New Parliament

Situated in the middle of the Diyawanna Oya in the official administrative capital of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte on a roughly polygonal, sharp-angled islet, the new Parliamentary building is a beautiful work of architecture that somewhat echoes the older Kandyan and aristocratic southwestern art styles in its conception and creation. There are also traces of regional modernism in the architecture of the place. The artificial lake of Diyawanna is not a new feature. In fact it has been around for hundreds of years since the early days of the European Renaissance in fact, and thus was the center of the Kingdom of Kotte. More specifically, the little isle was once the home of Nissanka Alagakkonara, the minister of King Vikramabahu III of Kotte.

The minister and his family were powerful warriors and tradesmen who actually held power in the Western Province for sometime from their own provincial dominion of Raigama, which acted as an independent kingdom much stronger than the other contemporary dominions. Alagakkonara’s family designed the fortress and citadel of the new city of Sri Jayawardenapura over six centuries ago to protect the western coast from the South Indian kingdoms. Thus it seems fitting that the administrative building be located here. In its general design the Parliament is almost a knockoff of the Temple of the Tooth to the casual passerby. Yet it still bears its own wonder and a sense of uniqueness to it, especially when one views it from above. You will witness two walkways on either side of the mini-islet, leading to and from the complex from the road outside.

Over on the banks of the Diyawanna, one can clearly see it as it is currently, standing tall with its exaggeratedly longhouse-like appeal that stems from the large, low tiled roof, and the flat little piece of land on which it lies. The charm of the Parliamentary Building is most obvious during the sunset when the colors wash over the sides of the roof, giving it a magnificent golden sheen. It is certainly fitting given that the building was designed by Geoffrey Bawa himself. It was commissioned originally by the then prime minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, in 1979. The president at the time was the first executive president, J.R. Jayawardane, who declared the Parliamentary Complex open three years later. Asides from that, these buildings have had a distinguished albeit short history. The Parliament’s headquarters have been shifted many times over the years. The original building was actually built in 1930, and is now used as the main offices of the Presidential Secretariat, while a number of relocation proposals had been made since the time. At one time, there was a proposal to construct a building on the opposite side of the Beira Lake, although nothing came of these plans.  

Written by Vasika Udurawane for

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