In The Press

Colombo Port City: Designing And Connecting Two Cities


The recently held UIA Design Idea competition by CHEC Colombo Port City was hailed by the Sri Lank Institute of Architects as a step in the right direction. The President of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA), Archt. D. H. Wijewardene is of the opinion that design competitions should be made a practice for all land mark projects in Sri Lanka. He was speaking at the award ceremony of the International Conceptual Urban Design Idea Competition for the Financial District and Marina of the Colombo Port City, held recently at the Cinnamon Grand, Colombo.

“When you have design competitions, you get the most important, most valuable ideas into the system, that way we must thank the Port City project team, the director and all the other officials for taking this step; rather than selecting one consultancy firm, which is the normal pattern,” said Wijewardene.

The SLIA President who was Guest of Honour at the ceremony added, design competitions have become a world trend today as it helps to get different options and wider perspectives for a project and helps the project initiators to get an opportunity to see most suitable and viable design solutions Lim Kian Siew, Director of Planning and Development of CHEC Port City Colombo said, “We can actually get a lot of ideas that not just one designer can give us. All the design submissions were ideas we consider worth exploring. We are not limiting ourselves to ideas from one participant, but are open to ideas from all the entries provided they are viable and implementable. Of course every competition needs a winner and SOM has proved themselves to be better than the others.”

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), one of the world’s top Architecture, Interior design, Engineering and Urban Planning firms, was the winner of the competition unanimously selected by an international jury. SOM’s Concept Master Plan for the Financial District and Marina was rich with urban opportunities and had a robust framework with carefully designed public spaces. It presenteda dynamic new vision for the projectand a promise to deliver high quality urban environments where people would live, work, learn and play. The concept was one that could accommodate future growth and change within a sustainable development framework. SOM’s vision was selected as the unanimous winner by the jury.

One of the unique differences in their design as opposed to the ideas received by the other two competitors of international repute was the way in which they had blended the new city with the old and had incorporated Sri Lankan culture and style into their design. Peter Kindel, Director of SOM who headed the company’s competing team commented that they began the project by focusing on how the financial district and the marina could be connected to the historic city of Colombo. “We wanted the project to be as connected as possible between the old city and the new, so that when people walk here or ride their bikes, it would feel all natural and connected.” Gabriele Pascolini, Project Manager of the SOM competing team also said that one of the design challenges was blending the new city with the old.

Another observation made by the SOM team was the geographic location of the Colombo Port City, which they said was in itself a great advantage; positioned as it were between Singapore and Dubai.

SOM’s Idea to blend the old city with the new was in line with a statement made by Lim Kian Siew, Director of Planning and Development of CHEC Port City Colombo who said that the specific reason why the competition was contained to the financial district and the marina was because these areas are common to the whole of Colombo Port City as well as the Fort area. Since the inception of the master plan for the Colombo Port City project, one of its key design goals was to seamlessly connect the new city with the existing city. This design goal has been successfully attained by tapping into the existing rail and road infrastructure.

The development will have two road connections creating an internal loop which will link to an underground tunnel that will provide access to the southern part of the country and to the new flyover expressway. Not only will this help to cut down the drive time from the airport to 30 minutes, it will also connect through to major cities in the country via the expressway network.

Two existing railway lines and one proposed railway line serve the Western Megapolis and the Port City will integrate to this network through the proposed LRT system via the Colombo Fort multi modal transport hub. A “Linear Park” has been added to make the two adjoining cities more seamless. The park provides a green link ensuring a high level of permeability for both pedestrians and cyclists, thus blending the harsh boundary lines and interconnecting the two cities.

Colombo’s organic growth has given the city a rich urban texture, albeit at the cost of a long term master plan that allowed for planned commercial growth. With pressure for land building around the Colombo Business District (CBD) to meet demand, a decision was taken to start on a clean slate i.e. reclaim land adjacent to the existing CBD. Freed from constraints the master planning process was able to develop a set of core principles upon which a model city for South Asia’s future would be founded.

The master planning process is divided into three stages; Stage 1: analysis and conceptual master plan, Stage 2: schematic master plan, Stage 3: detailed master plan. Stage 1 was spent gaining a thorough understanding of the specific conditions of the site, the local climate, city and global context along with conclusions that were developed by a parallel real estate advisory report. The output was a conceptual land use plan with initial expression of land use and urban function planning principles which included traffic systems, green and blue systems, eco cycle strategy and urban design.

Stage 2, is the schematic master plan which focused on the development of the planning area, building heights, building volumes and the overall urban character in key areas along with local landmark buildings and important public spaces. Digital and analytical drawings and renderings showing schematic land use planning, traffic system detailing, greenscape and waterscape designs, strategy for waste and energy in the short and long term and expression of urban design through images were the outcome during this stage.

The vision, planning principles and the concept of a sustainable urban development were revised, synthesized and concluded during Stage 3. The aim was to create a robust topography that integrated technical systems for sun, wind, storm water and rising sea levels. It was also designed in a manner that would make it accessible to all with green links that were made easy to walk on connecting commercial, residential, retail, cultural, educational centers as well as entertainment and community centers.