House on a hill for MrLal Piyasena

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House on a hill for MrLal Piyasena
A house for Mr. Lal Piyasena A crown on a hill in the mixed tea and rubber land, Halbarawa Estate, Horana, Sri Lanka. One of the major problems faced in the design of the house was a need to enhance the celebration of the fantastic 360 degree view that changed every hour, every day of the year. Watching the rain clouds gather amid the thunder and the streaks of lightening creating momentary connections with the earth is an experience. The celebration of the rising and setting sun and the landscaped views that nature created. The drama of the distant Adam’s peak rising out of the morning mist, the lights of Colombo only ten miles away as the crow flies haloed by the setting sun was too good to be true. Under the circumstances any building should pay obeisance and be humbled by the context and the location of the site. The main entrance to a building, automatically creates and reinforces a front and a rear, this if it were to happen on a site such as this, it was thought to be unforgivable. To avoid such a situation both the front and the rear had to be purposely eliminated and a different approach to enter the building explored. We now enter the building by burrowing into the center of the site and the space is entered vertically. On arrival on the upper level, the 360 degree space expands in a sudden burst of excitement and exuberance, celebrating the view in a way it should. In a way we had hoped. The building has been kept simple in order to celebrate and to be subservient to the view. The building is a simple square space around a square courtyard. All spaces have direct access to the outside and are able to enjoy the view. The simple verandah that surrounds the square building responds to the climate, and shades the inner spaces from glare. Thus permitting the user to sit in the shade and enjoy the view all year round. The use of ponds in certain parts of the deck eliminates the use of handrails as a protection to keep the inquisitive away from the steep edge. The hill is a mass of sedimentary rock. The rock that was excavated to create the entry to the building was carefully collected and reused to build most of the walls. As such, no new stone was imported into the site, thereby reducing the cost considerably. A part of the rock that was excavated to create the entrance can be seen preserved in the entrance courtyard. The roof is covered in a green concrete tile, again to blend rather than compete with the environment. Rain water is harvested off the roof and is collected in a tank. The purified affluent from the septic tank is mixed with the rain water and used to irrigate the orchard and the new forest of endemic trees planted at the lower level below the terrace. Water for general use is pumped from a well located at the bottom of the hill. In due course, especially due to the increase in fuel costs, a series of windmills will raise the water to tanks placed at intervals up the hill and the last pumping will be done using a solar pump. Passive solar collectors generate the heat required for the hot water system, used in the wash rooms and the kitchen has been already installed and is in operation. A programme to introduce solar panels to generate verandah and other general lighting via an inverter is underway, and will be introduced after the negotiation of a net metering solution with the Ceylon Electricity Board is concluded. The introduction of tropical fruit bearing trees as wind breaks has been successfully established and in addition to the tea and rubber plantation at the periphery of the site and extending out to engulf the whole estate, the orchard will eventually create a pleasing buffer between the house and the plantation. The project took long to reach fruition, due mostly to the client using his profits from the sale of the tea leaf and the raw rubber sheet to achieve the project. The building was also built using an estate mason, who could neither read nor understand drawings. He was constantly fed perspectives and sketches to explain how the details worked or were brought together. But as the work progressed the contractor got emotionally involved in the project and refused to take instruction from anyone to the great annoyance of even the client and took instruction only from the architects. Today he is proud to show his friends his achievement. The project is in a way a tribute to the inborn ability in all of us. The humble village craftsman, who began to love and enjoy the project, his work, did show us the way.

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