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City as Palimpsest: Implications for the Planning of Colombo

Part 2 Dissertation 2010
Yemeena Mubarak
City School of Architecture, Sri Lanka
Cities are concentrated places often with high densities of people, a hybrid of activities and identities.
City planning, however, has long focused on applying large scale master plans with homogenous systems and approaches for development. The dissertation looks at the idea of cities being ‘palimpsests’ – layered environments and analyses the nature of the layers as ‘urban structure’, ‘urban life’ and ‘symbolic urbanism’. These layers are then placed within a multi dimensional framework as an approach towards exploring cities. The palimpsest framework becomes useful because it applies a heterogeneous method for evaluating cities. A heterogeneous method can accommodate the plurality, complexity and contradictory nature of ground realities.
The study looks at three case studies that employ techniques useful for a palimpsest framework. Through their use, the case studies are able to highlight the plurality of issues within those cities. Similar techniques used within the context of Colombo are also explored to highlight the simplistic vision of master plans for Colombo, when the techniques reveal more complex issues.
The dissertation is a broad look at the palimpsest framework, and the conclusion notes that further studies into the subject, notably on the development of techniques, would benefit planning procedure in Colombo.

Yemeena Mubarak

The dissertation is based on the concept of city as a palimpsest of various aspects of culture (as defined in the broadest sense). It discusses the nuances that the concept acquired over time from the detection of the idea in the heyday of the Greek civilization and demonstrates the ways it has been used to comprehend the metamorphosis of cities culminating in an effort to apply the concept to Colombo.

Although the subject matter could be considered as truly belonging to urban planning, the manner it is presented highlights its relevance to architecture in helping to understand the context of architecture; it also sheds light on the question why some buildings or precincts have different rates and directions of change from other buildings or precincts of the same city.

The student has researched well into the subject and has assembled an impressive collection of ideas from authoritative sources. The collection of maps of Colombo is particularly notable since these have been exposed to a different mode of analysis than what one is accustomed to. The lengthy introduction with an abundance of illustrations is evidence that the student was aware of the necessity to clear the background thoroughly before embarking on the subject proper. The annexures are also interesting.

The structure of the dissertation is straightforward befitting the subject that is complex in its own right; in fact, the structure contributes immensely to the clarity of the presentation. Use of language and syntax is simple.

The case studies have been used as a backdrop to the application of the dissertation to Colombo which has been done quite skilfully. Use of an Asian city as one case is praiseworthy since the example is quite analogous to Colombo although at a different scale. This is all the more pertinent since Colombo and Delhi were subjected to a comprehensive re-development programme at the same time under the same system of government.

The dissertation considered as the product of a submission for Part II qualification of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects stands above the average standard.

Kurukulasuriya Veranjan
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