Early childhood interactions with building sites and architects shaped Architect Michele Fonseka’s future. Her family background is based in construction as her grandfather and later her father headed a well established engineering and construction company that she lived next door to, affording her a close up view into the construction industry.

By Mutiara Tegal

Educated at Holy Family Convent Bambalapitiya, Archt. Michele developed her talents in music and is currently an integral part of the St. Mary’s Choral Group. In 1986 she decided to enroll in the new Architecture course offered by the SLIA and was one of the first students of the course. Her passion for Architecture was sealed here as she was taught by C Anjalendran and Turner Wickramasinghe and met masters such as Geoffrey Bawa. She recounts how these experiences molded her; particularly her meetings with Bevis Bawa at “Brief” awakened a lifelong interest in landscaping and an appreciation for gardens. Later, she travelled to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, an experience that had a tremendous impact on her work as an architect. During these student years she included music in her personal architectural philosophy which influenced her to choose a radio station and concert hall as her final year design project.

Professionally Archt Michele grew with every Architectural firm she worked at by challenging herself and accepting a wide range of projects that taught her something new. She learned the ropes as an intern first at her father’s Construction firm, and subsequently at Surath Wickremasinghe Associates, Building Design Partnership, Gunaratne Associates and at Nela De Zoysa Design Corporation. She says that the opportunities and experiences gave her the strong foundations to start her own practice in 2005. She currently operates a small firm that handles a wide variety of projects.

She is a visiting lecturer at the City School of Architecture. “It is not only about educating the students but also it is a learning experience which I enjoy,” she commented. She has been active in the effort to create collaborations between the two schools of Architecture and was the Chairperson for the Inaugural Student Jamboree and previously for the Inaugural student quiz.

Michele is a Fellow member of the SLIA, and has contributed her time and talents to the professional body. Archt Michele held several posts from Assistant Treasurer, in the council, Secretary Board of Management, member of other boards and spearheaded SLIA events. She is currently the President of the Forum CSA – the alumni of the City School of Architecture.

Archt. Michele believes that ‘Architecture is a calling’ and attributes passion, commitment and integrity as hallmarks to be a successful architect. “The best projects are where the client, contractor and consultants come together to reinforce a concept,” she says. The Architect recalls the renovation of an old house and the work in a hospital in the North, the latter in joint collaboration with a colleague, that gave joy to all involved, as her most memorable projects. She attributes ‘creating something new’ and teamwork as the key ingredients to her achievements such as being awarded the Colour Award at the Architect’s Annual Sessions 2012.

As a designer she feels the user needs are pivotal in the generation of the design as well as the site and context. She especially loves a challenge in a project such as a tight budget or restrictive plot of land and will work on a host of different solutions till she arrives at an answer that is a unique spatial arrangement that suits the client as well.

Her hope for the future of Sri Lankan architecture is that we retain pride in our country’s rich culture and heritage and keep developing a simple architecture that suits our climate together with new technologies.