‘After London, it was Venice – the Renaissance city, gilded, lustrous. An exercise in proportion. A marriage of water and stone. Never mind that the city sinks, the romance of it is too great to ignore. Islands of arches and campanelli, Palladio’s Basilica, the Piazza San Marco – all of it fainting frame by frame into the Adriatic. Even Rome, for all its claims to immortality, will lie in dust one day,she thinks. Ultimately all our work will find its match in the elements. Stone or concrete, brick or glass.’ – Plastic Emotions, Shiromi Pinto
Minnette de Silva’s is Srilanka’s first female architect who spearheaded the rebuilding of a country’s infrastructure after independance. She is also the first woman to be elected to the Royal Institute of British Architects. With many feathers to her cap, Minnette’s life is unearthed in this prose with the beauty of a verse. Minnete is a feminist icon and her life for long has been neglected. Shiromi Pinto in Plastic Emotions traces the nuances of Minette’s life which is eventful, noted with poise and elan in the book, evoking the character of the pioneer of a unique architectural style.
Known as Tropical Modernism, her style was the combination of nature, landscaping and traditional workmanship. She created a style that infused the traditional craftsman’s ship and modernist methods. Though educated abroad, she was keen on forming a style that was inspired from Srilanka’s traditions. She spearheaded a housing development scheme in Kandy, the second largest city in Srilanka. Minnette introduced a participatory approach, initiating discussions with the people on the concepts they had about their abode. Her style confirmed the presence of Nature by featuring open courtyard and verandahs. She played clever with light and shade, reoriented her signature style when it came to restricted spaces and cost effective builds.
She worked at a time when the restrictions were strict, procuring the raw materials were a herculean task. Pinto narrates the story in Minnette’s voice and through the voice of the people she was connected to, the most important being the Swiss modernist Le Corbusier. Her strained relationship with Le Corbusier, her mentor is a complex episode in the narrative. The naive side of an otherwise strong character is exposed at certain instances. But that is not there to last. Working in a male dominated field, she had to develop thick skin to deflect the criticisms and setbacks that came her way.
Plastic Emotions traces a forgotten legacy. It is a tribute to an icon who felt sidelined in a field dominated by men and who worked fearlessly at the time of turbulence across the globe. It tells us about an architect who was an idealist.