Colombo, 6th July… Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), one of the world’s largest architecture, interior design, engineering and urban planning firms, who was judged the winner of the International Conceptual Urban Design Idea Competition for the Financial District and Marina of the Colombo Port City was awarded at a ceremony recently held at the Cinnamon Grand, Colombo.
The competition which was supported by the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA) and sanctioned by the International Union of Architects (UIA) was conducted as per UIA guidelines. Three top international names pitted their skills against one another over a period of four months at the end of which the winner was announced. Nikken Sekkei of Japan, Gensler headquartered in San Francisco and SOM which also hails from the USA, were the participants whose names remained anonymous until the final announcement was made, in accordance with the rules of the competition.
The objective of the ideas competition was to inspire the best design and plan concepts for the financial district and the marina of the Colombo Port City. All participants were required to use certain aspects of the master plan as a guideline such as the specified roads and services networks, public areas and the overall development value. The three participants were given the freedom to reorganise the land use, mix, height and other development parameters provided they kept to the allocated boundaries.
Eng. N. Rupasinghe, Secretary to the Ministry of Megapolis & Western Development who was Chief Guest at the event said that bringing in some of the world’s best designers for this competition is a boost to the country’s image as well as the Megapolis. “Unlike anytime in the history of our country where our cities have taken centuries to grow organically, today we have a planned city which will be completed in 25 years. We will have to look at the demands and preferences of the future citizens of this city and that is why we need to have the best designers contributing their ideas to the master plan.”
Lim Kian Siew, Director of Planning and Development of CHEC Port City Colombo said that, whilst the competition was an important milestone for the entire project, there was a specific reason why it was contained to the financial district and the marina. “It is because these areas are common to the whole of Colombo Port City and more importantly they are directly connected and related to the existing Fort area.” He added that although an idea or design would not be able to address all issues and every design would have its strengths and weaknesses, by doing the Idea Competition Port City was able to leverage three world renowned design practices. “We can actually get a lot of ideas that not just one designer can give us. All the design submissions were ideas we consider worth exploring. We are not limiting ourselves to ideas from one participant, but are open to ideas from all the entries provided they are viable and implementable. Of course every competition needs a winner and SOM has proved themselves to be better than the others.”
The panel of top international jurors who judged the competition were Dr. Deborah Dearing, District Commissioner of Greater Sydney Commission with over 30 years international experience in urban design and strategic land-use planning; Prof. David Dernie, Chartered Architect, Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean of Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Westminster, UK; Calvin Tsao, acclaimed practitioner with a leading voice and a representative of contemporary architecture from New York; and Prof. Harris Trevor Gordon Stuart representing UIA, the co-founder of Harris – Kjisik Architects, Finland. Pali Wijeratne, a highly qualified Sri Lankan architect and town planner with over 50 years’ experience in conservation was also on the panel, representing the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects.
The participants separately visited the project site and development during the period 20 to 28 March 2017. The international Jury Panel met over a period of 3 days to deliberate and decide on the winning submissions, which took place in a closed door discussion held from 16 to 18 May 2017.
Giving her views on the competition, Jury Chairperson Dr. Deborah Dearing said that they looked at much more than the creation of iconic buildings in selecting the final winner. She says that they looked at aspects such as how the design ideas related to the environment as well as social and economic sustainability. She added that there was a distinctive difference in the way the SOM team had approached the project and it was visible in the way they had laid out streets, the sort of buildings they used, community facilities as well as opportunities of growth and implementation. The way in which they had created a relationship with these beautiful buildings, the green spaces, the Marina and public areas made for an impressive theme. “We were not just impressed with this team, but thought that this was the way for the Port City in Colombo to lead the world in demonstrating new ways and innovation for the next century. We mean that genuinely and all the jury was unanimous in that. We spent a lot of time debating which projects performed better in a whole range of criteria and we are very happy to unanimously decide that the winning team is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM).”
Guest of Honour at the ceremony, Archt. D.H. Wijewardene, President of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects, is of the view that, competitions such as this should be made a practice for all land mark projects. He said, “Design competitions have become a world trend today as it helps to get different options and wider perspectives for a project and helps the project initiators to get an opportunity to see most suitable and viable design solutions. This is not very common in Sri Lanka, but it should be made a practice for all land mark projects in the country. This will open up the stage for creative people, so that finally the best design solution would emerge.”