Wunderlich terracotta roof tiles from Monier Roofing were used on the new Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra to reflect the country’s pre-colonial architectural heritage.
Jayantha Madawala, the architect commissioned to design Sri Lanka's new Australian Chancery, took inspiration from the unique architecture of Sri Lanka's pre-colonial period to create a modern facility that is visually aligned to its cultural heritage, while delivering on its functional and diplomatic purpose. The new building aimed to create a facility better suited for Sri Lanka’s diplomatic corps to meet the needs, challenges and demands of its ever increasing clientele.
The work on the new High Commission began in 1999 with the purchase of a building site in Yarralumla, Canberra. Expressions of interest were sought for designing the prestigious facility with Australia-based Sri Lankan architect Jayantha Madawala selected from the five submissions received.
According to Jayantha, the lengthy design process, which began in early 2000, would require significant consultation and engagement with a variety of government bodies including the Sri Lankan Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Sri Lankan Department of Building and the Australian Federal Governments, National Capital Authority (NCA).
Jayantha's final design embraced key elements of Sri Lanka's pre-colonial architecture, dating back some 600 years, well before the arrival of the Portuguese, Dutch and English. Typical design elements inspired by Sri Lanka’s architectural heritage would include the use of wide eave lines, embossed stone columns, steeply pitched terracotta roofs and symmetrical façades.
The imposing, glazed terracotta roof featuring a massive 1,100m² footprint balances elegantly on a series of decorative columns that surround the perimeter of the building. The roof’s colour adds a vibrant contrast to the neutral tones used on the walls, columns and window frames.
From a structural perspective, the Embassy's roofline is designed to replicate the multi-pitched roofs typical of Sri Lanka's pre-colonial period. In addition to its aesthetic appeal, historically, these roofs had a highly functional purpose, which was to protect occupants from Sri Lanka's tropical monsoonal rains, dispersing rainwater away from the exterior walls quickly and efficiently without the use of a restrictive guttering system.
Opportunistically adopted by Jayantha in the new building, the striking design feature was created using Wunderlich terracotta roof tiles to capture copious amounts of potable water. A pebble drainage moat was incorporated into the landscape design and linked to a 200,000-litre underground storage system that would store rainwater for the site’s irrigation, retention and detention.
Officially opened in early 2012, the newly built Sri Lankan High Commission is undoubtedly an iconic addition to the diplomatic precincts of Deakin and Yarralumla.