A green oasis
Tahnee Hopman meets M.M.G. Samuel, the architect behind The Thicket- Gampaha, concluding our series on the nominees for the Geoffrey Bawa Trust Award for Excellence in Architecture. The award will be announced on July 23.
M.M.G. Samuel

The Thicket, as its name would suggest, has far more to it than what meets the eye. Thirteen months of work with the inputs of nine contractors went into the transformation of the once abandoned estate in Gampaha.

“From the time I first saw the land on which I had to work, I was aware of the challenge involved in transforming the place,” recalls M.M.G. Samuel- the architect behind The Thicket, Gampaha- the final location on the list of the nine shortlisted nominees for the Geoffrey Bawa Trust Award for Excellence in Architecture. “When I first went there, I saw an old estate with an abandoned building. We had absolutely no idea how to go about the transformation.”

Having gone through 13 months packed with challenges, construction was completed in September 2006. Situated on seven acres of land in Mandawala, Gampaha, The Thicket is a far sight different from the abandoned estate on which the caretaker had grown a pineapple crop. Solitary winding paths meander through the lush lawns. The split levels of the garden offer many places to stop and contemplate. Referred to as an eco-system in equilibrium, The Thicket is home to over a 100 species of plants, some of which had been specifically brought in from various parts of the country.

With a different view at every angle, The Thicket has a variety of soothing and calming ambiences, the highlight of which is the pavilion, a quaint little observation deck which is situated at the lowest point of the garden. “A garden project like The Thicket is one that brings the architect a great deal of joy,” enthused Mr. Samuel. “All the stress we felt during the course of the project is dispelled just by looking at the completed project.”

M.M.G. Samuel, known as Godridge Samuel, studied at D.S. Senanayake College, with every intention of pursuing medicine. “I changed my mind quite suddenly,” he recalls. “I was always good at art, and I once helped a friend who was an architect with some posters. My association with him brought me into contact with architecture, and by the time I had done my exams I had opted for architecture. The influence of reputed architects Ranjith Alahakoon, Vijitha Basnayake and Chris de Saram opened up his thinking pattern, he says.

He won a Geoffrey Bawa Award for the best Comprehensive Design Project and the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects Award for the Best Overall Student at the final exam. After obtaining a B.Sc in Built Environment in 1986 and a M.Sc in Architecture in 1989, he established his own firm MMGS Associates in 1998.

“For me, architecture is like music,” he says. “You’re influenced in many ways by what you see around you. Most ideas are not entirely new, but have got inspiration from other architectural works. Basically, you take an idea that you have seen before, and put these elements into something new. It has a lot to do with composition.”

The pavilion

The Thicket in Gampaha had been one of this architect’s most rewarding projects in addition to the schools which he had built for children in the Eastern Province who had been affected by the tsunami. “I am very thankful to all those who supported me during the project- Rohan Enterprises who did the landscaping, Sashikala Ranasinghe who did the architectural lighting, and very importantly, Amali Karunasinghe, the project architect,” he said.

For M.M.G. Samuel, the most important thing about being an architect is hard work, honesty and commitment from beginning to end. “Coupled with that, you have to be always open to new ideas, be aware of your client’s interests and stick to them,” he says.

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