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Silver Commendation

Bird’s eye view of the centre showing the softened massing towards the elephant habitat.
Bird’s eye view of the centre showing the softened massing towards the elephant habitat.

Centre for Ethno-Elephantology – A Cross-species Design Initiative
City School of Architecture, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Tutor: Tamara Wijayapala

Roven Rebeira explores how architecture can create symbiotic environments for both humans and wildlife at the sensitive borderland areas where cities meet animal habitats.  

His project, The Centre for Ethno-Elephantology, focuses on the co-existence of elephants and humans at the Udawalawe Nature Reserve in the south of Sri Lanka.

‘The fundamental exploration in this project was to deconstruct the notion that architecture is simply a vehicle to address a series of needs of the “human animal”,’ he says. ‘Can architecture in fact respond to the needs of other animal species?’

Rebeira used research on elephant behaviour, biology, habitats and social struc­turing to inform the design of the research centre and the surrounding landscape, with particular attention on finding an alternative to the electric fence as a way of controlling the human-animal habitat interface.

Construction is accompanied by an awareness programme to show local people, who currently feel threatened by elephants, how they could benefit economically from the new approach. This would use the style of architecture to limit damage caused by elephants to farming and homes.

Buildings are created using earth bag layered construction with bamboo as the roof and support structure. A domed form was chosen because it distributes the force equally and so performs better if attacked by an elephant. It also references the temples and granaries of traditional Sinhalese culture.

A new model village for researchers and other visitors is proposed between the centre itself and the nearby fishing community. 

Other strategies include providing corridors for elephant migration, edged with a ‘living’ fence of durian and palmyra trees, plus the planting of deterrent crops adjacent to the fence.

A condensed version of the nature reserve, with similar landscape conditions, is provided for rehabilitating orphaned ele­phants before their return to the wild.