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Promotional Centre for Gem Industry, Ratnapura, Sri Lanka.

Part 2 Project 1999
Gayathri Senadheera
University of Moratuwa Moratuwa Sri Lanka
Putting the right thing in the right place, to obtain a right kind of appreciation is similar to the process undergone by a rough stone tossed in an eerie mine, until it comes out, cut and polished, studded in a piece of finely crafted jewellery. Re-vitalising the historic Dutch Fort at Ratnapura for a Promotional Centre for Gem & Jewellery, enables such an exercise as many other non-related functions within the site are being shifted to the New Town, vacating colonial remnants.

The theme of the scheme is celebration of the experience of the fortscape, drawing inspiration from the Acropolis in Athens. The process of approach through the palm grove, having climbed up stone steps leading from the clock tower junction, is focused to the 'jewel' of the complex, the museum, a century old masterpiece of the Dutch, with a reflective pool in the foreground.

The building mass is concentrated into the north-eastern edge of the rampart permits an unobstructed visual sweep over the esplanade and the twisting river beyond. Whether seen from afar, as from the river or at close quarters from the town itself, the abstract geometrical composition of both additions and the existing, resembles a medieval hill-town with a pointed climax in the middle.

Gayathri Senadheera

A regional capital, Ratnapura means the “city of precious stones”. Located in a narrow valley, Ratnapura is a hilly town bordered on the one side by the River Kaluganga and the lush green tea estates on the other. The river running by the old town floods twice a year causing disturbances to the urban community there.

It has been proposed to allow the growth of the town at a new location; to allow spill over from the old, and thus create opportunities to transform the river kaluganga and its surrounding to a positive urban space in the old town. The old town having had the impact of colonization by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British had inherited small and charming buildings. Ratnapura still retains the sense of place of the old hilly towns. The students were expected to select either of these contexts; the old or the new and propose urban intervention projects to infill and create an urbanity appropriate to the setting, the culture, the history and indeed the sense of place that prevailed there.

Gayathri Senadeera chose the old Ratnapura town in the historic centre of which is an outcrop of high land on the bank of the river. The site had the configuration of a fortification and had been used by the Dutch as an administrative centre. The decaying buildings scattered on the site created a definite sense of place and a recognizable punctuation in the low-rise high densiy square of the old town.

Gayathris scheme offers a careful urban intervention of modification and adaptation of the old and fusion of the new elements to transform this space. Employing terrace and the water as essential experiential dualities to generate and sustain a series of memorable experiences, Gayathri articulates this urban space re-invigorating its charm and injecting it with opportunities for spatial drama to unfold. In doing so, Gayathri mutates the drudgery of urban life and the functional demands of space in a sequence of delighting vistas and spatial experiences made possible in this intervention.

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