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Architect Chelvadurai Anjalendran wins Golden Award for Global Contribution to Architecture

by NAN

I quote from Architect Anjalendran’s acceptance speech in New Delhi on 17 October 2011 when he received the Golden Award for Global Contribution to Architecture by Architecture + Design & Spectrum Foundation.

SOS Children’s Village, Galle, Photo © A. Sivam- courtesy: Archifest.org

Anjalendran’s most significant work to date has been the series of projects undertaken for SOS Children’s Villages International over a period of fifteen years, which have included orphanages in Nuwara Eliya, Galle and Anuradhapura, schools, retirement homes, and training centres.

It is an achievement of Anjalendran’s that needs to be noted by all Sri Lankans. He agreed with me when I said that recognition seems to come from abroad, not from within. Sad but true.

Geoffrey Bawa was given two major awards – from the American Institute of Architecture and the international Aga Khan Lifetime Architecture Award 2002. Minette de Silva received lifetime recognition for architectural design, arts and culture from France. Hence the undoubted prestige and honour conferred on Anjalendran since what he was awarded is a global award for excellence in architecture internationally. This, even more than for the person, is an honour to the country as it firmly places Sri Lanka on the international platform.

Anjalendran told me that he found his name suggested for the award while in Switzerland having gone there from Holland where he was holidaying with Dharmavasan and his wife Julie who had been Anjalendran’s neighbours in Sri Lanka for more than 15 years. The information popped up in an Internet café. He was asked to send a profile.

Architect's Residence Chelvadurai Anjalendran ~ Image: Alberto Taveira, intervention on images srilanka.alva.uwa.edu.au

He says he was terrified but he was pushed to send the requested papers by his hosts and the author of his book Anjalendran: architect of Sri Lanka, David Robson. His cousin, Shayan Kumaradasan attended to the matter and submitted what was called for. He was subsequently informed that he had won the Golden Award for Global Contribution to Architecture beating 27 architects from America and Asia, particularly India.

Anjalendran started his acceptance speech with a quote from Andre Gide, which, he says epitomizes himself.

“You know me well if you thought that by its very excess virtue would entice me

You knew that arduous and challenging paths lure me

That senseless pursuits appeal to me

And that a little folly is necessary for the satisfaction of my pride”

As an introduction, Anjalendran mentioned that the architecture he does is essentially ‘local’ and more site specific, hence sustainable and respecting nature. “I hope that thus my work may be considered worthy of a ‘global contribution towards architecture’ and not ‘global architecture’ for which I have a slight aversion.” He added, “To know where one belongs, and to know oneself is often a good beginning.”

Speaking about himself briefly he mentioned that he has a studio practice with four assistants and until six years back worked from his mother’s verandah. “Appropriately my mode of transport is a three wheeler tuk-tuk.”

He returned to Sri Lanka 34 years ago, having completed his post-graduate studies in Space Syntax at the Bartlett in London. “However, it would be true to say that I learnt my practical architecture, in the typical tradition of guru shishya (teacher-pupil) doing errands for the Sri Lankan master architect Geoffrey Bawa, for approximately forty hours a week for nearly ten years, for no pay.”

“Back home, I found that the central question facing Sri Lankan architecture was the continuity and the context of the traditional to meet modern lifestyles and aspirations. In my favourite mediaeval garden of Kaludiya Pokuna in Mihintale, the organic is always incorporated and blended into the formal organization of space.

This dialectic of the tradition and the modern, as well as the incorporation of the organic has been celebrated in the sustained and varied corpus of work of Geoffrey Bawa. However, the main question was initially posed by the Vice Principal of Trinity College, Rev L G Gastor, in the hill capital, Kandy, nearly 90 years ago, when he proposed to build a Sinhalese chapel for his congregation. From Bawa I mainly learnt that architecture is always a background for life and to view nature. It was rarely ‘iconic’ or ‘in your face’, and should be of great ‘restraint.’”

Anjalendran mentions the political policy in the early ‘60s of restrictions on the import of goods and travel which brought forth a creative blossoming in the architecture of Ulrik Plesner and Geoffrey Bawa, and spin-offs such as the vibrant batiks of Ena de Silva, colourful handlooms of Barbara Sansoni and architectural renderings of Laki Senanayake.

He states unequivocally: “My contribution to Sri Lankan contemporary architecture has been to make an aesthetic architecture affordable, not only at the level of ordinary middle class professional clients, but also NGOs’ and even orphanages.” He has designed delightful SOS villages and introduced subtle manifestations of the whimsical – so good for the children resident in the homes. He continues: “Here I find an affinity to the unpretentious and often un-noticed peasant vernacular which has a populist appeal so necessary but rarely achieved in the architecture of today.” He cites as an example an ambalama in Karagahagedera, Kurunegala.

Concluding his acceptance address, Anjalendran said: “I am often asked in this fast changing world of cell-phones and Internet, whether there may be valid architectural constants. My advice would always be to search, and not be side tracked by commerce (often the simple reason for bad-architecture); to find your own place in history, and be proud of yourself and what you thus achieve. If not, you can be easily consumed by the ‘global’ and corporate world, which are often based on fickle fashion, and will not last the test of time. Lastly, I am generally content making a few people around me happy rather than any attempt to ‘save the world’

I had thought of interviewing the Golden Global Award winner and asking him personal questions, like does he remember his maternal grandfather – the fiery ex-MP for Vavuniya, C Suntheralingam, or how he reacts to the obvious pride his mother, Vatha Chelvadurai, takes in him. But reading his acceptance speech and seeing the power point presentation that accompanied it, I decided to quote from his address.

It contains within its comparative short length so much value and information. courtesy: The Sunday Island

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