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Comprehensive Design Project (proposed Gem Musaeum And Preparation Centre For Ratnapura, Sri Lanka)

Part 2 Project 2003
Robert Skeet
Nalaka Krishantha
University of Moratuwa Moratuwa Sri Lanka
For time immemorial Sri Lanka has had a sparkling reputation for highly treasured gems, providing home to 40 of its varieties out of 85 varieties available in the whole world. These precious stones perfected in the laboratory of nature lay hidden for countless ages, their luster undimmed, their value unrecognized Solomon, the Biblical king, epitome of human wisdom has gems brought from Sri Lanka to woo the heart and win the hand of queen Sheba. There exists many a story of jewels from Serendib (as Sri Lanka was known in the past) traveling into kingdoms of Cathay and Arabian Gulf. Some of the gems found there have become famous under special names like ‘Sinhalite’, ‘Ceylonite’, etc.

Ratnapura as the name implies is nature’s storehouse of gems of Ratnadeepa; Sri Lanka. Blue Sapphires, Cat’s Eyes, Alexandrite, Rubies, Star Stones found embedded in layer of gravel and sand, in river beds, marshes, and fields or accumulated at the foot of hills of Ratnapura for unknown ages. The proposed Gem Museum & Preparation Centre thus stemmed out with the intention of instilling the glorious un-ended story of gems of Sri Lanka that is woven over thousands of years with awe, mystery, power and glamour.

Gem mining is a journey into the deepest layers of mother earth. It is fearful, mysterious, adventurous, risky, and could even cost one’s life. Yet, it could also have a glorious end, making one rich, powerful and glamorously wealthy. The site is at the highest elevation of Ratnapura Old Town, about 20 meters from the main road level. It is irregular in shape and is bounded by two major roads – the Town Hall Avenue on the Western side and the Fort Lane on the Northern End.

The building form is the ultimate response to the glamour and the aura of ‘gem’ culture, the social setting and the physical context.

The Old Dutch Fort stands majestically in the heart of the Ratnapura Old Town, where the gem activities are mainly concentrated. The small hillock calls for a “rise-up”; a sense of verticality with a flattened peak and a sudden level drop. Gem dealing activities, responding to its present rather informal nature, are housed in the open terraces facing the Debachchiya street and the “mango tree” where gem dealing is actually taking place. Shaping of the form; the details and elements are influenced by the glamour of gems itself, its preciousness, the associated myths and mysteries. Massive, curved roof structure is a subtle reflection of the crystalline structure of Sri Lanka’s most valuable gem specie, “Corundum”. Curved trusses of the roof are a reflection of the sparkling lines of gems, glittering at night. Existing rampart is transformed into a massive wall to heighten the spatial experience, while responding to the corner of the street.
Silver-coloured gutting-out box is the reflection of a gem-pit. The gem museum at underground is a huge dome, built by a concrete structure. A lift goes up and down through the center of the dome; once it moves down, the iron lid of the dome is activated with a thundering sound, to close it down to evoke mysterious, awesome feelings.

The tunnel inside the rampart is linked with the dome of the museum. Its interior is massive and magnificent with dummies wearing gem and jewellery. At a distance the gem museum and preparation centre is seen as different leveled terraces, with old Dutch building under the massive roof structure; heightening the identity and inculcating the pride of the world-renowned gem-city; Ratnapura of the gem-country; Ratnadeepa (Sri Lanka).

Robert Skeet
Nalaka Krishantha


This project received the highest marks, which is above 75% at the Final Examination for MSc. Architecture.

The project was adjudged as the best solution for social, cultural, environmental and technological context of Sri Lanka. This proposal is strengthened by very strong concepts which bond the roots of myths, mysteries, and fantasy of gems in Sri Lanka. However, the author was able to detail the design to suit the concept, context, and function as well. It has resolved all issues concerned in a Museum for gems, one of the most lucrative export items. The project was adjudged very successful in its effort in globalization of Sri Lankan gem industry.

Further which to inform that the author frequently consulted me when preparing the said design scheme for MSc. Architecture.

I have no hesitation to recommend this scheme for RIBA Presidents Medals – 2003.

Tutor(s)
Mr Gerard Bareham
Mr Derrie O'Sullivan
2003
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