Master plan for sensitive area in Heritage City of Kandy



by Ashley de Vos

In 1994, the Department of Archaeology, The Central Cultural Fund and the Kandy Municipal Council held an open competition to develop a sensitive area in the heritage city of Kandy – the space between Bogambara Lake and the railway station. The competition was open for a specified time limit and Architect Geoffrey Bawa served as the jury’s Chairman.

The First prize in the open Master Plan competition was won by ADV Consultants. And the prize money of Rs. 300,000 was offered and of it Rs. 100,000 was received. For some reason, the UDA did not implement the original Master plan concept, as proposed in the Master plan. But some portions of the plan have been implemented intermittently, claiming to be others’ ideas.

There were some issues related to the Master plan that had to be respected and elucidated to arrive at a holistic concept for an important sensitive heritage city like Kandy. Our investigations showed Kandy has four problems: a high complement of buses parked on the roads, inadequate car parking in the city, the lack of a drainage system, and extra heavy development pressure on the inner city.

The first Visual pollution and impact on arrival in Kandy, is that it has been expanded to a great big bus stand. In the past, in the days of the bus depots, the vehicles retired to the depot for the night. However, under privatisation, the buses stayed on the roads, as close as possible to the stand, throughout the night, with the drivers and conductors sleeping in the bus. There had to be a drastic solution for the buses. The bus parking was unsightly, and a solution was found to change that. Is there a new location for the bus stand? There is no land available in the vicinity.

Could we create a Bus/Train transport terminal? The Railway Department owned about a couple hundred acres around the railway station, instead of looking for land and buying land rights. We, instead proposed a solution to buy air rights and raise the bus stand onto an elevated platform above the railway premises. Gopallawa and Peradeniya Mawatha could be easily reached from a raised platform. The bus stand would be raised on columns, and the railway could still function.

Upper terrace with direct access from the lake

Commuters arriving by train would go up and take a bus, and those coming by bus could go down and take the train. A large base platform, with perforated openings suitably placed to bring in light and ventilation, would ensure a pleasant environment for the trains’ passengers. All peripheral activity required for the commuter, like food kades and toilets, will be provided below and on the extended platform. This would ensure that no buses would be parked on the roads of Kandy, in the future. A commuter wishing to access other areas in the sacred city; would be encouraged to take the small shuttle buses, from the Bus/Train terminus, which would operate at a standard fixed fare.

With the buses off the road, there is a need to facilitate human movement through the space, without encountering any traffic. The need to safely take pilgrims from the Bus/Train terminus to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, could be easily achieved through an aerial-landscaped pedestrian precinct. Raised walkways would take passengers to where they wished to go. A total pedestrian movement from the Bus/Train terminus to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, is achievable.

Two attitudes toward shopping are proposed. An up-market shopping mall, with internal streets, for locals and tourists, and another for everyday shopping for the residents of Kandy, even incorporating and celebrating the traditional Pola, is also proposed, all conveniently accessible. The existing Kandy market is to be revamped, and the area beyond to have ‘U’ shaped shopping configurations with the central area of the ‘U’ heavily landscaped and the main shopping brought closer to the raised walkway with the open arms of the ‘U’ celebrating the landscaping closer to the peripheral road. This would permit those on the Ariel highway to access the shops easily and even walk through the shopping areas on the Aerial walkways. All the shops in the town could be moved into the new proposal.

The main shopping mall occupies the site of the demolished Walkers factory. To avoid the complex coming too close to the Dalada Veediya, the original Walkers showroom, on the main road, is preserved and converted to the Thorana entrance. As the side road encircles the Mall, while gradually descending to a lower level, several entrances are introduced to create a series of streets that penetrate the mall at different levels, and visitors are taken up or down to the required activity zones by the 16 escalators installed within. They eventually exit onto Dalada Veediya. The interior separations are glazed with no name boards in front to create the illusion of a single department store.

As children, one remembers sitting on the pavement of a friend’s house to watch the perahera. It was informal and a pleasant experience. Today all the houses have been taken over and converted into shops. If the new proposed shopping is implemented, all the shops could move out of the inner city, and the owners of the houses could return to live in their city. This would bring the original community, driven out, through the commercialisation of the city, back into the city. A city needs real people to be alive. If there are no people, it will be a dead city.

Kandy is small enough to be a pedestrian, walking city. Kandy parks about a thousand cars on its streets daily. The shopkeepers, who have taken over most of the residential buildings for shops, park their vehicles and fill up the roads today. The proposed site is a valley. We need to take full advantage of the levels. If one was to remove all the cars from the streets of Kandy, and introduce sufficient lower-level car parking, this would enhance the badly needed income for the KMC. On an estimation, parking over 3,000 cars in lower ground parking is possible. As there is no parking on the roads, it would be possible to reduce the width of the existing roads to two-lane roads and introduce wider pavements with shade trees. Walking the streets of Kandy, under the shade of spreading trees, would be a great experience.

Typical shopping precinct, no signage on outside glass fronts create the illusion of one shop.

The Cultural Complex will stand on one of the multi-level car parks. The open-air theatre, at the upper level, will be orientated and have the lake as a backdrop. Kandy has no space for a theatre or a venue to hold large gatherings. On the upper terrace is a fully-fledged auditorium for 1,000 persons, an art gallery, and three small cinemas. The different levels are connected by flying bridges between the mall, the Cultural Complex and the Civic Centre. Instead, the KMC has introduced many small shops, on top of the car park, destroying the original concept.

The present Town Hall for Kandy is difficult to access and lacks a ceremonial aspect. The proposal is a new Civic Centre for Kandy, easily accessible from all roads, with ceremonial access to the Dalada Veediya for special events. The new Town Hall will occupy the space on which a cinema stands. The Town Hall stands above a large car park.

The prison complex occupies a large amount of land, which should be integrated into the Master plan proposal by introducing a circular road. A new compatible use should be found for the complex.

JAICA proposed a complete drainage system for the city. It may not be implemented.

While there are great possibilities for being in a valley, there were also development restrictions, like the roof of no building should be higher than the roof of the main temple and not penetrate below the base of the lake. The brief required the buildings to project some aspect of Kandyan architecture. This aspect was brought to focus, utilising the concept of the roof being the most prominent in the Kandyan landscape. The KMC opposed connecting the buildings because they were separate buildings and had separate approvals. They wanted users to descend to the ground and use the spaces as separate buildings. This was a total waste of human energy.

Though the competition was won in 1994, the final approval for the implementation from the KMC came in 2002. Prices had quadrupled. But the client went ahead with the project.

Architecture has nothing to do with buildings. It is to do with people. Communities and people make cities. People that cities manufacture are just artificial clones. They don’t even smile. These cities have lost their humanity. There is no human scale anymore. A good example is the cultureless cities of Dubai and Singapore, with the highest carbon footprint. When we imitate what they do, we are only cultureless copyists. We should know what to do, and what not to copy. “The architecture of Sri Lanka is not an architecture of buildings but of levels and canopies. At times, trees form the canopy” (de Vos 1982). It is not the case of copying the past, but bringing the spirit of the past to the contemporary.

An important aspect in developing sensitive World Heritage sites is that the colours, display panels, and advertising should not compete; they should all be subdued, colour coded, and the scale carefully controlled. Neon or similar lighting should never be used. Nothing should be hoisted on the external surface of the building. There is also a limit to the entertainment possibilities that should be introduced on a sensitive site. What is done inside is different, unless it impacts the outside. Any proposals for cars or similar systems flying out of a building should be discouraged. There is a need to respect the sensitivity of the sacredness of the environment, be economically viable and aid development in a controlled manner.


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