Everything else.. Amoda Rathnayake: The Woman behind One of Sri Lanka’s Premier Design Firms

Amoda Rathnayake: The Woman behind One of Sri Lanka’s Premier Design Firms

2021 Oct 20

Amoda Rathnayake Associates is one of Sri Lanka’s premiere design firms with global recognition. They are leading the way in some of the most creative and innovative commercial and residential property designs in Sri Lanka, taking each client’s values and creating a unique “out-of-the-box” design for every new project. To find out more, Pulse sat down with Amoda Rathnayake and her team to hear about their journey to success.

Where does your passion for design stem from?

Design and architecture were never my first passion, and I wasn’t really into art and drawing even. However, I did have a love for music and I have a good ear for it as well. So, after I completed my A-Level exams I was thinking about what I should do for my degree, because I really wasn’t sure what I would like to do. To be frank, I didn’t even know much about interior design or architecture, and it was a complete mystery to me.

When I was searching, I came across Academy of Design and it was here that I got to know about the Architecture and Interior Design programmes that were available. After considering these two, I felt it would be more suited for me to follow the Interior Design programme.

It was while doing this programme that I realised that I actually had artistic skills and that I discovered my creative side. When I was doing the programme’s work, I found out that I was actually good at coming up with nice designs. I realised that designing came quite naturally to me. I came to realise that “this is me” and this is what I wanted to do. It was actually relaxing for me.

How did you start your design career?

Before I started off on my own, I was first working with Murad Ismail and Channa Daswatte. While working there I was also doing a few small projects for myself. Then my major turning point came when I managed to land a really big project to do on my own. It was a factory redesign project, which needed to be done from the ground up. When I was working on this, I found it hard to manage any other office work, so I decided to step away on my own and put my full focus on to my first main project.

Can you tell us about the history of Amoda Rathnayake Associates?

I started off with the factory conversion project for Niru Diamonds. Following this project, I was able to win several more design projects for commercial client sites. But, when I started Amoda Rathnayake Associates, it was just myself and one other employee, and we worked as a consultancy firm. However, while working with other contractors, I found it quite challenging as their ideas and my designs would often conflict. After about 2 or 3 years, I decided it would be easier to have the construction aspect of my designs done by my own teams. Because of this, I launched my own construction company called Jaya Builders, so that I would have the freedom to design and build without too much of a problem.

So, since first starting with the factory project with just one employee, I now have 11 others working with me at Amoda Rathnayake Associates. I should also say that throughout my firm’s journey, I was lucky to have some very good friends, family and colleagues who really helped me out and guided me to become established and venture on my own.

From where do you draw inspirations for your designs?

It’s actually hard to think of just one place or one thing where I draw my inspiration or ideas from. There are some key architects like Tadao Ando, who I admire and whose work I have followed closely. I really like his style of designs because I find that it reflects quite closely my own modern styles and designs.

When it comes to designs and concepts for clients, a lot of the ideas and inspirations come from the clients themselves. We try to do our designs to reflect our client, what they do, their corporate culture and their needs. For example, if it’s an IT firm with a lot of young employees, then the design is completely different from something we would do if we were designing an office space for senior business executives.

Understanding this is actually the key to our designs, because with it, we are creating something that the client will like, and something that will meet their expectations and needs. Only after understanding this would my team and I actually try to add our creative ideas to the design.

What was one of your most challenging designs?

That would have to be my first project that I mentioned before; the factory design. I think it really helped me to understand what went into doing a design project. It also helped to build my confidence. Because it was such a big project, even to this day it is one of my biggest projects. It was like a baptism by fire, and I was much more confident in myself and my designs after this. In addition, it was through this project that I really understood about all the other elements that have to come into play when doing a design. For example, you have to have an understanding about architecture, quantity surveying and all these other aspects of design and architecture – and this project really exposed me to all of it.

Can you tell us about the award for “Best Luxury Architect Studio in Sri Lanka” by Luxury Lifestyle Awards 2021?

It was actually quite a surprise for me, because until I received the email saying that I had won the award, I was not aware that I was even being considered. They had gone through our portfolio and the portfolios of a lot of other architects and architectural companies in Sri Lanka and picked us. When I got the email saying I had won, I was like “ok, thank you!”, because I couldn’t wrap my head around what had just happened, and I was in shock.

What has it been like to get to and be at the top of Sri Lanka’s architectural and design world?

From the perspective of other architectural firms, Amoda Rathnayake Associates, which is only 8 years old, is quite a young company. So, it has been quite challenging competing with the other top firms in Sri Lanka. But within those few years, we have been able to take on over a 100 projects. Part of that success I attribute to the success of my first big project. I believe that this really helped us to establish our name and let other companies know about what we are capable of doing.

I also have to commend the team that I have. These guys really put in a lot of effort. They work really hard and with so much passion, like this was their own business. We are like one family. I believe that this drive from my team really helped us get to where we are today.

What are your plans for the future and the future of Amoda Rathnayaka Associates?

So personally, one dream of mine is to get my Private Pilot Licence and be able to fly a small plane on my own. This was always a dream of mine and I am still keeping my eye on it.

As for Amoda Rathnayake Associates, I hope to be able keep growing as a firm and win more large projects. I also hope to one day take on work for a multinational company and establish myself in the international industry.

What message would you have for young budding architects / designers in Sri Lanka?

The first thing is, do not select architecture if you want an 8-5 type job. In addition to this, you need to have a lot of dedication towards what you are doing. You must always have the right attitude towards the work you do.

What I mean by the “right attitude” is that you should never say “no” or “can’t”. You have to always think in a positive manner. That is the main thing that you need to have to succeed.