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British High Commission, Colombo, Sri Lanka

British High Commission, Colombo, Sri Lanka

In 2001 the practice won a limited competition for the design of a new British High Commission in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. The commission is an exciting international development for the practice and it is also a rare example of the Foreign Office working with an architect from outside London. We are collaborating with the architectural practice of Milroy Perera, architects in Colombo, to effect the realisation of the project.

Security considerations do not allow us to publish the plan of the High Commission on the website, however it is unusually a single storey design arranged around a series of small and intimate courtyards with the starting point of the design being the possibility of empowering the office workers to switch off the air conditioning, open windows to the courtyards and induce a breeze through their offices through a thermal chimney operating down the middle of each "leg" of the design. The section shows this arrangement and the Departments of Trade, Visa, Consulate, Aid etc are each organised on an individual leg down a central spine.

Water is used extensively in the design for pools and lakes and this together with the courtyard idea is inspired directly by traditional Sri Lankan architecture, also more recently reinterpreted through the work of the late Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa.

The social function of a High Commission building is much reduced from the popular image of an 19th century Commission and the emphasis on our design is much greater on making a pleasant working environment, allowing for future flexibility for the re-arrangement of departments and above all for a great degree of security in particular for bomb blast attack. We have worked closely with our colleagues, SKM Anthony Hunt, structural engineers, to achieve the necessary defensive structures (the whole building is made out of reinforced concrete) and also with our colleagues, Fulcrum Consulting, services engineers, to provide a design which is as energy saving and naturally ventilated as possible.

The building was formally opened in May 2008 and High Commission staff moved into the building shortly afterwards.

Below is a movie of the project and interview in support of our nomination for the Lubetkin prize 2009 (by courtesy of the RIBA):

Other Details
Architects Richard Murphy, Matt Bremner,Tim Bayman
Associated Architect Milroy Perera Associates (Pvt) Ltd
Project Manager Edmond Shipway and Partners
Engineers SKM Anthony Hunts
M&E Engineers Fulcrum Consulting
Quantity Surveyor and Contractor Edmond Shipway and Partners
Planning Supervisor Summers Inman
Landscape Architect Gross Max
Construction Cost £7.5m
Client The Foreign & Commonwealth Office

2004 Royal Scottish Academy Gold Medal for Architecture
2009 Scottish Design Award - Commendation
2009 Roses Gold Award
2009 RIBA Lubetkin Prize - Shortlisted
2009 RIBA Award

  • Winter 2012Take 5 Scottish BuildingsThe List - We Create Magazine
  • March 2010B.H.C. Colombo / Richard Murphy
  • December 2009L'identità  Delle Ambsciate Legata Al LuogoIl Giornale Dell'architettura, No.79
  • 26 July 2009The Making Of A "Diplomatic Coup"The Sunday Times Magazine
  • 2 Mar 2009Tropical AmbassadorArchitectural Review
  • 6 May 2008Duke Opens New British High Commission BuildingDaily Mirror World News
  • 13 June 2002City Firm On A High Over Colombo JobEvening News
  • 13 June 2002Architect's Embassy CoupThe Scotsman
  • 30 November 2001Embassy HopesBuilding Design
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