Following over 25 years of civil war, the reintegration of young soldiers is one of the great challenges Sri Lanka faces. The Community Library designed by Architects Milinda Pathiraja and Ganga Ratnayake from Robust Architecture Workshop in Colombo provided young men from underprivileged backgrounds with construction training during the implementation of the building.
The Community Library and Social Recuperation project was built with an aim to reintegrate soldiers into post-war Sri Lankan society. Located in the rural town of Ambepussa near Colombo, Sri Lanka, the project won the LafargeHolcim Silver Award for Sustainable Construction for 2014- 2015.
The slender building with a footprint of 1,400sqm sits lightly in the landscape and wraps around an inner courtyard, taking full advantage of cross ventilation and daylighting. Making an impressive architectural statement, the recently completed library is open to both army personnel and the neighboring communities and thereby supports a broad cross-section of the community in the process of establishing strong foundations for their future development.
The building complex 60km northwest of Colombo was constructed by soldiers who were coached in building techniques using rammed-earth walls and recycled materials that harnessed their expertise in logistics and modular construction. Building this library on a military base was not only about the physical result, but also about the process: The soldiers who worked on it acquired new skills that will ease their transition back into civilian life.
The architects’ mandate was formulated in very general terms – Build a library to serve the soldiers and the community. The program included a children’s library and a small study area. Based on this, the architects conceived a building that was sustainable in every way. They paid special attention to economic aspects: The construction materials cost was as little as possible. They proposed making the walls out of rammed earth – using waste material excavated from a playground built nearby. These walls required only a small supplement of cement – easy to build and providing thermal mass. The floors were constructed from salvaged railroad ties.