Building great things with Ranitri | Sunday Observer

Building great things with Ranitri

Ranitri Weerasuriya is petite and pretty, intelligent and caring. What is more, she packs a lot of punch into what she does which is why she usually sails to success. However, she does her best to ‘hide her light under a bushel’ as the Biblical saying goes, but it neverless and shines through her personality and work. She now lives in New York and works as a Project Designer at James Carpenter Design Associates, an award winning architectural design firm.

An old girl of CMS Ladies College, Ranitri has had a fascination for environment and architecture inspired by father Manitha, an environmentalist. Mother Manoji too as a nature lover inculcated in Ranitri and sister Eresha a love of nature the responsibility to protect it.

She really became interested in architecture when they were building their ideal home when she, was around 10 years old. The meticulously planned house took many years to build so she was exposed to the design and building processes over a long period of time. Therefore, it is no wonder her impressionable young mind was impelled towards architecture and resulted in a firm decision being made by the young girl to becoming an architect.

After completing her secondary education at Ladies College she joined the City School of Architecture (CSA) Colombo to read for her Bachelor of Science in Architecture, where she obtained (First Class Honours) and she also holds a Bachelor of Laws (Second upper) from the University of London! These qualifications amply demonstrate her versatility. After graduating she took up an internship at Team Architrave, Colombo where she channeled her talents and energies into assisting various projects. Significant among them were two residences at which she handled detailed drawings, coordination and other matters.

Her next assignment was as an Architectural Designer at A + B in Colombo. Among the projects she undertook while here was a villa in Kahandamodera in which Ranitri was involved in the drafting, conceptualisation and design development which really engaged her creative talents. She was also involved in interdisciplinary coordination with engineers and consultants.

It was during her time at Team Architrave that her good friend Shayari asked her to take over the art class that she was teaching at the ‘Building Hope’ children’s centre, as she was going abroad. Her rationale for choosing Ranitri was that she was the only person that Shayari knew who loved kids. It was with much trepidation that Ranitri accepted the challenge but soon found her feet and started teaching several classes drawing from her own architectural background. She found the classes, to be very fruitful and generated an excited response. The classes were large, hands on and spanned several classes with teamwork, negotiations and other life skills inculcated into the students. Ranitri was astute enough to realise that the children of Nagahaswatte and its environs who attended the classes came from a community who dealt with an extremely complex network of urban and social negotiations. She therefore wanted to help the children to confidently navigate their own environments. Thus began Ranitri’s association with the ‘art’ class, later known as ‘Let’s Build Great Things’ owing to its focus on making and building. Along with volunteer teachers like Shayaride Silva, Erandi Amarasinghe and Sahani Gunasekera, this class pulled together for seven consecutive years and counting.

After a span of two years Ranitri herself had to leave for graduate school to read for her Master of Architecture at Columbia Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Presentation (GSAPP). She handed over the class to another friend Erandi and left for the USA. But she never gave up on ‘Let’s Build Great Things’ and continued to help the class and visited it whenever she came home on visits.

At GSAPP Ranitri took a course called informal Urbanisms and for her project she focused on ‘Let’s Build Great Things which won the prestigious Percival and Naomi Goodman Fellowship. Ranitri used the prize money to hold workshops for ‘Let’s Build Great Things’ project and to pay a stipend to the volunteer teachers.

Apart from having environmental enthusiasts for parents Ranitri too cares deeply about nature. Right now, living in two countries and juxtaposed between two cultures she feels she has the best of both worlds.

For relaxation Ranitri reads, watches movies, and pursues photography and travels.

This bright but unassuming girl will go far, and Youth Observer wishes her all the best!

Let’s build great things

Let’s Build Great Things! – This is a project which is being carried out in Colombo by a group of dedicated volunteers with financial aid both local and foreign from generous donors.

It is a unique education project with context specific, design based series of exercises for a group of low-income, urban children who regularly attend the ‘Building Hope’ Children’s centre, a rarity in Colombo. The centre is situated in Naghaswatte, Kirulapone, Colombo and it serves children from Nagahaswatte and adjacent areas.

Let’s Build Great Things! is a unique art education project geared to empower children by helping them articulate their opinions and act on their opinions and act on their ideas thereby becoming self –initiated game changers and not wait for readymade solutions to fall into their laps. The children’s dependency on handouts was clearly indicated during last year’s workshops during a discussion on community ‘opportunities’. A student told Ranitri “Miss, don’t worry the Government will fix that so we don’t have to do anything’.

This made Ranitri even more determined to be a catalyst to wean away the children from this culture of dependency and handouts.

What the volunteers at Let’s Build Great Things are striving to do is to make the children avoid dependency culture by challenging the system. This is done through creative making and critical thinking which is key in the Let’s Build Great Things curriculum.

The Building Hope Centre is built on what was previously a garbage incinerator (kunugodamola in Sinhala) in Naghaswatte and was originally intended for Tsunami child victims. Funded by the Leeds Metropolitan Council it was built in collaboration with the Colombo Municipality Council which administers the building. This children’s center is crucial to the community it serves, especially to children challenged by dense living conditions and who suffer from neglect.

The children’s centre has been extremely beneficial to the participant children. Through the ‘Building Hope’ Children’s centre they now have access to resources which normally would have been beyond their reach. These include extracurricular activities, safe play, and additional classes in subjects like English and Maths and the Let’s Build Great Things! Workshops.

For Let’s Build Great Things, art classes, architecture themed creative projects are used to bring out creativity, build team spirit and independence. The focus is more on making than drawing and easily available, everyday materials are used, such as discarded cardboard cartons, ekels, newspapers and such like. Often, materials that are not freely available are provided by the volunteers themselves.

Learning about different subjects through creativity is also fun. A workshop on habitats was done through building different homes in clay, inspired by their class tour of ‘Ape Gama’. When the Youth Observer visited the children, they were involved in making kites, parachutes, paper planes and dragonflies as part of the workshop titled ‘Things that fly’.

Funds have to be generated to keep Let’s Build Great Things viable, and Ranitri and her co- volunteers also do fundraising. Last year, they conducted a very successful fundraiser on Whatsapp to take their class on a tour of Colombo, while the money from the Goodman fellowship won by Ranitri, went towards a series of annual workshops and an illustrated guide.

Sahani Gunasekera, a graphic designer by trade, has now taken on the baton as the main art class ‘volunteacher’, and supports the Let’s Build curriculum. Along with Ranitri are her sister Eresha, sisters Kavya and Saakya Rajawasan and exemplary past student Suren Surendran, who all work enthusiastically to make these classes a reality. Through their newest volunteer, AadhiJayaseelan, they hope to add a new dimension to their classes by including art therapy. Together, they all make a crucial team in helping kids Build Great Things! Through art making.