The Architects’ Programme, which ran between 3-11 December under the 2016 Colombo Art Biennale’s general theme of ‘Conceiving Space’, had a strong focus on community engagement. To this end, a project for a new community centre in an informal settlement in the Nawala neighbourhood of Colombo was initiated. The two-story building will be nestled between existing houses in a tight rectangular site on one side, while an open public place and garden will be opened on the other side. The community centre will be designed to provide a meeting space for the local community to congregate which is currently missing. The plot of land includes a large bow tree, the sacred tree of Buddhists, whose roots spread across the width of the site. The building will acknowledge the presence of the tree, will wrap around and gently frame views from its interior and exterior spaces.
A physical model in 1:50 scale was built to communicate the design. At the same time, a 1:1 installation of the proposed building’s footprint on site was carried out, on the one hand, as a gesture to the community, but also as a statement about the condition of the fragile landscape the new building will inhabit. The new building’s simple rectangular layout will have to negotiate between the existing site’s jagged unregulated ‘edges’ where the everyday life of the community takes shape, which may well be gone during the building process.