—provides excellent conditions for studying and learning,” Dr O’Rourke said.

“Our region is the fastest growing and most rapidly urbanising in the world and the local architectural profession struggles to respond to intense construction activity.”

“Equipping our students to practice in these contexts with sensitivity to ethnic diversity and cultural heritage, and minimum impact on the natural environment, is crucial to their careers and the architectural profession.”

UQ staff are invited to submit an application to UQ Global Engagement for the 2016 round of the New Colombo Plan Mobility Program by Friday 22 May 2015. For further information and a link to the application form,