Post-War Collective

A library in Sri Lanka offers hope to a community after a protracted civil war

Post-War Collective

A library in Sri Lanka offers hope to a community after a protracted civil war

The Post-War Collective project, a community library in Ambepussa (Sri Lanka), aims to reintegrate former soldiers into the civilian workforce after 25 years of conflict, teaching them construction skills on-site.

The project is developed by architect Milinda Pathiraja and his team from Robust Architecture Workshop in the rural town of Ambepussa, near Colombo.
© Robust Architecture Workshop

The library, located in an army compound, aims to help former soldiers find their way back into society after decades of civil war.
© Robust Architecture Workshop

The design by local studio Robust Architecture Workshop is as much about process as it is about outcome. It targets soldiers on a military base near Colombo who hail from underprivileged backgrounds who retired from service after the war.

The structure, a 1,400 m² community library, makes use of low-impact materials and passive design strategies, advocating a way of building that is suited to the Sri Lankan context and climate.

The protruding reading room and its outdoor deck are lifted off the ground, giving occupants the illusion of floating over the surrounding terrain.
© Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The entry lobby is shaded by a slanted corrugated steel roof and flanked by rammed earth walls on each side.
© Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction
A training opportunity

The ups killing programme that was developed focused on simple techniques, able to sustain manufacturing and assembly inaccuracies. It ensures that the scheme can be tailored to gradually turn soldiers into apprentices.

The site, while under construction, was an upskilling training ground for soldiers and ex-rebels from underprivileged socio-economic backgrounds.
© Robust Architecture Workshop

The architects segmented construction into several easy-to-learn steps. Tasks were organised into grades of difficulty, allowing workers to progress as they learn.

Skylights and cubic protrusions bring in plenty of light and air, which in turn entice younger users to the building.
© Robust Architecture Workshop

Workers who have been coached on this project have been subsequently tapped to train others, thereby creating an organic system of knowledge transfer and skill upgradation.

Rammed-earth walls and recycled materials reduce costs and the ecological footprint.
© Robust Architecture Workshop
Environmental and social outcomes

The structure consists of several narrow blocks, built with rammed-earth walls and recycled materials, and sitting lightly on a sloping terrain.

The facility is a repository of knowledge for the compound’s soldiers and the nearby community.
© Robust Architecture Workshop

The blocks’ depth favours abundant cross-ventilation and daylight throughout all amenities, thereby eliminating the need for electro-mechanical systems for cooling and lighting.

The reading room lay bare its renewable, recycled and carbon-free materials. Steel comes from dilapidated factories and the timber is from old railway sleepers found in a nearby train station.
© Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The use of recycled and local materials also reduces the building’s ecological footprint.

The single-storey building mass spans across the landscape, with most of its rammed-earth walls resting on soil and its reading wing floating on rocks with GI tubes.
© Robust Architecture Workshop

The blocks are strategically placed on site, creating pockets of open space, minimising excavation work and eliminating the need to remove existing trees.

Despite being situated on a military base, the library is open to the public. It brings a valuable resource to the community, particularly school kids in the area since children from disadvantaged families often lack access to books in Sri Lanka.

Organised reading platforms within and around the building create an experiential journey through diverse volumes, framed views, and blurred distinctions between interior and exterior spaces.
© Robust Architecture Workshop

A model of the building reveals a robust yet flexible design approach, replicable and adaptable to other projects.
© Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

Even though the building is modest, the initiative speaks to a wider ambition. The construction sector in Sri Lanka, for instance, consists of a low-skill workforce who stand to benefit from the learn-as-you-build approach.

Here, the emphasis on human and social capital is noteworthy. The library and its training programme transform a community from within, offering amenity, livelihood and a symbol of hope.

Robust Architecture Workshop received Bronze award in the 2014 Holcim Awards for the Asia Pacific region for the project. It was also exhibited in the international section of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition at the 2016 Venice Biennale.

Read more about the project on Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction website.

Post sponsored by the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

A Pioneer project was ground-breaking in its day when it advanced the understanding of environmental design.




Fact Sheet

Disclaimer: Location provided as reference only. Exact site may differ.

Under the Köppen climate classification, these are ‘A’ climate types. Tropical climates have warm, moist conditions year-round, with high precipitation and narrow diurnal temperature swings. These climates occur typically between 15° N to 15° S latitude. Here, the available net solar radiation is large and relatively constant from month to month resulting in both high temperatures (generally in excess of 18° C / 64° F) and a virtual absence of thermal seasons. In many locations, annual rhythm is provided by the occurrence of wet and dry seasons.

There is no performance matrix for this project.

Sinha Regiment, Sri Lanka Army

Architect firm
Robust Architecture Workshop

Milinda Pathiraja
Ganga Ratnayake

Mechanical and electrical engineer
Sri Lanka Army Engineering Services Regiment

Civil and structural engineer
A. Wickramasinghe

Sinha Regiment, Sri Lanka Army

Sinha Regiment, Sri Lanka Army

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