A walk with aspiring Architect Sumudu Athukorala | Sunday Observer
Winner of Young Architect Award 2020

A walk with aspiring Architect Sumudu Athukorala

The Avenue Restaurant - Architect Sumudu Athukorala
The Avenue Restaurant- Architect Sumudu Athukorala

This week’s Youth Observer Cover story is dedicated to the multi-faceted, young artist Sumudu Athukorala who marked his imprint in one of his specialties - Architecture, winning the Young Architect Award at the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects Design awards 2020 held recently. Settling in a cosy corner of his own architectural setting at ‘The Avenue’ - one of the new additions of Colombo high-end restaurant culture and tapping into the thoughts of his enthralling, artistic career, Sumudu began by giving us an insight into his journey with architecture so far.

“I draw creative inspiration from various facets of my life,” recalling his first inspiration to select Architecture as his career path, Sumudu says it wasn’t a conscious decision he made to continue his higher studies in the stream of Architecture, rather he always wanted to be a filmmaker. However, Art and painting was his ‘thing’ from his school days. Soon after his A/Ls’, one of his older brother’s friends Dayal Bandara (Professional Architect, passed away a few years ago) who appreciated his talent in the Arts and ignited the very first spark of Architecture by introducing him to the Degree program in Architecture at the University of Moratuwa. The first two years at the university was a tough journey with too much technicality involved, and Sumudu hardly saw an avenue for his creative bubble to burst. There were times when Sumudu had doubts about his selection of career and a few attempts at giving it up were guided for reconsideration through his father and brother’s help. However, all his self-doubts diminished during the final semester where he could bridge the gap between his creative soul and the technicality of the subject and he opened up a world of imagination in architecture.

Sumudu graduated from the University of Moratuwa with a Bachelor’s of Science and Master’s in Science in Architecture. The year 2005 was somewhat remarkable in Sumudu’s architecture career as he joined MICD Associates as a project Architect and got the opportunity to work for the world renowned Architect Channa Daswatte and Architect Murad Ismail, the aspiring duo in Sri Lankan architecture scene after Geoffrey Bawa.

“Channa Daswatta was my inspiration and my second university of architecture,” Sumudu says thoughtfully. “I learnt not only the science of architecture through him but was exposed to so many other subject areas which lightened up my thinking of architecture.”

He started his own architectural practice in 2015 and being a passionate writer on architecture, cinema and art he was awarded the Architectural Publication Award in 2015 and Architectural Publication Silver Award in 2017 by the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects. He continues to write to the Architect and Vastu journals published by SLIA on theories of architecture and works of other architects. He has been writing to local publications for several years to develop the awareness of the public on architecture and art. His main focus is art and architecture, social and cultural aspects of architecture and appreciation of the works of local architects.

Sumudu has a self-criticism as being a shadow of Channa Daswatta in some of his architectural work. “It is not copying as there are significant differences in my work and his, which cannot be compared. But I must admit that I’m highly influenced and obsessed by his work. Therefore, it’s quite natural that I follow him unconsciously,” Sumudu says frankly.

Being always critical about his subject, Sumudu believes that the major hindrance in architectural development in Sri Lanka is that the thinking beyond the obvious and recycled ideas should not be the way of architecture but rather incorporating new and fresh ideas to produce something that people appreciate.

It is true that architecture has restricted its scope within an elitist discourse and for a certain class in the society and moved away from the public for some decades. However, this superior attitude which marked binaries in society gradually changed with time and the subject of architecture has become more people oriented and democratic.

“Unlike those days, today architecture is not a luxury anymore and is somewhat considered as a need when it comes to construction work. I strongly believe that architecture should respect humanity, and not a dividing tool of society,” says Sumudu.

It is no big deal for an artist who knows the basics of many art forms to realise that the basic formula for any art form is pretty similar. Sumudu has been a multi-faceted artist who has equally blazed a trail as a short filmmaker where he won many local and international awards. He holds a Diploma in Filmmaking from the National Film Corporation and he was a fellow of the Asian Film Academy at Busan, South Korea in 2011.

‘Hole in the Wall’, ‘Dragonfly Scream’, ‘83’ and ‘Love in a time of Pollution’ are a few of his notable short film efforts. Of these, ‘Hole in the Wall’ was a beautiful, mixed medium, visual expression where he mixed architectural drawings with visuals to bring forth social criticism in a simple yet magnificent way.

Sumudu was always excited and curious about what life has to offer. Being a person who always enjoys the process of the journey, his ambition is to create an economically sustainable, low budget, architecture model of housing for middle-income families and individuals. By winning the Young Architect Award 2020, Sumudu has a few important points to share with fellow architects and architecture students who look up to a career in the field of architecture.