50 Most Powerful Women – DESIGN

By Echelon.

Published on December 16, 2014 with No Comments







Darshi Keerthisena has transformed a business – which her father founded – by fusing modern fabrics with a traditional fabric printing technique. Buddhi Batiks has demonstrated how the traditional craft industry – which usually only produces souvenirs – can be transformed to produce high-end apparel demanded by contemporary shoppers. Darshi Keerthisena who heads the creative unit and plays a key role in its overall management, says raising the profile of traditional crafts by linking them with modern design has made these vocations far more viable.

Buddhi Batiks employs 60 people using traditional batik techniques to hand print on silks, chiffons, silk-satins and soft cottons which are then made in to sarees, swim wear for women, and now fabrics used in homes. Darshi says producing things in scale with traditional crafts is challenging because the processes are not mechanized.

She is working with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce to help train women widowed by the long conflict in the North in traditional batik printing techniques. The ministry is facilitating the training and plans to assist trainees find markets for their products so they have sustainable work. Buddhi Batiks has doubled in size over the last few years because of a rebound in consumer demand for their somewhat expensive clothes and due to their diversification by working with interior designers of large hotel projects.

Keerthisena also has a second job as Head of Design at apparel maker MAS’s unit Linea Aqua, designing swimwear for global brands Victoria’s Secret and Speedo. She works around three days a week at the MAS unit and spends as much time working for the family firm Buddhi Batiks.







Sunela Jayawardena calls herself an environmental designer. Most architects enter the field because they want to design buildings, but Sunela chose it because of her desire to work with what she calls her first love, the environment. When she designs a project, she does not break it down into separate parts like architecture, interior and landscape, but takes a holistic approach, taking care of every element right down to the furniture arrangement.

She studies the site to gain very specific understanding of its requirements and lets its environment design the project, making sure the design complements the environment instead of abusing it. “The philosophy is to always fit in,” she says. “You don’t manipulate the land, but let the land manipulate you.” Working with sustainable material goes hand in hand with this philosophy.

Centuries before Porto-Dutch influences brought in the Tuscan columns and deep verandahs often identified as Sri Lankan historical architecture, the island had a rich centuries-old tradition of sustainable building design. Its practitioners reserved brick, concrete and tiling for temples and palaces, and used sustainable material for village homes, with walls of wattle and daub and pitched roofs of thatch. Villages of these houses were self-sustained, producing all their needs from rice and vegetables to spices and medicines. It is this vernacular architecture that has inspired Sunela in her work because of its sustainability and its adaptation to the land. “Sri Lankan pre-colonial architecture is the key to sustainability,” she says. “Here, through thousands of years of experimentation, they found a workable formula that was contextually right. You can’t take some element and just land it somewhere. There is a reason, for instance, that we have the pitched roof. All this evolved over a long time.”

To understand Sunela’s work, the best place to look, naturally, is the projects she has designed and the inspiration and concept behind them.

Yatra by Jetwing: One of Sunela’s most recent projects, Yatra’s design concept is based on ancient Sri Lankan padda boats – large, flat-bottomed wooden boats with thatched roofs used to transport goods and people on inland waterways. Only one boat has been completed thus far, but there will be more soon. The two-room boats are constructed using sustainable material, with bamboo walls, teak floors and thatched roofs. Boat guests are taken on an 18 kilometer route up the Benthara River from Benthota to Avittewa, though not by punting as in the traditional padda boats.

Agro-tourism in Wellawaya:This is the restoration of a traditional Kandyan home garden. The hotel consists of an old Walawwa surrounded by working paddy fields, with villas scattered around them, mimicking the traditional village homes of the farmers who worked the Walawwa’s fields. The villas have a very traditional design concept, with thatched roofs. Solar energy provides electricity and wells provide
water in keeping with the self-sustainability of traditional home gardens, though the hotel won’t be completely self-sustainable. Guests will be able to see and learn Sri Lanka’s paddy culture by watching and interacting with local farmers who will continue to work the fields. The planting too is part of the concept, designed to increase the water level.



Colombo Courtyard: Since this boutique hotel was constructed through the restoration and combining of four residential homes and a commercial building, Sunela crafted her design concept around recycled material, open spaces and conscious lighting patterns. Sustainability was practiced from day one, with brick from demolished walls saved for use as floor tile. Bamboo trees are used in place of fencing and sound screens, and courtyards and ponds are interspersed with covered spaces to do without air conditioning. Solar panels provide water heating, as well as some electricity, and inverter air conditioners and LED and CFL bulbs reduce electricity usage. The furniture has been constructed using recycled material, such as tractor seats for bar stools and hospital beds for sofas.

Vil Uyana: This hotel’s design concept actually went against Sunela’s principles of not manipulating the environment since it restored land severely degraded by slash and burn or chena cultivation. Sunela’s design significantly manipulated the land to return it to its natural state and turn it into a wetland reserve of lakes and reed beds fed by manmade tanks. The water for these is harvested from rain to avoid taxing the water resources of local farmers and, in fact, contributes towards these resources by helping to maintain the water table. Endemic flora was replanted in the area, and paddy fields that had lain fallow were sown and harvested, with paddy grown organically. The architecture follows a vernacular tradition, with the chalets mimicking the watch huts built on stilts by local farmers and constructed using sustainable material like woven reed and wood.


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