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The Senanayake Flats

Colombo, Sri Lanka
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Senanayake flats in Colombo show the influence of Corb.

Between the late 1940s and early 1960s, de Silva designed and built dozens of homes, including her most Corbusiean structure, the Senanayake flats at Gregory's Road in Colombo. This whitewashed building still stands, its modern exterior softened by the shrubs and trees she had planted in strategic locations, at once cooling the structure while lending it gentle camouflage.

Minnette was commissioned to design an apartment building in Colombo's Gregory's Road in 1957. The development consisted of four blocks on three floors which together contained ten apartments and ten garages. The blocks were canted in plan so as to define two inner access courts and a central service court. Each apartment opened onto a generous balcony and was like a 'bungalow in the air'. Here the language is more overtly modernist and the curving facade recalls Boyd's house in Kandy. The flats survive and are still in fairly good condition.

This important design was unlike anything that had hitherto been built in Ceylon and ought to have served as a potent prototype for contemporary living in a tropical city. It followed the precepts of the Dwelling Manual that Le Corbusier had set out in 'Towards an Architecture' and addressed such issues as land scarcity and the need for increased densities, changing family structures, the disappearance of live-in servants and the increasing mechanization of household tasks. But it was largely ignored by Minnette's contemporaries. She said at the time "We must re-orientate our ideas for living comfortably in congested towns like Colombo, where we no longer have expansive acres of garden and spacious cool pillared halls." The Senanayake Flats in Colombo and the light-filled houses with interior courtyards for her wealthy clients are a testament to this, with the De Saram and Pererea houses being fine examples of her philosophy and her blending of modern with cultural tradition.

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bostjan, September 11th, 2019
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