August 2014


Arcade Independence Square: A modern renaissance of colonial grandeur
August 2014




H-shaped section of the Arcade: colonial grandeur resurrected

Words Prasadini Nanayakkara Photography Indika De Silva and Damith Wickramasinghe


"...this building whether the exact present plan be adhered to or modified, will be from its structural merits and the decorative character of the grounds attached to it, one of the future ornaments of the city."

-Governor Sir William Gregory, 1875-


So reads an excerpt from the Governor's memoir, making an accurate prediction of this monumental building that now stands restored to its former glory. The Governor's words that remain a testament to the building's true worth, are etched in stone today at the now beautified Arcade Independence Square along with its historical journey.


The concept, vision and attention to every aspect down to the finer details that have resulted in the complete resurrection of the building from its dilapidated state are wholly attributed to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development. Two years ago, the building that barely made any visual impact is simply hard to miss today and exudes an aura of glory and renaissance.


The Arcade Independence Square is the latest amongst many developments towards the beautification of the City, and can be viewed as the most iconic 
of structures. Brought to successful fruition in a span of just two years through the joint efforts of the Army, Navy and the Urban Development Authority, the Arcade Independence Square has had an arduous journey to reach its present state.


The building complex initiated 
in 1879 was intended to function as 
an asylum, and ‘a pavilion model' 
was adopted to house the insane. 
The construction took place amidst much criticism, as the 14-acre land extent was deemed unsuitable for this purpose. Complete with four wings, 
the complex included an entrance block, administrative wing, and stretches of corridors. That it once was home to about 400 patients is a far cry from 
its new identity.


Prior to its restoration plans, the building served as the complex to accommodate offices of the Government Auditor General's Department and the Government Analyst. Sections had run into such disrepair and neglect that it took the manpower of close to 200 soldiers and six months of work to clear the spaces and fully reveal the original structure. 
80 to 90 percent of the spaces 
were crowded with huts and the beautiful arches seen today, were hidden beneath secondary layers of plaster. With the construction, management and maintenance in the capable hands of the Army and Navy, the complex has flourished to become a spectacular landmark in the city. The structure seen today remains true to the original complex untouched and preserved to perfection with no additions or alterations.


The parking spaces for the complex are generously allocated with stone floors laid out with blocks carefully salvaged from an olden day granary. It is believed that these blocks may be close to three centuries old. Older than the Arcade! The aesthetic value and appeal of the entire complex, basks in the limelight with all impeding elements removed. As a result, free and open spaces, sizeable patches of flower beds ornament and complement it further. Beyond its stately presence the Arcade sets the perfect tone and setting to spend leisurely hours with ample space to stroll freely, and a host of shops to visit and restaurants and spaces for dining out.


The Arcade is conveniently oriented between two commonly frequented access ways, and the premises can be entered from either end. Its main entrance arches through the clock tower wing, which faces another of the country's prominent landmarks, the Independence Square. Within this space are a total of six varieties of shops that include cricketing gear, Ceylon tea, and eye wear brands. Through the Clock tower wing the path leads to spacious promenades, trimmed lawns and flowerbeds and the central section of the building that extends across in an 
H-shape. The series of arched windows and doors that display a colonial architectural elegance, along with the sheer length and breadth of the building affect a soothing influence. Amidst this space, a sense of identity is symbolised through a sculpture of lions poised boldly upon a centerpiece. This layout is mirrored on the opposing end accessed from the second entranceway. Here the centre space is ornamented with a glass-topped fish tank embedded in the floor and a display of fountains. Lit with ambient lights, by evening the collective scene carries an almost psychedelic effect.


The interior of the complex, with its wooden floors and stairways, and long corridors, hosts a total of 40 shops of renowned brands. In addition, is a food court with outdoor seating spaces to enjoy reasonably priced meals in the open air. Visitors can purchase meals either to enjoy at the premises or for take away from a choice of five stalls be it rice, sandwiches, desserts or fresh fruit juices. Aside from the restaurants, everything from jewellery, clothing, electronics to sportswear shops are housed within. Several shops and restaurants have already opened their doors, following the ceremonial and festive opening of the Arcade.


Amongst them is Kaema Sutra, a restaurant that specialises in contemporary Sri Lankan Cuisine. Offering the choicest in local cuisine, the versatile menu is befitting its name that translates to ‘art of food'. Kaema Sutra is a concept and themed restaurant brought to life by Dharshan Munidasa, Sri Lankan Restaurateur in partnership with Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez. "I really wanted to be a part of a restaurant focused on Sri Lankan cuisine as I feel that that was something lacking in Sri Lanka. I was eager to come onboard when Dharshan approached me with his novel take," states Jacqueline Fernandez.


While serving firm favourites 
such as hoppers and kottu, the 
dishes prepared at Kaema Sutra emphasise on ingredients and making Sri Lankan cuisine up to date. "We have introduced a lot of ingredients based concepts and taken simple measures that elevate the texture and ultimately the taste of Sri Lankan food," explained Dharshan Munidasa asserting that, "Kaema Sutra is not a rice and curry restaurant, but a contemporary one. "The interior of the restaurant is furnished with select elements that are instinctively associated with Sri Lankan culture to complement the theme of Kaema Sutra.


Aside from shops, and restaurants, the Arcade also houses a cinema hall located at the upper level of the wing. Whether to dine, shop or simply relish in the splendour of the site, the Arcade is a must-see and must-visit attraction for locals and tourists alike. No doubt the complex makes a compelling presence for leisure seekers and is fast becoming the latest ‘hang out' in the City.

 

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    The clock tower wing with the plaque that relays the details of the building's history

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    The people mingling along the glass topped fish tank

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    President Mahinda Rajapaksa and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa at the opening of the Arcade Independence Square. Also in the picture are Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development and Ioma Rajapaksa, Chairperson of the Seva Vanitha Unit of the Ministry of Defence

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    Minister Douglas Devananda, Chief Minister of the Western Province Prasanna Ranatunga, Ministers A H M Fowzie, Alavi Moulana, 
S B Dissanayake, Rajitha Senaratne, G L Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena and Maithripala Sirisena, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, 
First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa, Ioma Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, Priyanthi Peiris, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunge, Indrani Sugathadasa and Presidential Chief of Staff Gamini Senarath

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    Tiran Alles MP, Thilanga Sumathipala MP, Mayor of Colombo A J M Muzammil, A H M Aswar MP and Deputy Minister Faizer Mustapha among other guests at the opening ceremony

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    The Clock Tower wing

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    The sculpture of lions atop the podium

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    The two levels of the wing and the ornamental touches that embellish colonial architecture

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    The food court at the Arcade

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    Jacqueline Fernandez and Dharshan Munidasa of Kaema Sutra

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    Jacqueline Fernandez trying her hand at making kottu

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    The interior of the Kaema Sutra, the contemporary Sri Lankan cuisine restaurant

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