June 14, 2017

A Chat..

Anusha David spotlights the hottest styles and statements in and around Sri Lanka – from political leaders to celebrity CEOs, masters of the game to fashion icons and stars of the silver screen and stage. Here are society’s leaders talking about the determination, vision, smarts, competence and professionalism. Today, she speaks to Sanjana Hattotuwa and Channa Daswatta.

 ‘Corridors of Power’, through architectural drawings and models, interrogated Sri Lanka’s constitutional evolution since 1972. The project was curated by Sanjana Hattotuwa and was led by the input of Dr.Asanga Welikala, in collaboration with Channa Daswatta. The exhibition depicted Sri Lanka’s tryst with constitutional reform and essentially the tension between center and periphery. The output on display included large format drawings, 3D flyovers, sketches, and models reflecting the power dynamics enshrined in the 1972 and 1978 constitutions, as well as the 13th, 18th and 19th Amendments.

Sanjana Hattotuwa is currently a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, and oversees the work of the Centre’s Media Unit. Sanjana is a frequent commentator on journalism and new media in domestic and international fora and lectured at the Sri Lanka College of Journalism (SLCJ) for a number of years, teaching journalists to use web, Internet and mobile technologies to strengthen professional, independent and investigative journalism. For a number of years, he has also hosted a talk show on terrestrial TV. In 2011, Sanjana was the first Sri Lankan to be awarded a TED Fellowship, two years after he was awarded a News & Knowledge Entrepreneur Fellowship from the Ashoka Foundation. Both awards recognise pioneering efforts to leverage web based citizen journalism and new media to bear witness to violence and strengthen democracy, human rights and a just peace. Sanjana is widely recognised as a pioneering voice in the design and implementation of ICTs and new media ecosystems in peacebuilding, online dispute resolution, conflict transformation and crisis response.

Channa Daswatta is one of Sri Lanka’s most renowned architects and has worked on landmark projects such as the Kandalama Hotel, the Four Seasons Hotel in Landaa Giravaru in Maldives and a number of restoration projects around Sri Lanka – to name just a few. Channa was a principal assistant and close friend of Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most influential architect, and was made a Director/Partner of Geoffrey Bawa Associates Private Limited in 1997. Channa went on to co-found MICD Associates along with Murad Ismail in October 1998. Channa has lectured at the Colombo School of Architecture and Moratuwa University, and he is a frequent contributor to international and local journals.

Why did you decide to interrogate Sri Lanka’s constitutional evolution through architecture? 

SH : Because it had never been done before. I wanted to look at the way in which, over 43 years, we had embarked upon constitutional reform through new constitutions or to amendments to the ’78 Constitution in a way that wasn’t hostage to academic or legal writing and discourse and language. There is a lot of material that critiques our constitutional evolution over the last 43 years. Much has been written; much has been said. The idea for the project is actually several years old, as Channa knows. What we – Asanga, Channa and I - did was the distillation of that original idea. I wanted to use architecture to flesh out, explore, interrogate and critique what as citizens we had countenanced over 43 years – either because of a lack of choice or out of fear or out of sheer necessity. My endeavour was – at a time when Mahinda Rajapaksa was firmly entrenched in power and there was no hope or expectation that he would ever leave office – to give those who came for the exhibition a different perspective, one that they could hopefully go home with and then ask themselves a very simple question as to why they allowed the 18th Amendment to pass. The other aspect of it is that I have always been interested in architecture and one of the first conversations we had actually was with Channa saying that architecture has always been a servant of power and, just as we discussed right now, how it has always blossomed in certain political contexts. My interest was to turn that around. It was trying to use architecture to draw power as opposed to power influencing and informing architecture, and that’s what we ended up doing. That’s what the exhibition was about.

Do you think the spaces created after 1978 are political instruments and ideological symbols of authoritarianism?

SH : Well, for me the purest expression of authoritarianism came after 2009 and the architecture around memorialisation and memory, particularly in the North and the East along the A9 and the flipside to what most of us described as the beautification of our city – Colombo. Some of the high-rises and condominiums have been erected to house those who have relocated as a consequence of the reuse of land in prime spots in the heart of Colombo. This has been an extremely violent process, which has been documented by the institution I work with (Centre for Policy Alternatives), in so far as it has been unconsultative and extremely violent to some of the individuals, families, neighbourhoods and communities who have been eviscerated as a consequence of the process through which they have been relocated. Now, the jury is out on this call because some would argue, and rightly so, that development, particularly in an island, requires that the use of land is re-evaluated over time and that what once was cannot always be. The flipside to that thesis is that there needs to be - in my opinion and certainly in CPA’s opinion – a process of consultation. You cannot have bulldozers, as you saw, come quite literally overnight and raise your house to the ground. You have to be sensitive to the dynamics of communities who were very resilient – these are communities who withstood the brunt of 1983. These were multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious communities in the heart of Colombo, and you have to be somewhat sensitive to that kind of community dynamic without pushing and shoving them into areas where they can’t, for example, continue their livelihoods. So the purest expression of the authoritarian thrust through, quite literally, the re-architecture of our city was in this process called beautification, for me – in the overt creation of spaces that allowed us the freedom to jog, walk, eat, breathe and exercise, but had a very dark underbelly to it that nobody was willing to speak of and that the Ministry of Defense called “slums and shanties”, and I think I’ll end by saying this: I did a study of the documents that the MoD had put out around the beautification of Colombo and I counted the number of times slums and shanties had been mentioned, and then I went to the Oxford English Dictionary and I looked up the definitions of a slum and a shanty and in not one of the cases that they mentioned was it in fact the dictionary definition of a slum or shanty. And so it was a very violent process through which they robbed the dignity of people who had their own homes and then put them into places with no consultation whatsoever and no recourse to any kind of redress or any kind of consultation around their future or restitution. So it was heavy handed, and that to me was violent.

CD : What are the great public spaces made after 1978? Hardly anything. The great grounds in front of parliament and the public space intended to be around the legislature were perhaps the only ones that were envisaged and the bigger spaces envisaged in the new city of Sri Jayawardenapura, as it was then named, were never made because soon after that there was 1983 and the war began and public space itself became a space to be threatened in. So you began to see all of Colombo changing with walls going up and so on, and the public space was seen as something that you should not be in except if you really needed to - except of course people in those spaces who were, after 2009, evicted from the heart of the city and where they had to live in a public space. They had no choice. If you remember the number of bombs that went off in Slave Island, they were really at the receiving end of a lot of the violence that took place even during the war. Now whether the public spaces created along with the creation of parliament, which is really the only remnant of what was done at the time amounted to dictatorial spaces is very difficult for me to say but if you look at the way parliament is set and so on, it is a very beautiful building, designed by Geoffrey Bawa, but certain academics have taken a position that perhaps there was a sense of moving the power of the people out on to an island – the island parliament – was in a sort of way a means of disassociating governance from the people. I mean that is not my view – it is the view of several academics who have written about it. But I think in the architecture itself there is an effort to break down the grandeur of the colonial building that stood for power and authority (for instance that is represented by the old parliament) and to bring in an architecture that is a little more inclusive and that connects more with the traditional cultures of our country, particularly the Tamil and Sinhala cultures, which have pavilion buildings, open pavilions in which people gathered. So if you look at the architecture per se, I think there is a lot of effort to try and create an architecture that is inclusive except in the city plan itself where the shifting of the locus of power away from what is essentially a public space is leaning towards moving it out of the people’s way. So that is what I would think from an architectural perspective.

What are citizens supposed to derive from the interplay between space and power in post-war Sri Lanka?

SH : I think the obvious answer is in the geospatial sense. Part of it – at least in my endeavour – was to also suggest that our imaginative space, our cognitive space, our space for expression was also constricted. And it was geospatial as well. You had the demarcations of the State quite clearly, so you had the “barrelism”, the barbwire, which a former Minister said was a feature of Asian architecture. I think that there was great self-censorship, there was fear of pushback. James Blinn, in a famous novel called the Aadvark is Ready for War, writes about Freud and Freud’s very clear distinction between fear, fright and anxiety and he says people use them interchangeably because they are quite different. Fear and fright are things that you are scared of when something is identifiable e.g. arachnophobia, fear of heights or whatever. Sri Lanka was an anxious society and anxiety is something that you can’t put a loci to your fear. It might be you who is a member of the state, it might be this phone who is recording me, it might be this guy who is texting intelligence about what I’m saying or doing, it might be a pencil that is a bomb, it might be a pen that is going to get me on to the fourth floor of the CID and get my finger nails pulled out. So, I think that the dominant approach, perception of, use of, fear of, rebellion around, critique of space was constriction and the lack of empowerment. You felt disempowered to use and utilise the spaces you saw fit – both in a physical sense and in an imaginative capacity. The first was quite obvious. I had friends after the end of war, they wanted to do some silly videos on Galle Face at a time when there was this viral video going up on the web, and the Police came up and asked them what they were doing. After the 8th of January, that’s gone away. So we had an enduring fear of the use of public space as public space, so it was a bit of a misnomer. We didn’t actually have public spaces that the public could leverage. Moving forward, I think that the imaginative reset will take some time, the geographic reset, I think, in terms of the breaking down of the walls and the disappearing of the barrels and barbwire has occurred and needs to be celebrated but people are still hostage to that which they do not know. And the freeing of the mind hasn’t occurred as yet. We are still hostage to thinking around governance and certain things in much the same way. And I think, not as a consequence of our exhibition, which is irrelevant really, but as a consequence of being able to talk, being able to question, being able to critique, being able to express, being able to articulate a different viewpoint, being able to do it, being able to walk on the grass, small acts of rebellion to larger acts of rebellion and what not, that you will have over a period of time that as the norm, which is actually the norm, and should be the norm instead of this fear and cowering of not wanting to put your head above the wall for fear of being decapitated.

CD : It is architectural in a sense. Buildings are, I always say, servants of power. And buildings have been used over the centuries to establish and position an individual’s or a group’s power within a particular community. From the great stupas of Anuradhapura to the pyramids of Egypt, they are all great symbols of power that say, “This is how much resource I can actually harness and therefore you must fear me or listen to what I say because I am able to do that”. If someone is able to build something as fabulous as one of the great stupas, you will look up at them in awe. So architecture is used in very interesting ways. So while you are in a society where your position is very clear and dictated to by social mores, cast structures and hierarchies, then that’s what you do and then you know the Great King has been able to build this fabulous thing. But in contemporary society, since the Industrial Revolution, and where power and money were distributed a bit more equitably among larger numbers of people, we have begun to think slightly differently. So when people begin to use architecture in one way or another to either manifest the power they have and through that hope to impose that power on a watching public, we must be aware and understand how that affects us. So if you look at a building, we must be able to read from it the following - “Look, this is what is to come”. Because sometimes, it is that symbol that is put forward first before that actual act of dominance takes place (if it is to be in that direction). I think the public understanding of the symbolic nature of architecture, particularly when architecture is built as symbol, is quite important. It is not always that architecture is built as symbol. I think architecture is really about the movement of people through space and the organisation of how that movement takes place so that people can either meet or avoid each other. That is, for me, the essence of architecture and that is the process that I tried to use in our project but on the outside there is also what a piece of architecture looks like and that has a whole lot of symbolic meaning, and it is there because people are able and should be able to read it. So when Mussolini builds a post office that looks like a Greek temple, which I saw in Sicily recently, people begin to take note and say, “Yes. That is about power. That is about the power of the state and what it has to do with what I say to someone else through my means of communication.” So the building addresses that and says, “I am powerful. You post your letter within me and I know what you are doing”. Of course, in the world of the Internet, there are other ways in which you could do this as well and they are as applicable as architecture. Architecture has a tremendous presence in the space we live in and I think it is important that people educate themselves about what and how things have meaning.

SH : I have something that complements Channa’s point, which is to see architecture – at least in this project – not just in terms of spatial relations but also in terms of the constitution – as an edifice, which is what we tried to do as well. If we think about it, a constitution is all about political relations, so there is a geospatial element to it in terms of the North and East and the demarcation of the provinces. There is an interesting interplay between what you said and the political expression as had been enshrined in our constitutions as well, but the curatorial process was anchored to seeing the constitution as a building – that we are to a greater degree or a lesser degree hostage to and have been hostage to. And this is, quite frankly, the first time coincidentally that the government is actually asking for public opinion around what a new constitution should be. The last we had was with President Kumaratunga from the 94-97 period, where there was a fair bit of public consultation, but part of the endeavour was to see the constitution as a building and in that reading, it is vital, for me, that a citizen is able to question and see the constitution for what it is, to see their place in society and polity, to understand what they can do and are entitled to and so - in a sense - understand which doors they can open, which doors do they have a right to open and if it is closed, to understand it is not something that they are doing wrong but it is certainly something where some power doesn’t want that door to open. For them to understand that is important for me. For them to understand that there is this document, which is so fundamentally important that we seem to have observed in our governance more the marginalisation of or the ignorance of the enactment of policies that are diametrically opposed to what is a constitution. And so for me to see that, to question that, to understand that is also then to create a citizenry able to reflect and react to, God forbid, another ten years (if it were to ever occur in the future) where we were subject to the kinds of excesses of power that we saw till the 8th of January this year.

If context is what gives architecture (and the architect) power, what do you hope to see over the next five years and beyond?

CD : In the open society we hope is going to take root in our country, one expects to see an architecture that gives free expression to quite a lot of ideas about human relationships, about expression of ideas through building – which is a bit more open-minded than what was happening in the past. Unfortunately that means that we might not see a city that is completely consistent like you would find as in, say, Ancient Rome or London or Paris. Perhaps it’s going to be a city that has myriad ideas, myriad different kinds of buildings that might occasionally clash with each other in terms of aesthetics and they might not always appeal to all of us but it would mean that it is a city that has different kinds of ideas and thoughts. For instance, the greatest example of that would be the city of London, which was quite consistent in the Victorian era whilst it was a great empire. Soon after that, in the period where Britain became much more open, you began to find that the buildings and the city are diverse. Some of the buildings are actually quite hideous, as is the case when you drive around the streets of Colombo, but sometimes that hideousness means someone actually has the freedom to express themselves in a much more open manner. But as an architect I hope that people control themselves, understand what really something means before they put something on the street and in the public realm. But I see a city that is vibrant, full of new ideas, full of buildings that I might not like, that I might hate actually, but if I understand that that is somebody’s thought and that it is carefully thought out as a means of expression, then I would appreciate it even though it might not fit my taste. I will accept it if I know it is a thought that is important to an individual or a group of people. That’s what I’m hoping for in the next 5 to 10 years and maybe even for the rest of my life – hopefully. We as architects are given the power to express the ideas that we have and what our clients and the people who pay for our buildings have and that is important to the society we are going to be making these buildings for. And that doesn’t always mean that they are going to be beautiful and acceptable to us, but having that opportunity to express yourself in the public realm – and architecture is such a public art – is really one of the greatest moments of expression in a public space.

From a curator’s perspective, do you think the interpretation of one architect was sufficient? Would a comparative approach have resulted in different interpretations of the dynamics between power and space?

SH : Possibly. But for me it was sufficient to have one.

Taking Red Vienna as an example, is there any space in Sri Lanka that was built as a symbol and instrument of opposition to the status quo?

CD : No – I don’t think there is anything in Sri Lanka that was built anywhere close to anything that was done in that context because we have not had the space or the physical space to do it. We still have a long way to go and we still have to open up our mental spaces to get to that. But perhaps in the world of art, certainly in the last 15-20 years, artists have tried to express as much as possible - on the wall and in sculpture – some of those ideas that were expressed in architecture. At the end of the day you have to remember someone pays you to do what you are doing and you are sometimes bound by some of those thoughts and money is usually associated with a status quo and to break beyond that status quo would mean that you would have to have a brilliant client as well as a brilliant architect.

How do citizens actively and more forcefully influence the relationship between space and power over the next five years?

SH : I think awareness and understanding is key. That might lead to rebellion, that might lead to action, that might lead to inaction and contemplation or even meditation. I really don’t care. Obviously, I’m biased towards action and physical action as well as expression that holds government accountable and clips its excesses but in the curatorial projects I have undertaken - this was the more recent one - all of them have been exercises in raising awareness, in raising the Colombo art-going scene’s awareness around political issues and a certain class of people who should be thinking about this more than they do and can. This was fairly interesting in terms of an exhibition. It was the first time where the security guard, students and lots of other people, including domestic aides at the office, were very curious about the approach and asked me questions in Sinhala about how a building can explore or interrogate what I was trying to do because they had a very vague understanding of the constitution and they found this very interesting – that I was using a building as a way of interrogating this and I think if you are able to create that spark in a larger citizenry that gives them the power to question, that gives them the power to say no, that gives them legal recourse, that allows them the awareness that there are ways and channels to go to so that they are not bulldozed literally and metaphorically. And also to create. I always say that we need to be co-architects of the new constitution and not believe that Yahapalayana is going to deliver to us whatever we want and whatever we imagined. I come from an enduring, deep suspicion of political agency when elected to power as completely contradistinct to those individuals and institutions yearning for power and in opposition. So even if you are setting yourself up for disappointment in the next five years, arguably we should raise the bar for failure so that even though we may be frustrated around the perceived lack of delivery that ten years down the line we look at the five years before and say, “OK – this is where we need to start off from. We don’t go back to 1972 or 1978. We start from where we failed.” In that sense, there is a term for it called “failing forward”, so at the very least tell citizens that you are co-architects and you also have a responsibility if you are complaining all the time to envision solutions as well. That’s what I want to see - a more active, engaged, impassioned, critical citizenry. I think the political culture affords it now. It is our opportunity to lose, but it is tough. I teach at a university and one of the real problems is that the years of war and, in particular, the years after war have really stunted people. You can’t see the future and your modus operandi is to learn by wrote and regurgitate. Your critical faculties are not there – so this was an attempt to actually prise open those dormant critical faculties and if that is a larger endeavour that is more successful and takes root in citizenry then so be it. I would love it.

Are politics and architecture mutually exclusive?

CD : Certainly not. I think politics and architecture have always been connected in some way or another because politics is about organising people, and architectural space organises people. If you look at this office, the politics of this office is about where I sit, who sits next to me and the hierarchies of command are very clearly defined by the spaces and the way they are connected. Architecture is politics in a sort of way, it frames society, it creates relationships and it breaks relationships in the way space is organised. Now that’s something we don’t think about as laymen. When walking through a building, you don’t think about the power architecture has to either exclude you or include you within a social framework and set you in a particular place in a hierarchy. By simply drawing a little circle and having an entrance into the circle that immediately creates political hierarchies within that space. The person who is close to the entrance commands the entrance, the person who is far from the entrance is perhaps seen to be important and protected by the rest of the people occupying the space. So immediately architecture becomes political and there is no way we can avoid that. And because architecture also takes a large proportion of human society’s resources, it means the resources are controlled by politics – who controls what, how much of it is to be spent on what, is something that is highly political. So money is politics and how much money is to be spent on one thing or another is politics. So architecture cannot escape politics, they are absolutely not mutually inescapable.

SH : And the exhibition was about politics at the end of the day. The architecture was politics. I had an adviser of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who came on three nights, and said that this is fantastic that you did this now because had you done it when he (Rajapaksa) passed the 18th Amendment, it would have just been seen as a partisan exercise and you would have probably not have got the reception that you got. And he got it – he said, “it’s a political map”. What he loved the most was the 18th Amendment – there was a section that interrogated the 18th Amendment, which of course was Rajapaksa’s child, and he said, “I cannot critique or contest this. You have given me incontrovertible proof that what was created cannot be sustained.” The physics of it was wrong in terms of the architectural model and the conceptualisation of it was deeply flawed in terms of the politics of the constitutionalism that animated and fuelled it. So the exhibition was treating politics as architecture as well – and that is what the power of it was. These were not just buildings and schematics that Channa just thought of out of the blue - every line, every corridor, every elevation, every window frame, every element of those buildings was anchored to that original research that looked at the 43 years of our constitutional evolution. So it was inextricably entwined with the politics of Sri Lanka.

Do you agree that architecture – historically - has always been used to build consensus and eschew conflict?

CD : I don’t particularly agree with that. Architecture has always been contested and architecture has always been the standard you place in a space. A classic example of course is St. Paul’s Church in Kandy and where it was built (within the sacred quadrangle of the city of Kandy). St. Paul’s was built by the British and was one of the first buildings they ever built (in Sri Lanka). The Government Agent occupied the palace, the Governor decided that Pilimatalawa, the Prime Minister’s residence, was going to be the most salubrious and he took that over as his residence, but the first building they built was a church and that was placed within the space of the sacred quadrangle of Kandy, which is a political act. So architecture is a political act and as a result it was always contested. I remember the last story about St. Paul’s was that we should take it down brick by brick, which was said by Premadasa, and the politics of that was that someone said, “No – we have to accept the history of that contestation as part of the history of our nation”. And we have come to terms with it and that idea prevailed. I’m glad that it prevailed because it meant that we were reasonably mature to understand that that contestation was made at a particular point in time and we had overcome it and we were willing to accept it. But architecture at any point, made anywhere, is always political. And that’s why architecture is so fantastic for me – the aesthetics of it, the ability to dream about something. This is why it is called the mother of the arts because it constantly challenges you to think about it because it is in front of your face and you are surrounded by it.

SH : And that was the power of our endeavour, which was to translate the ephemeral into something structurally real.

CD : Yes – and, therefore, people were going to react to it.

SH : You couldn’t escape it. This was the first expression - in a physical sense – of those moments, but in particular those more violent moments, like the 18th Amendment or the provincial council system and how it outgrew as a consequence of the 13th Amendment or where we left with the 19th Amendment. I mean, you were confronted with that and then you were suddenly confronted with the reality of your existence and your place in it.

CD : The fact that it shows architecture to do this was therefore significant because architecture can contest and will contest, and people will agree or disagree with my interpretation.

In a hegemonic order tilting towards authoritarianism, what is the architect’s role in and responsibility to society?

CD : It all depends on who the architect is. If you were Albert Speer, you would support the hegemony at that time. But if you are a right-thinking architect, you do have the power to perhaps make subtle changes to an architecture you are making to something that is more equitable and engages the different stakeholders and participants in a social order, and you could do that subtlety. That’s one of the nice things about architecture, often the person who is trying to do this is not completely aware of how a space actually works and the architect does have the power to keep something open-ended to allow for other things to happen that are beyond what is intended. Sometimes we are opening or shutting a door to make a difference.

SH : You could almost say – verbatim – the same of constitutional theory as well and a constitutional building process. If you take 1994 to 1996 in South Africa in contradistinction to what has been occurring in this country - or comparable processes in Guatemala or Colombia or Northern Ireland - you will see that the drafters of that constitution did exactly what Channa just said – they left doors open, they had stuff called sunset clauses where you said, “OK – we are going to agree to disagree, but we are going to keep things as they are until a certain date into the future because we don’t want that to bog down the rest of our discussion.” So you create a little balcony where you can see what may be but you are not going to cover the balcony.

CD : And for that purpose they had the idea of the Constitutional Court. Somewhere down the line, someone realised that some clause in the South African Constitution that is against a fundamental principle that has been accepted, and they take the Constitution to court and 12 judges discuss it and they decide how to go forward on that particular point. I think that is brilliant. I know about it because my old boss, Geoffrey Bawa, was a judge in the Constitutional Court (building) competition and there was a wonderful man called Albie Sachs who was part of it and he had this idea that this must also take place in the open, under a tree. So finally the building that was chosen was a very transparent box that was set on a piazza in the middle of Johannesburg in what used to be the old jail where Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were imprisoned over the years. I mean – you can take the constitution to court! What a brilliant idea. If you think that your rights are impinged on, you take the constitution to court and say there is something wrong with it and it is debated in public and corrected. You can’t get a better system and those are the doors they left open with the architecture of that constitution, and it was a bunch of brilliant men and women who did it.

SH : It is also that contestation between the malleability of something and, in a sense, concretising it – literally and metaphorically. And there was that contestation at the exhibition as well. We ended with the 19th Amendment, it was aspirational, it was not set in stone and it was quite literally a blueprint into what could be.

CD : So what we said was that if you did the 19th Amendment, this is what would be left of the Constitution and we asked this question: Is that what we want? And that’s what it was about. We tried to keep the doors open for further discussion and for as many opportunities as possible in order to take our society forward. It is, after all, the most important document that affects all of our lives.

Do architects use political strategies in their work?

CD : Not overtly and not consciously. But I think we are all political creatures, we all have our position and they are inevitably going to reflect in the work we do. There is a new city in India that has been designed called Rajarhat (in Kolkata), it is a grand city, there is a boulevard running through the middle, great skyscrapers coming up – glass and steel – some of them fabulous and designed by very famous architects, but there is one flaw. Right along this boulevard, on the pavements, are really badly built, ram-shackled tea stalls because nobody, for a moment, has thought that in these vast buildings there are drivers, there are people who sweep and wash the floors, there are people who clean the bathrooms, who can’t afford the grand cafés that are in these buildings. So the architect was being political in not thinking about it. He should have made an effort to consider them. So the city that is planned to be this grand and visionary space is already a dump because somewhere down the line an architect wasn’t thinking politically about all the different kinds of people that were going to occupy those spaces. And it would have been very easy to resolve. The planner could have resolved it by saying that between every five building blocks there is going to be one space in which a decent little public square was there so that “lesser mortals” could go and have their chai. Somebody didn’t think about it, and you have a terrible city. I think it is very important, considering that we are political beings, that we give expression to our politics every time we act. When we don’t, we simply sit back and complain. I think we should all be part of making the new future that we all owe to ourselves.

Interviewed by Anusha David
Photographs by Waruna Wanniarachchi