The traditional houses in Sri Lanka are built from clay and covered by palm-leaves sheets. They offer shelter for the poorest people in Sri Lanka. Still many of these houses are located in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. The advantage of using these types of materials is that it stays nicely cool inside the house, even with extremely high temperatures. Nowadays houses are being built with cement blocks, concrete slabs and asbestos roof sheets. All these materials absorb the heat from outside and make the house inside boiling hot; it even holds its temperature till deep in the night, so it makes the use of fans necessary.
For a long time the architecture of the modern houses for the middle class people has been quite uniform. They all look quite the same. The differences are mostly obvious in the size and colour of the houses. Sinhalese houses usually have a porch in front of the entrance, high ceilings and a number of rooms. There are some characteristics of art deco in the style of private houses. Lower middle class families have a much simpler house and very limited living space up to two rooms and an outside bathroom. In cities, the poorest people live in shanti towns along the banks of smelly rivers or along railway tracks, called slums. Their living conditions are far below acceptable human standards and create a breeding place for drugs and alcohol addiction and crime. The government has introduced a policy to move these people to flats, social housing schemes, but the quality of the flats and the little space between the buildings turn these quarters again into ghettoes. It is a quite unfamiliar way of living for these shanti people, especially because flats disrupt the strong social fabric of a community, a lifestyle that people were used to in the slums; it is not always the solution these people have been looking for.
While Sri Lanka has a number of stunning architectural examples of private houses from the past and the present, at the same time one can see a great number of tasteless, mostly neglected buildings. Unfortunately many of the interesting houses are hidden behind high walls, so that the beauty of its architectural design has been limited to private owners. The best example of colonial architecture that can be admired by the general public is reflected in splendidly restored buildings into restaurants and hotels; all over the country there are a number of very attractive establishments where you can enjoy your stay, cocktail, high tea, lunch, wedding or any kind of anniversary in a lavish, colonial style. Moreover, Colombo, Kandy and Galle have a variety of public buildings from colonial times. Ancient Buddhist architecture can be admired in the Cultural Triangle, while in Hindu dominated areas beautiful temple complexes can be found. Stupas, in Sri Lanka also called dagobas are masterpieces of Sri Lankan Buddhist architecture. The well preserved Galle Fort is the best of urban planning Sri Lanka has to offer; it’s a mixture of different colonial periods. However, Colombo is developing in a rapid speed. The city is experiencing a complete make-over and upgrading its historic buildings which were neglected due to the Civil War,it is expected to reach the level of other major Asian cities within the near future, but without losing its traditional Sri Lankan character. There are many interesting things to see in the Sri Lankan cities.
In plantation areas there are several so called estate bungalows to be found, many of which are now available for hire by tourists or have been converted into a hotel. Edishan Bungalow in Haputale is open for visitors as a tourist attraction and a fine example of 19th Century plantation architecture; it is one of the most beautiful bungalows in Sri Lanka. Estate bungalows available for accommodation can be foundin places such as Norwood, Hatton, Bandarawela, Nuwara Eliya and Horana, ranging from simple to five star accommodations. Near Nuwara Eliya there is a tea factory, converted into a four star hotel.
The British colonizers have built accommodation all over the country to create a stopover for their traveling administrators. They are called ‘rest houses’. Theirdesigns are examples of 19thcentury British colonial architecture. Until recently they had been run by the government, but are now under private management and are being restored and upgraded. In the same era the British erected a number of buildings in English countryside style in the mountain resort Nuwara Eliya. That’s why Nuwara Eliya is also called ‘Little England’.
Most of the historic buildings in Sri Lanka are from the British colonial period. The Fort quarter in Colombo has a great collection of interesting colonial buildings, worth a visit (see header Colombo).
Geoffrey Bawa is the most famous architect in Sri Lanka. He has mainly designed hotels. The Kandalama Hotel in Dambulla and the Lighthouse Hotel are two of his most prestigious objects. His designs are characterized by an integration of nature and the structure.
Another great architect and constructor was Arasi Marikar Wapchie Marikar, a descendent from Sheikh Fareed in Iraq, who came to Sri Lanka in 1060 AD. he has given a remarkable contribution to the construction of many famous buildings and structures in Colombo, such as the General Post Office, the Clocktower, the Old Town Hall, the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo Customs and Victoria Arcade.