Architecture studios Ciriacidiehnerer Architekten, Studio Assemble and Balmond Studio have participated in the Architects Programme of the fourth Colombo Art Biennale in Sri Lanka, exploring the theme ‘Conceiving Space’. They join a wider group of architects, artists, professionals and academics, including Hirante Welandawe and Juhani Pallasmaa among others, in the community-orientated programme led by architect and academic Gihan Karunaratne.

Centred on the location of Slave Island, chosen because of its complex ethnic history and layered material culture, Karunaratne looked to create a platform for the discussion of the urban environment on a site-specific level, with the aim to bring positive benefits to the community. ‘I have always been interested in how people in Sri Lanka use spaces with such limited resources,’ says Karunaratne. ‘Most of the art and architecture exhibitions and education platforms in Sri Lanka are only available to a certain type of demographic. We wanted to make something that is accessible to anyone and everyone.’

‘Together with a local wood carver we represent Slave Island’s built status quo, not as vulnerable urban context up for development, but as an entity and project in itself,’ says Professor Alex Lehnerer of Ciriacidis Lehnerer Architekten

Each of the architectural projects found ways to engage the community and are permanent installations. Professor Alex Lehnerer of Ciriacidis Lehnerer Architekten led a project titled ‘As of Twenty Sixteen’ in collaboration with a team of international architecture students, which saw the realisation of an architectural model of the community made by local woodcarvers and displayed as a permanent public work. ‘Our intention is to provide a physical snapshot of the area’s contemporary morphology. Over time the model will naturally become a historical artefact as the area, with its houses as index of its inhabitants, will continue to change and develop,’ says Lehnerer.

Finding ways to visualise and communicate the importance of community space, Finnish architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa with Alberto Foyo and Tony van Raat also built an architectural model of 1:50 scale of the existing Nawala Community Centre, developing ideas for the future of the centre.

‘The communities and the acts have taught each other things, so they have learnt from each other. Hopefully they can continue to collaborate and bring their new skills forward in their every day life,’ says curator Gihan Karunaratne of the Architects Programme

Studio Assemble and Dutch artist Madelon Vrisendorp devised a series of workshops for the making of objects from street decorations to costumes, all inspired by the material culture and craft of Sri Lanka, while, looking for ways to enhance the lived experience of the individual in the community of Slave Island, Hirante Welandawe of H W Architects created ‘sky gardens’ on scaffolded islands above the streets, opening up green space within the urban environment.

Working more conceptually, Balmond Studio created a video work operated by an algorithm titled Ethera, which was a meditation on how pattern and sequence form in the architectural environment, questioning the extent of the presence of an omnipotent creator.