The world never lacks inspiring monumental buildings. Viewers stare in awe, but those who visualized the architectural wonders tend to become an afterthought. Frank Lloyd Wright claimed that “Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.” As emphasized, an Architect should be able to able to ‘cater to the moment’ at the same time attempting to forecast the future impressions; a timeless craft. The City School of Architecture, Colombo has advocated and actively contributed for the craft for over 3 decades. Chartered Architect, Urban Designer and the Head of School Prof. Lal Balasuriya shared an illuminating explanation on the demand for Sri Lankan Architects while acknowledging the school’s role within the industry.
What is the inspiration behind City School of Architecture? Where did it all begin?
The school originally started 35 years ago as a course of lectures leading to the dual exams (part 1 and 2) held by the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects. The part 1 course was launched in 1986, while the part 2 course was later offered in 1991. The local university system had limited entry. The primary goal of the school was to include those were disadvantaged by these restrictions within the higher education university intake.
As the school grew, the need to upgrade its features to facilitate a higher level of education arose; rather than just training draftsman who were already in the practice. A significant demand surged among school leavers for a formal course. The SLIA took up the challenge and commenced a special course under its Board of Management; thus it was directly under its supervision. In due time, they started the Colombo School of Architecture. Senior Architects felt that this should act as a separate entity. Consequently, after 3-4 months, the City School of Architecture was formulated as a stand-alone company. It has its own individual corporate personality, but it still operated under the umbrella of the SLIA.
As the courses provided got established and demanded, the school opted to obtain Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) recognition, which was duly achieved in 2011. Afterwards, tie-ups and affiliations with foreign universities further diversified the available courses provided, while giving a boost for the recognition of the diplomas provided. These affiliations gave CSA the opportunity to offer transnational degrees in addition to the higher diplomas. The students can achieve 4 qualifications with 1 sitting (the diploma, UWE Bristol degree, RIBA exemption, SLIA exemption).
What are the affiliated universities? What are the courses which are offered?
Two courses are provided. The part 1 is the Bachelors in Architecture while part 2 is the Masters in Architecture and Environmental design. These 2 degrees are offered by the University of the West of England Bristol, UK. In the Guardian University Guide, UWE is currently ranked as 12 out of 53 Institutions which offer Architecture programme. The partnership was negotiated in 2012. RIBA gives accreditations once every 5 years; and close associations with SLIA is maintained by CSA.
Considering the nature of each intake, each batch consist of 50 students. Applications are issued during the month of August to September. Considering the current situation, Application submission deadline is extended to 31st October 2021 and enrollment occurs before 25th November and finally, classes will commence on the 3rd of December 2021.
Can you give a glimpse into the life of a student of CSA?
The duration of studies for CSA students is 6 years, since 2 years are allocated for part-time work. Students are required to receive on-field work experience within this 2 year. That is to become a Chartered Architect. In total, the duration for academic work is 6 years. This implies that the students create a strong bond with the staff. 1-1 tutoring is the best mode to deliver education when design training is concerned, and such an atmosphere is ever-present within CSA. Student Counselors are present, but technically, every staff member can pose as a counselor, since such an understanding and mutual connection is built between lecturer and student.
CSA gives prominence for sports. The school has a cricket team which can pose a challenge to formidable opponents. Regular practice sessions are held with the SLIA team. Apart from cricket table tennis, carom, badminton and futsal are available as recreational activities. Regular field visit (both for academic and non-academic purposes) are undertaken as leisurely excursions.
Students organize social events amongst themselves to socialize. Jamborees organized by the SLIA creates a link between students of CSA and the students of the University of Moratuwa. The outward-bound programs and social work conducted with close association with these entities acts as positive influence for the students. An annual talent show is held at the start of each year to appreciate the hidden talent within the students of CSA. It is evident that the life of a student at CSA is never dull nor monotonous.
What can be expected from the lecturer panel?
All the hired lecturers are qualified architects and engineers from professional bodies. There are 17 permanent staff members who are fully qualified and trained in academic work. Some are graduates of the University of Moratuwa (UOM) while some are CSA graduates. We also have some Senior staff graduated from the foreign Universities. Additionally, the doors are open for our lecturers to visit UWE and other foreign Universities if they wish to receive international training. The background knowledge to train teachers for architectural work is embedded within our DNA.
All permanent academic staff of the CSA are members of the SLIA and maintain a high level of integrity and ethics, and are committed to the educational process at CSA.
A lecturer who wishes to deliver education on designing in the part 1 course is expected to have minimum 3 years of post-chartered experience; 5 years’ experience to tutor in the part 2 course. The unique feature for student evaluation is that it is conducted through external sources. This eliminates bias and individual preference thus ensuring complete transparency. Senior architects in the profession and an overseas expert from either India or Singapore visit to mark, moderate and evaluate student progress.
Regular visits from the RIBA and SLIA makes way for an academic audit of the institute to renew the accreditation. The process is complicated, with all students and staff both being interviewed to determine standards. Annually, UWE send a panel to conduct an academic audit to monitor the standards.
What is different about CSA? Why should CSA be the ideal choice?
Once a student graduates, he/she is recognized as a chartered architect without haste. A widely accepted British degree is offered. Given the strategic location of the institute, expert architects can easily visit and share inspiration and motivation with the students. Our students have international recognition. The Commonwealth nations readily accommodate our students in their Masters courses or offer post-graduate degrees for those who are considering to receive higher-specialized qualifications and accreditation.
What is your message for aspiring architects?
I won’t claim that architecture is meant for everybody. It is a skill which requires a certain level of creativity. That is the core reason for the aptitude test held by CSA before enrollment. If the student has the expected aptitude or desire/passion to pursue designing and creativity, this is the ideal place and time to start the journey.
CSA evaluates the aptitude and gives feedback whether if it is advisable to progress further within the field. This saves time which could be spent on experimenting other fields which the student can excel in. Once accepted, it is guaranteed that every facility is provided to become a fully-fledged architect, with proper guidance extended at every progressive step. Employment opportunities never cease to exist and that is why you should strive for excellence.
Finally, on a personal level, a person can feel that architecture is a transformational craft; it keeps on evolving and transforming. Consistent learning is required in order to remain updated because new innovations pop up on a regular basis. It is an experience which will never go out of style. In the end, an architect creates a legacy which can be appreciated for many generations, even if due credits tend to be forgotten over time.
Due to Current challenges to academic work brought by the Covid-19 Virus and the number of lockdown periods imposed in the country, the CSA has temporarily resorted to online and remote education methods to minimize the delays to the education process and give opportunity for students to complete their education programs as quickly as possible. Such procedures enabled the students and staff to be occupied at home during lockdowns and keep them mentally alert and academically productive, while safeguarding their health.
Author: Randheer Mallawaarachchi
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