Force of nature: the Oculus channels the Sri Lankan landscape through its form

Located in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, this guest residence for a wind farm site was commissioned by Windforce Ltd.
(Image credit: Mahesh Mendis)

Rising up from the flat grasslands of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, the Oculus, designed by architecture firm Palinda Kannangara, is a residence for staff and visitors at the Jaffna wind power farm. Commissioned by Windforce, the Oculus sits at the first point of the axis which extends across the landscape to the wind farm hosting 16 wind power turbines, and the main monitoring station building, where the wind farm is controlled from.

The Oculus is named after the circular opening carved out in the centre of the building’s square roof. A pivot of natural light, water and the changing seasons, the oculus radiates light through the building and frames a view of the towering windmill beside it. Directly beneath the opening on the ground floor, a small pool of water gathers reaching various heights of depth across the seasons and catching the reflection of the windmill.

The sculptural staircase, exposed to the open landscape, meets the oculus pool

The sculptural staircase, exposed to the open landscape, meets the oculus pool in a dramatic architectural moment

(Image credit: Mahesh Mendis)

A force of architecture with its concrete form is sturdy and strong, the design is not imposing on the environment, yet sensitive to its seasonal fluctuations and open to its beauty. High ceilings of 14ft and cut out spaces without windows reduce its solidity and open up the ground floor to the grassy landscape, which encroaches into the space at the edges.

The ground floor, which is hoisted two feet above the landscape, has a social open-plan design with the shallow pool at the core. The kitchen and dining room are enclosed, as are the caretakers quarters. A rough spiral staircase made of stone pavers winds up to the upper level where the sleeping and living quarters for visiting engineers, staff members and guests are located. Cut out windows in the four corner bedrooms reveal the depth of the concrete, into which glazed and timber screens can be hidden within.

Microclimatic modulation was used to moderate temperature including timber screens and extended sunshades

Microclimatic modulation was used to moderate temperature including timber screens and extended sunshades, fused seamlessly into the design

(Image credit: Mahesh Mendis)

The timber screens as well as additional sunshades are designed as layers of protection against the extreme heat of the Jaffna sun, filtering light through to the inner glazed screens. Opened up they display endless views – after the monsoon, the landscape is blessed with clear blue skies extending across the scrubland.

Responding in colour and materiality to the earthy hues of the seasonal grasses, the tidal mudflat that extend for miles around the building and the blue-grey surface of the Jaffna lagoon, the polished cement floors and matte cement finished walls of the Oculus are cool and tactile like the exposed concrete form – only the bedrooms are painted white to soften the interior.

The 4,715 sq ft building made of exposed concrete with cement floors and walls

The 4,715 sq ft building made of exposed concrete with cement floors and walls within is simple and functional yet extremely sensitive to its surroundings 

(Image credit: Mahesh Mendis)

The sculptural spiral staircase is made from stone pavers with an eroded aesthetic

The sculptural spiral staircase is made from stone pavers with an eroded aesthetic that blends with the natural landscape

(Image credit: Mahesh Mendis)

An oculus in the centre of the roof reveals views of the windmill beside the building

An oculus in the centre of the roof reveals views of the windmill beside the building

(Image credit: Mahesh Mendis)

Inner glazed screen disappear neatly into the walls opening up the interior to uninhibited views of the surrounding scrubland

Inner glazed screen disappear neatly into the walls opening up the interior to uninhibited views of the surrounding scrubland

(Image credit: Mahesh Mendis)

the four bedrooms are located in the four corners of the rectangular plan

The upper floor consists of a living area, two rooms for staff and two rooms for guests, the four bedrooms are located in the four corners of the rectangular plan

(Image credit: Mahesh Mendis)

The landscape architect on the project was Varna Shashidhar

The landscape architect on the project was Varna Shashidhar 

(Image credit: Mahesh Mendis)

The roof supported by steel props slopes inwards toward the oculus in the centre of the roof

The roof supported by steel props slopes inwards toward the oculus in the centre of the roof, collecting water below, moderating temperature during the hot monsoon season

(Image credit: Mahesh Mendis)

INFORMATION
For more information, visit the Palinda Kannangara website (opens in new tab)

Harriet Thorpe is a writer, journalist and editor covering architecture, design and culture, with particular interest in sustainability, 20th-century architecture and community. After studying History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Journalism at City University in London, she developed her interest in architecture working at Wallpaper* magazine and today contributes to Wallpaper*, The World of Interiors and Icon magazine, amongst other titles. She is author of The Sustainable City (2022, Hoxton Mini Press), a book about sustainable architecture in London, and the Modern Cambridge Map (2023, Blue Crow Media), a map of 20th-century architecture in Cambridge, the city where she grew up.