From the road, the house looks like a windowless fort of weathered brick and raw concrete. The image is complete when the security gate rolls down like a portcullis. Yet behind these imposing walls hides one of the most ingeniously designed homes in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the creation of Palinda Kannangara, a local architect. It offers respite from the tropical climate and a subtle response to the assault on the city’s ecology by careless developers.
Rajagiriya, the suburb where the house sits, is surrounded by marshland that soaks up monsoon floodwaters and hosts a profusion of birdlife. In recent years much of the area has been reclaimed and built upon, and a new flyover has brought more traffic to the area. Kannangara’s house acts as an environmental editor, its perforated brick façade allows the breeze in but keeps blazing sunlight, heat and traffic noise at bay.
he true genius of the house is revealed on the first and second floors, reached via a spiral staircase. Here, light falls through the brickwork at the front, dappling Kannangara’s studio on the first floor and the library and living room above it. These spaces have internal balconies overlooking a double-height workspace at the back of the building, where windows five metres high open onto a jungle panorama that gives the impression of going on for ever. The shuttered, concrete bedroom is also open to the forest and the bathroom is open to the sky, so Kannagara can enjoy the luxury of soaking in warm monsoon rain. Deluges are absorbed and channelled by the miniature paddy field, ponds and herb garden on the roof.
The enticing play of sunlight and shadow throughout the house is matched by the sensual materiality of the building. Brick, concrete and timber, much of it recycled, lend the building a comfortably worn air, however novel its design. The building defends Kannangara from the extremes of Sri Lankan nature, but also embraces it.