Colombo Journal: “City within a City” project advances Sri Lanka’s modern look

By Ron Bernthal

A new, mixed-use building project in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, will soon bring additional attention to this island nation that has already become a destination where business investment in new hospitality projects has increased dramatically during the past several years.

Developed by the John Keells Group, Sri Lanka’s largest conglomerate, the highly anticipated Cinnamon Life project is expected to open in phases, beginning in late-2020 when a 30-story office tower and 427 residential units (in two additional towers) opens for new tennants. A year later the 5-star Cinnamon Life hotel will open with 800 guest rooms, a conference center for up to 4,700 meeting and convention attendees, numerous culinary venues, entertainment facilities, and five floors of retail space.

Cinnamon Life project, Colombo, Sri Lanka (Renderings courtesy Cinnamon Life)

“As the largest private sector investment project in Sri Lanka, with $850 (U.S) million, the development is attracting international investors looking for a prime real estate opportunity,” said Roshanie Jayasundera-Moraes, Chief Marketing Officer for Cinnamon Life. “This culinary and entertainment hub will continue to bring to Colombo an on-going series of world class events, and become the ultimate lifestyle hub on the island.”

(rendering courtesy Cinnamon Life)

The expansive complex is being constructed on Colombo’s Slave Island, a busy commercial area around the city’s natural harbour. Situated on and overlooking a bend in the docklands’ waterway, the architecture of the project, as well as its office, culinary and retail amenities, will attract both business and leisure visitors to Sri Lanka’s capital city. A collection of glazed towers will surround a sculptural “fin” of accommodations, out of which will protrude a series of cantilevered and supported boxes that will seem to float over a built up base below. The 10-acre development will redefine Colombo’s skyline, creating a modern and vibrant neighborhood in a city whose documented history goes back 3,000 years.

The project’s chief architect, Cecil Balmond, was born in Sri Lanka and has worked on the CCTV Tower in Beijing with Rem Koolhaas; the ArcelorMittal Orbit for London’s 2012 Olympics with Anish Kapoor; Scotland’s Star of Caledonia project, and many others. “Cinammon Life will be a composition of several forms, from an architecture and design point of view, and it will be like nothing Sri Lanka has ever seen,” Balmond said.

Working on a tea plantation in the Kandy region of Sri Lanka (photo courtesy Sri Lanka Tourism)

Several of Colombo’s oldest neighbourhoods are found in the area of Slave Island. The district was once surrounded by water, and where the Dutch kept slaves during colonial times, but after regeneration and development it is no longer an island in the traditional sense. Largely a derelict area during Sri Lanka’s 23 years of Civil War, it has become a vibrant commercial center, filled with government offices, restaurants, hospitals, corporate offices, cinemas, religious places, residential apsartments, and now the site of the massive Cinnamon Life project. The Headquarters of the Sri Lanka Air Force, Sri Lanka Army, and the City Football League are also located in the area.

However, while multilevel malls, new housing and hotel towers are rising above the area’s low-level historic buildings, visitors can still find quiet streets where Colombo’s past is visible. Although Union Place is on the edge of these new concrete structures, many narrow alleys reflect the city’s traditional 19th-century businesses and atmosphere. Some of the colonial storefronts still have trees growing out of their facades, and tiny shops in the area sell exotic products and offer locally sourced food and drinks, always appreciated during a hot and humid afternoon.

Colombo Malay Cricket Club on Slave Island (photo courtesy Abdul Halik Azeez)