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Architecture for Humanity Minnesota

Design Charette

Designer presantations

Community Center for a New Village at Monrovia Estate in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

July 15 – 16, 2005

Architecture for Humanity Minnesota (AFH MN) was asked to organize a design charette to give form to a new community center for a new village in Hikkaduwa on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. The new village is a resettlement site for residents of coastal villages displaced by the December 2004 tsunami and is located on land donated by the Monrovia Estate, a coconut and cinnamon plantation.

The Minnesota - Sri Lanka Friendship Foundation (MNSLFF) committed to building fifty homes and a community center in the village. The fifty homes were designed by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) of Sri Lanka. A preliminary plan was developed for the community center by UDA.

Design Charette

Preview: Friday, July 15 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

On Friday evening, members of AFH MN and MNSLFF gathered at the SmithGroup office to discuss plans for the new community center. Lal began by explaining the creation of MNSLFF and the process of acquiring the land. Becky then showed video footage from the Monrovia Estate and the groundbreaking ceremony for the homes. Lal, Mithula, and Nevanka explained the program elements for the Montessori school, medical clinic, and library within the community center. Plans from UDA were presented as a starting point. Nevanka also explained her concept diagrams to show possible relationships between spaces in the building.

The UDA agreed to provide water, roads, and electricity to the site, in addition to some engineering assistance. AFH MN provided site and building design assistance during Saturday’s charette. The revised plans will be sent to the UDA and contractors in Sri Lanka for review. AFH MN will then make modifications and provide construction documents similar to the drawings for the resettlement housing.

Lal, Mithula, and Nevanka raised several issues for consideration during the design charette including:

  • Building materials – cement block walls, cement/granite foundations, tile roofs, steel joists
  • Natural ventilation and fans for cooling; A/C is necessary only in the library technology room
  • How to utilize the natural spring discovered on site
  • Cultural information such as having outdoor space for evening socializing
  • History of Sri Lanka – has been written for over 300 years; have had only 1 other tsunami
  • Importance of making a connection between Minnesotans and Sri Lankans, especially between kids
  • Requirement of restrooms to be located outside
  • Importance of coconut trees for milk in curry as staple with rice and for shade
  • Desire to have communication with the rest of the world
  • Transportation – mostly pedestrian traffic, very good public system, few cars
  • Located 5 degrees north of the equator
  • Importance of natural environment
  • Desire to find alternative energy sources

    Design Session 1: Saturday, July 16, 2005 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

    As a group, the sixteen participants created a list of issues that were important to the design of the community center:

  • Connections between Minnesota, Sri Lanka, and the international community.
  • Connections to the Sri Lankan coast, from which the population was displaced.
  • Use the UDA plan as a diagram to organize the spaces.
  • Cultural issues – provide a role for the community in the design process.
  • Try to develop a quick understanding of traditional Sri Lankan architecture.
  • Site issues – understand the site in terms of water drainage, site accessibility, prevailing winds and ventilation, and accessibility for the disabled.
  • Provide covered shelter – outdoor space protected from the sun by overhangs or trees.
  • Possible use of alternative energy sources, including solar, and passive design for ventilation and cooling.
  • Focus on the user group needs, based on the given program and the planning diagram presented Friday evening. Look at providing flexible, fluid spaces.

    For the first design session, the participants divided into four groups:

  • Heating, cooling and ventilation group, which looked at the opportunities to employ passive design for cooling and ventilation, opportunities for solar power to provide hot water and electricity, and other energy concepts that might prove viable for the project.
  • Site – The site group was to consider the siting of the building including entrances, location on the site, drainage, and building orientation.
  • Space Planning – This group volunteered to look at the building space program, develop the basic spaces, and organize the spaces in plan.
  • Connections, the group that considered how to illustrate the connections between the citizens and their history, the connection between the people of the new village and Minnesotans, and the role of technology in understanding and extending those connections.

    Each group developed ideas and concepts in a two-hour session, followed by a presentation to the larger group. Key concepts and ideas presented included:

    Cooling and Ventilation

  • Look at utilizing a heat stack to remove hot air from the building. With the strong prevailing winds from the south, this strategy would capture those breezes to both move through the building and to create lower pressure at the heat stack, encouraging the hot air to be removed from the building.
  • A building shape that would encourage capturing the prevailing southerly breezes was encouraged.
  • Solar heating is feasible for domestic hot water; however, there is a minimal need for domestic hot water. The technology is simple, and requires little or no maintenance.
  • Using solar power (photovoltaic) as a source for electrical power is less feasible, as the system is more complex, and would require on-site access to an electrician, which is not likely.
  • The use of water as a means of reflecting daylight into the building was presented. The creative use of water was a common theme.
  • Using louvers at exterior windows to temper the natural light and provide security at the window openings in place of grillwork was considered.
  • The use of water as a source for geothermal cooling utilizing a natural spring located on the site was investigated.


  • Site the building to take advantage of the prevailing winds from the south.
  • Orient the community center on axis with the site for a religious building on a nearby hill.
  • Organize building entries (pavilions) on the north and east sides of the building. There are cultural reasons for this orientation. It was noted that this is difficult given the site, as its more natural access points are on the south and west.
  • Look at connecting the entries with a curved ramp between the two entry pavilions.
  • Take advantage of the sloping site to enter on the upper level from the south/east and at the lower level on the north, avoiding a long ramp.
  • Provide parking by widening the street to the south rather than dedicating land to a parking lot.
  • Terrace located on the south side of the building provides space for evening social gatherings.
  • Bring back the coconut palms. Consider adding cinnamon and/or mango trees.
  • Site drainage will more likely be accommodated through the use of drainage runnels rather than pipes to distribute the water throughout the site.
  • Look at accommodating a drop-off area for both people and books.

    Space Planning

  • The plan was organized into two long buildings approximately 30 feet in width sharing a common roof. An entry space with a stair is located between the two buildings.
  • As dictated by the culture, provide a separate pavilion to accommodate the toilet rooms. The space plan located the pavilion under a common roof.
  • Circulation space is provided outside, sheltered by the building eaves.
  • An outdoor area under the roof was provided for the library.


  • A moonstone at water collection areas and entry locations was suggested. This could be made from Minnesota granite and presented as a gift to the community. Both granite and limestone are also available locally in Sri Lanka.
  • Water is a connection point between the people and Minnesota, as well as a reference to the coastal settlements from which they came.
  • Develop the Technology Center as the “heart” of the facility. Technology is a symbol for the connectedness of the community to the outside world.
  • Create a bulletin board where photographs of on-line pen pals can be displayed.
  • Consider the use of water as a symbol for their former home and for their friends in Minnesota and across the world. This could be the actual use of water or a representation of water commemorated by an engraved plaque of granite or limestone.
  • Consider displays that relate to comparing the cultures of Sri Lanka and Minnesota – fishing, for example.
  • Use art as a means of communicating the healing process or friendship between cultures. Ideas included murals, which could evolve over time, painted by students, visiting groups, or others. Another idea is creating ceramic tiles, if supported by local technology. The tiles could be made anywhere and sent to the site for installation.
  • Provide books for the library about Minnesota or written by Minnesota authors. Provide books for Minnesota libraries about Sri Lanka or written by Sri Lankan authors.

    As each group presented their efforts, there were common themes that became the basis for developing the design. Those included orientation of the building to the prevailing winds, the use of passive cooling and ventilation techniques, daylighting, the use of water as a part of the passive system, daylighting, and as a symbolic link to the coast, and a focus on the user group needs.

    Design Session 2: Saturday, July 16, 2005 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

    After the interim review session, the participants divided tasks to further develop the design direction.

    The final solution tried to respect the reason why Sri Lankans are being relocated from the coast to the new village on the Monrovia Estate, understanding the healing and recovery process while looking forward to new lives. Connections to the coast and the former villages are important, as are connections to friends in Minnesota. Water was chosen as the common element and developed as a design feature throughout the site.

    The Technology Center was seen as the heart of the building – the link to connections between friends and family across the world, the link to information – the link to the future.

    One suggestion was not acted upon – a facility on the coast to provide a place to bring the fishermen’s catch for sale/distribution, providing the function that homes or other facilities on the water previously provided. This facility would be shared by everyone in the new village.

    Design Features

    The shape of the proposed community center is a long rectangle, approximately 100 feet long by 30 feet deep. The form provides a long building with surface area along the east-west axis to take advantage of the prevailing winds from the south and a narrow footprint to allow the flow of air through the building, which is essentially one room deep.

    Another concept is to use the natural spring water (from the spring discovered on the site) in a pool adjacent to the building to provide cooling as the air passes over it as well as for reflecting daylight inside. Water will also be used as an organizing element for the site. The water will flow from the reflecting pool beneath the building into a small channel and end in an irrigation sieve in the community gardens at the base of the site. In order to avoid mosquito breeding issues (another commonality with Minnesota), the water will flow continuously through the site.

    Coconut and cinnamon trees will also be restored to the site to recall the estate’s historic background and offer shade and fruits for the community.

    A suggestion for tying the facility back to Minnesota is the use of symbolic moonstones donated from Minnesota, as a reminder of the efforts of the Foundation. These engraved stones will be placed throughout the site, commemorating the links between the villagers, the coast, Minnesota, and the world beyond. They may be found in places of entry, water collection areas, and gathering spaces to tell the story of the community and their friends in Minnesota.

    Points of entry to the site are oriented toward the village, on access with the religious site on the hill. Auto traffic will be accommodated on the south side of the building as a secondary means of access. There are two key entry pavilions - the north pavilion on a north-south axis with the main entry serves pedestrians and the east pavilion serves those who arrive by vehicle. An outdoor terrace at the first floor level provides space for social gatherings and a children’s area enclosed by a rubble wall provides a playground for the school.

    AFH’s plan for the community center evolved from the UDA plan. First floor circulation is exterior, shaded by a veranda. The veranda, with its series of columns, lends a monumental feel to the building, which is entered from the north. The first floor accommodates the Montessori school, the medical clinic, and an office. The second floor can be accessed by stair from the first floor or by a gently sloping ramp from the east pavilion. Access is again by the veranda, repeated from the first floor. The second level accommodates the library and technology center.

    In section, the building shows the use of the reflecting pool to cool the entering breeze and reflect light into the second floor library, and a heat stack to help expel heat from the building. A solar array is planned for the roof to provide

    supplemental power for the facility.

    Presentation: Saturday, July 16, 2005 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

    The intense work session culminated with a final presentation to the Minnesota/Sri Lanka Friendship Foundation, after an incredible meal provided by the foundation!

    Next Steps: July 17-July 27, 2005

    AFH MN will scan the plans and make them available for Lal to email to Sri Lanka. We are making .PDF documents that can be opened with universally available software. Emailing will save expense. The UDA will be able to mark-up or comment on our schematic drawings. We will be happy to work with MNSLFF to make any changes required. The structural construction drawings will need to be made by Sri Lankan architects (UDA). In addition, the BOQ (Bill of Quantities, tasks, etc.) will also depend on Sri Lankan input.

    AFH MN will have all of the documents ready on Wednesday, July 27, including the written statements. (Note: the delay stems from our doing additional work on the interior plans). MNSLFF can count on quick assistance when the marked up drawings are returned.

    It is AFH MN’s privilege to be of assistance in this endeavor.

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    MnSLFF handed over $9085.90 of your donations to SUCCESS-Colombo a registered charity social organization devoted to help poor and needy people of Sri Lanka.