Designing sustainable settlements in the context of mega-projects: lessons learnt from the Mahaweli Architectural Unit, Sri Lanka (1983-1989)

  • YEAR
    Dissanayake, Nirodha
    Bartsch, Katharine
    Scriver, Peter
    2016 Conference Papers
    Architectural Science, Landscape and Urban Design
    Conference Papers


This paper examines new towns constructed for the Mahaweli Development Project (MDP)—a mega project—which involved a comprehensive resettlement program in Sri Lanka. Only a handful of studies examine the new towns designed by the Mahaweli Architectural Unit (MAU), from the perspective of architecture and urban design. This paper analyses the design of these new towns with regard to the MDP resettlement goals articulated in socio-cultural assessment reports which made recommendations about physical planning principles. This critical analysis is informed by drawings and documents examined at the Mahaweli Archives, Colombo, and field work in Mahaweli towns. The paper argues that the MAU embraced the MDP initiative to build sustainable new towns, inspired by vernacular architecture, with a certain degree of success. However, with the advantage of hindsight, notable shortcomings are evident which can be attributed to an apparent disregard for the socio-cultural recommendations. Given the escalating number of large scale infrastructure projects in developing countries—which force displacement, resettlement and redistribution of people—this paper renews emphasis on the importance of sociological concerns as a key dimension of architectural interventions for sustainable development.


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