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Top architect calls for urgent measures to revitalise Colombo Fort to integrate with Port City

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Says Colombo Fort under threat and it requires sensitive planning
Stresses SL has “fantastic opportunity” to preserve and revitalise Colombo Fort
Tells Lankan city planners to take cues from cities like Barcelona

Sri Lanka must take urgent measures to preserve and revitalise Colombo Fort with sensitive planning by integrating its colonial heritage with the upcoming Colombo Port City, Sri Lankan-born internationally renowned architect, artist and engineer, Cecil Balmond said.

“Colombo Fort is under threat as to what would happen. It requires some sensitive planning to preserve and revitalise the area. I am worried about Colombo Fort as it could be neglected and could be left for entrepreneurs to do their own little things. “I am aware that Cargills was interested in perusing something like that. In my opinion, Colombo Fort requires very special planning and it needs to be done now, in order for it to be integrated into the future Port City, because it’s one of the gems in colonial architecture in work,” Balmond said.

He shared these views participating in a discussion themed ‘Big Architecture and Cities – Discussions on Sustainable Living’ organised by the Council for Business with Britain in Colombo yesterday.

The Colombo Fort consists of a variety of heritage buildings representing the city’s colonial architecture. However, Balmond noted that many of these heritage buildings which were once thriving are now in decay.

He pointed out that Sri Lanka has a “fantastic opportunity” to preserve and revitalise Colombo Fort with innovative planning and big architecture, which would eventually benefit Colombo city at large.

“Here in Colombo Fort, we got massive amount of wonderful building stock.

It’s a magical place if you look at the original plan. It’s an actual island, it could be wonderful and it could out-rival anything in South Asia, if it’s done properly with sensible planning,” he stressed.

Balmond noted that countries such as Singapore is regretting as they have almost completely wiped off the inherited colonial architecture.

Although, Sri Lanka’s urban planners are emerging from stagnation caused by the civil war, Balmond suggested that they need to look outwards to learn lessons from other cities while creating more diversity in the field.

“Barcelona is a great place to learn about urban planning. The urban planners have really transformed the city since 1987.

“Colombo can be rich and fertile. The people are fertile in their imaginations, but when it comes to practice, they get buried in stuck processes. The planners in general need an injection from outsiders like myself to be allowed to come in and be entertained by the political class to make something really happen. It’s easy to talk and plan, but very difficult execute,” he elaborated.

Speaking of attracting big-ticket investments to such sophisticated projects in Sri Lanka, Balmond acknowledged that his attempts to get high net worth investors to the country has been futile as many in the West view Sri Lanka negatively despite the decade along civil war ending 10 years ago.

“Sri Lanka doesn’t have a good image abroad, because all we hear in the West is about war-time horror stories. They question why they should go to Sri Lanka when they could invest in growing economies such as Mauritius, Botswana or Nigeria,” he said.

Therefore, he stressed that Sri Lanka needs to target these high net worth investors with the country’s national brand.

“You have to target high net worth investors. If you hit them well, things can happen. Sri Lanka could benefit immensely by attracting such investors. They could even fund projects such art galleries, which would enhance the aesthetic value of Colombo. They can easily throw US$ 50 million for such a project,” he said.

Further, he proposed Sri Lanka to undertake a major project in Colombo which could potentially gain attraction of such high net worth investors.

Balmond also shared that he’s passionate in undertaking a project which would significantly enhance the aesthetic value of Colombo after his involvement in Cinnamon Life project.

“Colombo needs public art in a good way as it doesn’t have anything at the moment. If I were to take one more project, I would love to do one massive iconic piece of public art. Although, Colombo has lotus tower, it has been built as an observation platform copying Toronto. I am talking about a structure such as ArcelorMittal Orbit which I designed for London Olympics,” he said.

Speaking on the Cinnamon Life project, he was confident that the project would significantly elevate the status of Colombo City to a new level.

“The Cinnamon life will give a new impetus to the city long before Colombo Port city start going,” he stressed.

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