“Sri Lanka is not a design country”, Lars Wallentin, a packaging design guru said at a workshop I attended in 2003. I think he mentioned Norway and Sweden as examples of countries with good design. I don’t know how accurate that is. He’s mainly a packaging designer, so wha’d he know anyway, right?
Nokia, granted, is extraordinarily designed, but my first choice would be Japan. That’s because of the way the Japanese have a long history of incorporating great design into nearly every practical area of their lives, often elevating the mundane into superlative forms of art and technology at the same time. Take their rock gardens, for instance. Or, their samurai swords. Or, the way they present their food. Or, the way they drink their tea. Or, their hairstyles. Or, their kimonos. Or, their martial arts. Or, their animation. Or, even Shibari, their bondage style. Yes, that’s right – they’ve even got a form of art for tying people up.
I guess, it’s just because humans like things that look cool, and these things just look so fucking cool. The architect Pugin who worked on the British Houses of Parliament said, “It is alright to decorate a construction, but never (to) construct a decoration.” Good design is not merely creating design for design’s sake, its taking a practical activity and making it better. Good design should be a part of our culture.
Certainly, Sri Lanka does not have great design in packaging, neither do we choreograph our drinking, nor do we have a traditional art of tying up our significant others, which is understandable (coconut husk rope being so itchy). However, we do have some cool architecture, probably some of the best in the world for the tropics.
Geoffrey Bawa has a lot to do with this. I love his stuff, because it is simple, practical, relaxed, and it blends into the natural surroundings. It is open and light and cool – the way things should be in the tropics.
So, I was happy today when a friend sent me the following presentation on nine Sri Lankan architects shortlisted for the Geoffrey Bawa Award for Architecture. Have a look.