11 March 2019
Minnette de Silva was one of the world’s most famous architects. She was Sri Lanka’s first modernist architect and the first Asian woman to become an Associate of the RIBA. Yet her buildings are rarely celebrated, while scholarship and awareness of her work remains scarce.
Educated at the Architectural Association in London, De Silva worked with Le Corbusier among others. Her buildings often feature open courtyards and verandas and are distinctly modernist in their approach. She celebrates traditional craftsmanship in her work and creates harmony with the landscape.
De Silva’s buildings range from private houses to larger scale housing developments. Her participatory approach – consulting extensively with future homeowners – was revolutionary for its time. She also experimented widely and fused European modernism with Sri Lankan regional styles. Significantly, she paved the way for other prominent Sri Lankan modernist architects, including Geoffrey Bawa.
In this discussion, we will invite an architect, Anupama Kundoo, and historian, Senaka Weeraman, to reflect on Minnette de Silva’s work and evaluate her role in Sri Lankan modernist architecture. They will also consider the wider implications of excluding certain architects from the dominant narratives around modernism and how to counteract this exclusion.
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