‘Here I am, look at me!’
By Tahnee Hopman, Pic by Eresh Weerasuriya

This a sight we are all familiar with. It commands attention. “It says here I am! Look at me!” says its architect Nela de Zoysa enthusiastically. Nominated for the first ever Geoffrey Bawa Trust Award for Excellence in Architecture, the AMW Complex at Borella has been an extremely rewarding project, in many ways.

When plans for the building got underway, there had been a certain degree of unease over the project, due to the superstitions of a few involved.

Directional skylight against reflecting pool.

However, upon completion of the project, sales at the showroom had skyrocketed to such an extent that the management had been able to recover all the costs of building within one year. “The staff are also extremely proud of their workplace, and maintain it very well,” commented Nela.

The 100 perch rectangular site overlooks the Colombo General Cemetery and is bounded on two sides by a busy roadway meeting a private lane to create an acute angle.

The initial idea was to have a linear rectangular building parallel to Bauddhaloka Mawatha. It was later realized that the private side road facing west, was as broad as the main road. This gave reason for the building to be oriented to face both roadways and the initial linear building was mirrored and turned to the west and treated as a corner building, responding to the triangle. The design was dictated by these two roadways, two linear winged structures with lean-to roofs which meet at the apex of the triangle to create an overwhelming entrance. A diagonal skylight creates interplay of light and shade, casting shadows under the tropical sky, bringing the cars into sharp focus.

The roof, which was a major feature, was inspired by the Maruti logo which had two wings and a space in the centre. The two winged structures were capped in a lightweight material to form a lean-to which tapered to the rear of the building, along the central spine. This almost floated in mid-air supported only by the two tubular pipes which are in turn supported by two concrete walls.

Nela says she had been both surprised and honoured to hear that the AMW Complex had been nominated for the Geoffrey Bawa Trust Award. “I was very pleased with how the competition was conducted, because of the way the panel of judges evaluated each site. They visited each and every location and did a thorough examination. I believe that architecture is something that has to be seen as well as experienced, and the work they put in towards judging the nominees was very impressive.”
In tune with Nela De Zoysa’s daring sense of style, the AMW Complex is a distinctive landmark. “For me architecture is a very exciting field,” she says. “I travel a lot- and I am influenced a great deal by the places I see. I love experimenting with new ideas, and architecture is something that helps me do that.”
Giving up her painting, sculpture and music in favour of architecture, Nela De Zoysa established her own firm- Design Corporate, in 1993.

Nela de Zoysa

“I seem to have lived my life backwards,” she smiles. “My prelude to architecture was my painting and sculpture, and I studied at the Melbourne Art School under Cora Abrahams. I studied architecture after that.”

Her early inspiration came from Geoffrey Bawa himself. “I was always a huge admirer of his work as I could always relate to his creation of space and proportions. I remember my father introducing me to him when I was a child, and from then on, we were close friends right to the end.”

Having completed a course on Architecture Conservation at the University of Moratuwa, she then studied at the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects. From then on Nela’s career has spelt out nothing but success for her, garnering her many awards and commendations.

“One of my most rewarding projects was the BMW Showroom in Battaramulla which won the ARCASIA- (Architects Regional Council for Asia) Award. I remember showing Geoffrey Bawa some photos of the project and his opinion of it really struck me. He just ran his fingers over the photo and said one word: Nice!”

For someone for whom architecture is all about exploring new fields and reaching new heights, the current situation in the country has been depressing. “Because it stifles you,” she reflects. “But this is to all up and coming architects out there- It’s not meant to be easy all the way, and architecture is definitely not something you can do half-heartedly. Be committed. Always. And you will succeed!”

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