A construction training and community engagement project in rural Sri Lanka won the Silver prize in the most significant international competition for sustainable design and construction. Architects Milinda Pathiraja and Ganga Ratnayake from Robust Architecture Workshop in Colombo were presented with the Award on the site of the winning project in Ambepussa. At the ceremony on the military base of the Sri Lankan Army, the Colonel of the Sinha Regiment, Major General Boniface Perera, and Global Awards jury members Maria Atkinson (Australia) and Meisa Batayneh (Jordan) praised the project for building human capacity as well as a physical structure.
The recently completed library makes an impressive architectural statement. The facility is open to both army personnel and the neighboring communities and thereby supports a broad cross-section of the community in the process of establishing strong foundations for their future development. The building complex 60km northwest of Colombo was constructed by soldiers who were coached in building techniques using rammed-earth walls and recycled materials that harnessed their expertise in logistics and modular construction.
Member of the Global jury and the Board of the Holcim Foundation, Maria Atkinson (left), commended the project for creating a skilled and motivated workforce through an educational program and the thoughtful deployment of specific construction techniques. “There is significant value in the basic message of the scheme – and the construction of a library that builds both the physical and social fabric of a community”, she said. Atkinson praised the initiative of the Sinha Regiment for taking an unconventional approach by offering its soldiers practical education in construction and at the same time a place to study and develop additional skills. The Awards ceremony was the first in the twelve-year history of the competition to be held on the site of the winning project and took place in the main reading hall of the library.
Recognition for the soldiers
Lieutenant General Chirshante De Silva, Commander of the Army, and Major General Boniface Perera, Colonel of the Sinha Regiment, explained that the library project was an effective method for re-tooling former soldiers for meaningful employment that improved lives both on an individual and community level. “The project brings skill development for soldiers so they have socio-economic expertise after they leave the army”, he said. The Generals presented certificates of accomplishment to the entire workforce engaged in building the library complex.
Architect Milinda Pathiraja explained that the project also contributed to improve the quality of construction in Sri Lanka: skilled workers are essential for architects and acquiring skills is also necessary for those workers aiming at having a career in the construction industry. “Architects have a responsibility not only for the profession and the client, but also to society – it’s our goal to bring these dimensions together in our work,” he said.
Commitment to create sustainability in the construction industry
Ian Thackwray, Member of the Executive Committee of Holcim responsible for Asia Pacific, noted that the Awards were an integral part of the company’s commitment to sustainable development. “We want to use our position as the world leader in the building materials industry to support sustainable construction, build awareness, and to advocate solutions that incorporate architectural excellence and enhanced quality of life”, he said.
Philippe Richart,CEO of Holcim Lanka, a member of Holcim, commented on the innovative approach to vocational training and building design that is strengthened by Sri Lanka’s architectural tradition. “Robust Architecture Workshop has truly lived up to their name – creating a solution-driven approach to sustainable development that celebrates both community and structures aligned with local climate and materials. The project was selected out of more than 6000 submissions from all continents, and we are proud that Sri Lanka is recipient of one of the top three global prizes”, he said.