-  An Architectural/Agricultural Journey  -

December 1, 2011

Tag sent Jerusalem architect and landscape architect Aaron Weingrod to Sri Lanka to design an agricultural training unit in Batticaloa.

I was privileged to fly to Sri Lanka on an auspicious day, 11.11.11, through Tag International Development, to help design an agricultural training centre in the northeast.”

My trip started in the capital Colombo on the west coast. I was met by my Sarvodaya coordinator Mr. Manoj Silva, and whisked away to Sarvodaya headquarters, south of the city, for a briefing with Dr. Vinya, Executive Director of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, where I received an in-depth description of the project that is in process at the Sarvodaya Batticaloa Training Centre on the formerly war- torn east coast of Sri Lanka.

Arriving in Batticaloa in the late evening, we started to work early the next morning. Mr. Manoj picked me up and we drove through town, gathering the other team members, Professor of Agriculture Mr. Arulnandhy and the Project Coordinator Mr. Thuwan. We then drove to the Training Centre where we were greeted by the director, the energetic Mr. Kareem.

Still early morning, we walked through the newly planted agricultural lands adjacent to the centre’s new buildings. The land has been broken up into small parcels starting from the basic “ kitchen crops “ most villagers grow, and including mango, palms, corn and paddies (rice) in the lower lands, and plantation crops of neem evergreen trees and herbs. Near the existing deep well there is an area for seed propagation.

I was very impressed to see the different varieties of crops. My only comment as a designer was that two “outdoor classrooms” are needed in two specific areas to provide protection from sun and rain.

We continued to the southern agricultural lands where we saw an older cashew plantation; an area set aside for individual crop parcels for students; a new cattle structure containing underground collection tanks for cow urine and manure (eco organic gardening); a large vegetable garden; cattle grasses; and an area for future forest trees. This area was also very impressive as part of the agricultural unit on the ground. Here as well I proposed that two “outdoor classrooms” be erected.

It was then that I first saw the main objective of my visit: A 1970s structure that is to be converted from one large open space into a separate classroom and demonstration room for 30 students; a laboratory; exhibition space; and AC room. My job is to synthesize all the elements required for a good design: light, air, acoustics, accessibility, budget, proportions, to name a few…

Working as a team we got out our tape measures and measured the open hall floor to ceiling, while trying not to disturb a small group working in the space. Equipped with my notes and the dimensions I barricaded myself in an adjacent room with sketch paper, a scale ruler and colored pencils and began to redesign the space.

There is something very fresh and correct that comes from designing on-site, feeling and seeing the area in question, stepping in and out of the space and accessing it again while jotting down dimensions and ideas. I was able to pop in and out, asking questions of my colleagues about lab setup, type of machinery, local construction methods, desk sizes, audio visual needs, etc.

After five hours of work I felt I was ready to present a rough concept sketch to the team. The feedback was good, I made some more changes, and by that time I was more than ready for bed.

The following day we traveled back to Colombo through the war-torn north where I saw Hindu temples, hot springs, amazing beaches and new infrastructure projects at every corner. Least to say, the 15-hour journey was an experience. Back in Colombo I spent the day in the Business Centre of my hotel, putting together a Power Point to show to the Sarvodaya team and Samuel, a well-known local architect. The presentation went well and in general the whole work experience with the dedicated Sarvodaya team was extremely positive and productive.

Back in my office in sunny, wintery Jerusalem, I am preparing detailed plans to send back to Sri Lanka for follow-up and implementation.

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