Tourists are drawn to places that feature local culture: Architect Pradeep Kodikara

Pradeep Kodikara

Villas have fast become one of the most preferred methods of accommodation for holiday-goers in this time of Covid-19. 

Villas are designed to blend the hospitality experience of a hotel stay with the privacy and exclusivity of a small property made to feel like a home visit. Sri Lanka’s villa market has been growing in recent years, with villas all across the island to provide this more exclusive travel experience. Covid-19 has magnified the demand for villas because their size and exclusivity makes them perfect for small groups to vacation safely. 

Kadju House, Tangalle is one such villa, a four-bedroom property set close-by but away from the sea. Pradeep Kodikara – the architect who designed Kadju House – won the Geoffrey Bawa Award for excellence in architecture in 2014 for his work on this property. A graduate of the City School of Architecture in Colombo, Kodikara worked with and interned for several renowned Sri Lankan architects like Surath Wickramasinghe, Anjalendran, Nela de Zoysa, and Geoffrey Bawa, before setting up his own practice in 1998.

Kodikara established Zowa Architects in 2014 with his wife Jineshi Samaraweera. They divide their time between Colombo and Kalametiya. The Morning Brunch chatted with Kodikara about how he designed this villa, and how, if at all, the pandemic is likely to affect the design of villas in the future. 

Excerpts of the interview are below:


What was the concept behind the design of Kadju House? 

Kadju House was built in 2006 and was basically a location that was set back – as in, it was not on the beach and had no views of the sea. What we wanted to do with the property was create something special that would attract potential tourists, clients and so on. This was what led to the elevation of the pool. 

The house itself is quite small with four bedrooms. We went for a ground-floor-plus-one-story kind of design and situated the pool on the top floor, which meant you could actually get a view of the sea. This was what made the house very attractive and made it possible for the client to be able to market it properly. 

The small villa market is very competitive, there’s so many of them out there. We just tried to create something special out of what we got.

Because we had a small budget, we used recycled old doors and windows in the interior. The palette was very simple and we used all local materials. On the outside, we did a smooth cement plaster exterior so the client wouldn’t need to keep painting frequently. Seaside properties tend to get weathered and paint can get quite ugly over time. We thought we’d use cement, where it would weather on its own and add charm to the facade. 


What was it like winning the Geoffrey Bawa Award for excellence for Kadju House? What special elements of its design do you feel set it apart to qualify for that commendation?

Personally, it was a very nice feeling. It feels very good when you do something that people recognise and appreciate. 

The judges looked at a lot of aspects and at what we incorporated in that house with the space we had, which was basically nothing to see. We designed the space in a way where when you come to the first floor, where the main and living spaces are, the sea and the infinity pool converge; there is quite a bit of drama in it and a sense of creating something out of nothing. 

Other aspects of the house, like the fact that it had a big garden that had been replanted with local trees and an organic vegetable garden, all these kind of added up to something that the judges thought was worthwhile.


Which architects would you say influence your work the most and why?

There is no single person I could choose, I think because there are so many architects, artists, painters, and sculptors around the world who have inspired me. If I were to name a couple of them, I’d mention Australian architect Glen Muructt and Mexican architect Luis Barragan who practised in the late 1970s, but there’s no hierarchy as such. There’s also our own great architects like Valentine Gunasekera and Geoffrey Bawa, who were also a big influence.


As an architect navigating the new normal, what are the trends you see developing in the design of leisure spaces like villas and small hotels? 

I feel that there will be a growing demand for small villas in the future.  People are going to be very cautious about travelling where there are large numbers of people. For small entrepreneurs, I think it’s a good thing. Overall though, it is going to get back to normal at some point. Maybe not this year, but next year. Other than that. I can’t see a great change happening in the industry. 

There’s no one element that’s going to be something that people opt for. Generally, I think international tourism is more drawn to places with local features and that feature local culture – the kind of design that is modern and contemporary, but has its roots in the locality of the country, and that highlights that particular environment and culture. And if you stick to these things, people will take note, because globalisation is such that everything is becoming the same visually. I think tourists will appreciate things that are inspired by local situations and culture. That will always be something that’s going to work in terms of how tourists look at it. 


How do you recommend existing villas and small hotels adapt to the pandemic from an architectural/design standpoint?

For villas, I think the tourist board has put out some guidelines for that; how and what they can do to be operational. 

I can’t really see any architectural/design aspect that’s going to help. The only thing I would probably say is the kind of chalet concept, where you have a separate little room and dining area for yourself that is kind of scattered across a landscape. This is obviously something that can be operated easily during Covid-19 without people being worried about contact and so on, but this is very difficult to adapt because of space and all that. 


Photos by Yannik Tissera