The Architects Programme of the 4th Colombo Art Biennale, centred around the slum community of Slave Island district in Colombo in Sri Lanka, explored the theme ‘Conceiving Space’. Students join a wider group of architects, artists, professionals and academics, in the community-orientated programme.
The programme sought to provide possibilities for creative production, exploration and contestation of the diverse meanings of space. The projects location was chosen to be Slave Island, an informal settlement neighbourhood with a lively community in the heart of Colombo, now locked-in between contemporary commercial development. Chosen because of its complex ethnic history and layered material culture, the architect’s projects sought to create a platform for the discussion of the urban environment on a site-specific level, with the aim to bring positive benefits to the community.
The nine-day programme saw local students join those from across the UK and New Zealand to form a group of 30 students and 10 tutors in working alongside internationally renowned artists and architects and the local community. Each of the architectural projects found ways to engage the community in constructing permanent installations around Slave Island. The students worked throughout the week on a series of projects across multiple scales, from art installations to model-making, paper-crafts and 1:1 installations. An architectural model at 1:50 scale was produced of the proposed Nawala Community Centre, developing ideas for the future of the centre. A series of workshops were carried out for the making of objects from street decorations to costumes, all inspired by the material culture and craft of Sri Lanka. A rooftop canopy was set up were locals and visitors interacted. A complex three-dimensional mural was completed in a street corner in Slave Island.
The workshops and model-making were carried out on-location, on the street, in the residents’ homes, inside the community centre and outside the local multi-faith religious centre. The projects provided a unique opportunity for the student teams, tutors and the local community to interact with each other and collaborate daily. It was ‘an experience of a lifetime’ and a cherished unforgettable few days for everyone. The programme concluded with a one-day symposium discussing live projects, community engagement in architecture practice and education, and the role of biennale events.