- Name: Pasan Mahindapala
- Year: 2019
- Studio: Level III
- University: University of Moratuwa
A cultural center is a place for cultural expression and awareness, mainly through performance arts and exhibit arts. The project brief was to design the cultural center with an auditorium, gallery spaces which are both permanent and temporary, and all the service spaces affiliated with them.
The site is located near the Ukwaththa junction, Avissawella. That area is proposed to be turned into a public square which is demarcated by three buildings, which are museum, civic center and a cultural center in the middle. This area comprises a slight terrain which gets steeper in the northern side. That steep slope is abundant with lush greenery which is a nice view which can be seen directly from the junction, when you are entering Avissawella from Colombo direction.
My design simultaneously focuses on three contextual forces namely the physical context, historical and cultural context and the environmental context.
A building in the given site may separate the green mountain and the public square. But the design is done connecting those two in order to make a larger recreational public space abundant with greenery, which is an urgent need in Avissawella city.
Historical and cultural context
Avissawella is where the mighty Seethawaka kingdom once stood, fighting off the Portuguese using guerilla methods. Its located on the margin of the central hill country region, which was unpassable to any great western power with force. Despite the political fiascoes happened there, Seethawaka region has a proud heritage of protecting our nation from a cultural genocide that could have happened at the hands of fierce invaders. So its right to assume that the cultural identity of Avissawella mainly lies in its buried and forgotten history.
Environmental/ climatic context
In a tropical wet zone climate like Avissawella, outdoor living is always burdened by either heavy rainfall or harsh sunlight. Earth sheltering, or green roofing is a very sustainable design approach for public buildings.
So these three Contextual forces gave the idea of a subterranean building which connects the green mountain to the public square by the artificial terrain on the top, while the underground spaces formed by it facilitates the cultural center functions. That idea gave a lot of potentials to create an ambiance that reflects on the cultural heritage of the region in an abstract way. And with the climatic conditions, an subterranean space will be more healthy for the public to spend their free time.
But actually, the building’s levels are designed following the natural terrain, without doing any excavation. An artificial terrain is created on the above by the green roof of the building and earth filled ramps around the site. That artificial terrain will be abundant with various activities, after the building is given to the public.
For the functions related to the cultural center, a large circulation path is defined as a canyon between two bulky built parts. The entrance is defined here and the people will enter to a large lobby. In this entrance level, people will access the main two functions, auditorium and exhibitions. The upper level consists of a large atrium which is also a sculpture gallery, and a permanent gallery space adjoined to it. Going further up, the users will enter to the outdoor amphitheater which suddenly opens up to the surrounding, giving the users a magnificent view of the green mountain.
But going underground comprises of challenges of providing natural light and ventilation to the interiors. The central void space for circulation is aligned along the wind direction ensuring abundant natural ventilation. All the main spaces ends with a component that I designed as a green wall, which adds a mystique feeling to the interior while ensuring natural light and ventilation in the ends of the main spaces. It also evades the problem of controlling the rainwater coming into the ventilation openings because water flow will be let down to be removed by a underground drain system.