Appreciating the Lake House Building

Ishara Jayawardane in conversation with Professor Manawadu, 3 Janaury 2018, where the title is

The physical presence of the Lake House building is enough to awaken a sense of awe in all those who behold it. The building commissioned by D.R. Wijewardena, is a white colossal monument that has dominated the landscape, housing some of the most revered newspapers in the world.

Department of Architecture University of Moratuwa, Senior Professor of Architecture, Prof. M S Manawadu was involved in the construction of the Eastern Wing which had been commissioned to the architectural firm he was working for in 1978. Somewhere in 2000, the management wanted to do an interior refurbishment for the building and Manawadu was invited. Since they wanted more space he proposed a Mezzanine floor in the frontal wing, just above the counters.

Lake House was designed by Architect Sir Oliver Weerasinghe, a key figure when it came to the profession of architecture in Sri Lanka. He studied in England, came here and practiced as an architect. There were family ties involved in building Lake House,” Manawadu shared his views on the architecture of Lake House.

Professor MS Manawadu

Though the building was designed by a foreign educated and experienced architect, he has introduced traditional building elements in decorating the facade. “If you take the twin pillars of Lake House and they have been borrowed from the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa architecture. There is an inverted lotus bud. If you take the Kandy Council chamber, in the wooden building next to the Dalada Maligawa, you get twin columns. And when you look at the independence hall there are twin columns again,” he explained.

The individual column heads resemble pillars from the Anuradhapura period, and the brackets derive from Kandyan Pekada (of timber). The only difference is that at Lake House it is in concrete.

“The floral designs are derivative of Araliya flowers. Araliya flower is unique to the Sri Lankan architecture. Lake House is a unique building with a hybrid of local and foreign traditions. Architectural characteristics are mainly local, but the style is true European Colonial. That was the period where the British architects were trying to copy the Sri Lankan traditional architectural elements into their buildings. The nationalist fervor was there. The architects were responding to those requirements. So the British buildings appeared with Pseudo architecture traditions with elements borrowed from the Sri Lankan traditions,” said Manawadu.

Anyone who has been in Lake House for the first time knows how confusing it is to navigate this labyrinth. There are so many interconnecting corridors. Even one who has worked there for many years do not know its secrets! It is absolutely serpentine!

“Most of the unplanned designs are simple insertions between the well planned building complexes, and now it has become really difficult to distinguish between the original and subsequent additions. Most of the present buildings display characteristics which are alien to the concept and master plan of the original building. This is because, as the number of papers grew and the organization grew in terms of logistics. Additions had to be made and hence the intersecting corridors and the various offices situated in the heart of the building. It is very difficult to anticipate/ pre design for a rapidly expanding newspaper company with new publications. I mean the Daily News is 100 years old today. Just think then and now! The company has grown rapidly,” Manawadu expressed.

The building was completed/ inaugurated in 1929. Originally The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL) was incorporated in 1926 and was accommodated in a hired villa in Maradana. Commencement of the new building was subsequent to that, and therefore the Lake House building could be considered as a custom designed building for the newspaper company. The building was built in very prime land.

“The main building has a touch of a great architect. The technology and construction dates back to the Colonial era. It can certainly stand for many years. There are no major defects in the main building despite being subjected to heavy traffic and the railway,” stated Manawadu.

There was a certain vision behind the construction of Lake House. The vision behind the designing of the building is to accommodate the main functions of the newspaper company with nationalistic thinking. So the architecture of the building has taken this into consideration.

“The designing of Lake House was not done all at once. Based on the requirements it has been developing over the years. Some of the additions were planned. Others were unplanned and chaotic. We were involved in preparing a Master Plan. We prepared a measured drawing which indicates how most of the buildings were added unplanned. However there is one good aspect which is the hap-hazardous developments are at the rear wings, and at lower elevations, and thus cannot be seen from D.R. Wijewardena Mawatha. Thus the value of the building and the architectural characteristics are preserved well,” Manawadu pointed out.

There were some prestigious buildings in the vicinity of Lake House which were designed by Colonial architects either from England or India. However in the building of Lake House the architect has taken the challenge to design a building with a truly nationalistic concept.

“In the history of Lake House, there have been many refurbishments and most of them unplanned. There was a recent program to refurbish the building, bringing back its glorious past. However that was interrupted abruptly,” said Manawadu.

Lake House is a seriously large place! One would think that creating the piping systems and electricity for this large building would have been a mammoth task. Yet Manawadu pointed out that at the time of the founding of the building, it was a large building and the technology and planning infrastructure facilities were not that sophisticated.

“However since it had been planned by a renowned architect, who had overseas experience and education, it was handled quite well,” stated Manawadu.

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