Libeskind Heads Project in Tsunami-Stricken Sri Lanka

Perhaps the most well-known contributor to this effort is Studio Daniel Libeskind, which shortly after the storm, began designing new developments for a badly-damaged fishing village in the southwest corner of Sri Lanka called Unawatuna. The firm got involved via a request from Oxford, England-based entrepeneur Orde Levinson, who had been staying in Unawatuna during the tsunami, and has developed a foundation, Unawatuna 2612, to help rebuild it.

Studio Libeskind's pro bono work includes a comprehensive master plan, including mixed and single-use neighborhoods, and designs for several buildings, including houses, craft and work centers, shops, restaurants, and guest houses. The first building, a community center, located on the site of a destroyed school, received the green light in mid-November. Dutch-based Urban Solutions, which has been involved with disaster construction projects worldwide, has consulted on the project. Unawatuna 2612 has also helped raise money to cover the firm's costs.

Most of the firm's designs, which project manager Wendy James refers to as "contemporary interpretations of vernacular buildings," combine traditional elements like courtyards, overbays, verandas, timber-slat windows, and masonry walls, with the firm's recognizable, highly-angular, design aesthetic. At least 70 buildings, including about 50 houses, are now planned. Local craftspeople and workers will help design and build the structures, says James.

Most construction will take place at least 115 feet from the shore, with housing standing at least 330 feet away, to ensure safety in case of another tsunami. If approved, developments would be placed on sites like quarries and a mangrove forest, which are now either privately or government-owned. Sales of property are still pending, and determining whether sales are valid is not easy, points out project architect Kevin Teague, because public records on land and building ownership in the area are very unclear. Fortunately, says Teague, the local and regional governments are supportive of the plan. The firm must be sure to merge the scheme with existing regional master plans.

Barring setbacks, ground should be broken on the new community center by December 26, the tsunami's one year anniversary, and construction should begin in about three to four months, says James.

The project, with its emphasis on affordable, long-term solutions, points out Studio Libeskind COO Nina Libeskind, could serve as an example not only to plans in the tsunami-hit area, where reconstruction projects are often hastily, and poorly built, but also in Louisiana and Mississippi. "It's an effort to make neighborhoods, not trailer parks," says Libeskind. She adds that one charity has already approached the firm about doing work on the Gulf Coast.

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