Urban Regeneration Project, Hi-Tec City, at Panchikawatte

In February 2008, the architectural profession honoured one of its most enduring and influential members with the award of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects Gold Medal. In a career spanning more than 40 years Archt/Plnr Deshanbandu Surath Wickramasinghe’s contribution to architecture and its allied professions cannot be underestimated.

By: Lankabarana D D Weliange

Surath Wickramasinghe completed his architectural studies at the University of Westminster (then known as “The Polytechnic”), London, in 1969. After working for a short time in London Surath returned home in 1970. For a brief period he worked with Archt Leon Monk as a Partner and thereafter in 1971 founded Surath Wickramasinghe Associates.

In 1970 Surath Wickramasinghe became a Corporate Member of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA) and he was elected to its Council in 1971. Three years later he served as its Honorary Secretary for three consecutive years.

While working at his busy practice he pursued further with his academic studies in Town Planning at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka and obtained a Masters Degree in Town and Country Planning in 1979.

At the invitation of several Senior Architects at that time he re-joined the Council of SLIA in 1982 as Senior Vice President and was elected President in 1983. As President, Surath transformed the then relatively unknown SLIA into a strong, active and articulate professional representative body that projected a dynamic identity to the architectural profession in Sri Lanka. Through his vision he initiated many of the events that are held by the SLIA, such as the annual sessions, members’ work exhibition and public affairs forum. These events laid a strong foundation for a closer engagement of the profession with the public.

The benefit of Surath’s pioneering spirit was not confined to the architectural profession or the SLIA alone, as President of the Organisation of Professional Associations in 1987 and as President of the Institute of Town Planners, Sri Lanka in 1997, he yet again demonstrated his capacity to transform fledgling organisations into professional bodies of stature that could, and have influenced public policy making.

Internationally too, Surath’s reputation as a visionary leader has been amply recognised. In 1997 he was unanimously elected to the position of the Chair of the Architects Regional Council, Asia (ARCASIA), which represents 17 member countries and approximately 600,000 architects. ARCASIA engages with the Union of International Architects (UIA) on matters of importance to architects globally. Under Surath Wickramasinghe’s stewardship ARCASIA initiated the Heritage Trust for the protection of buildings of architectural importance, he also proposed the Corporate Plan for ARCASIA which has subsequently been implemented. In recognition of his unparalleled contribution to architecture, Surath Wickramasinghe was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1998. This was followed by his appointment as an Honorary Fellow of the SLIA in 2002 and later as a Advisor to ARCASIA. He’s currently the Founder President of the Chamber of Construction Industry, Sri Lanka, (CCI) established in 2001 and continues to be it’s President to date. CCI today is the apex body of the Construction Industry, and Surath’s contribution in highlighting construction issues of National importance has brought it to it’s present standing.

Through it all with Surath at its helm, Surath Wickramasinghe Associates has progressed from strength to strength. Today it is a pre-eminent multi-disciplinary practice which offers Consultancy Services in architecture, town planning, engineering, development consultancy and infrastructure development. It has won numerous awards for architectural excellence and has also been the vehicle for Surath’s most important contributions to Sri Lanka, the pioneering Urban Regeneration Project, Hi-Tec City, at Panchikawatte, Colombo 10.