|Burning Man Thunderdome, Nevada, 2009 (source)
||The British High Comission, designed by Richard Murphy Architects and Milroy Perera Associates, Colombo (source)
While the Mad Max trilogy was filmed almost entirely in Australia (launching Mel Gibson’s career), its visual language was thereafter adopted by the anarchist and gangster rap sub-cultures of America’s West Coast. The films, released in the early 1980s, relied on a dystopian punk aesthetic: dust, grease, blood and engine parts. These visual cues paralleled a storyline depicting a world in chaos.
The Burning Man Festival, staged yearly in the desert in Nevada, is perhaps the most overt celebration of the post apocalyptic anarchistic aesthetic of the films (although firearms and motor vehicles are prohibited at the event). Just as in Barterville from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the Burning Man organization claims that ‘there are no rules about how one must behave or express oneself’ at the festival—a polite version of lawlessness. In addition, one of the central features of the festival is a full sized re-creation of the Thunderdome, erected by the Death Guild (a San Francisco punk music label), where nightly death matches are held (no one has actually died, as foam batons take the place of actual weapons). In recent years, pranksters replaced the Thunderdome signage with a banner reading ‘Hot Topic’, the name of a popular chain that markets goth merchandise to bored suburban teenagers—perhaps a critique of the Death Guild’s ode to a movie that grossed $36,000,000 domestically for Warner Brothers in 1985 and a reflection on the absurdity of a sanitized death ring.
The anarchist community was not the only Californian sub-culture to adopt the Mad Max aesthetic. The themes of anarchy and lawlessness were equally relevant to the West Coast gangster rap scene of the 90′s, which romanticized brutality against the police, violent crime and the drug trade. The video for Tupac Shakur’s California Love is said to have been filmed on the original set of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and generally parallels the themes of the movie. Appropriately, this was Tupac’s first single after serving eleven months in prison on sexual assault charges and following having been shot five times in a coup by rival musicians. In 1996, this rebellious lifestyle would lead to Tupac’s demise. While driving his BMW late one night in Vegas, Tupac received four fatal gunfire shots to his pelvis, chest, right hand and thigh from rivals in a white Cadillac—a final perverse nod to the dust, grease, blood and engine part aesthetics of the Mad Max films.
E. Sean Bailey
While the West Coast of Sri Lanka has experienced a lot of turmoil over the years, it managed to escape the worst effects of the war and the tsunami, events that ravaged other parts of the country. The focal point of the West Coast is Colombo, the island’s main harbor and former capital. It is a place that most strongly reflects evidence of Sri Lanka’s three colonial regimes: the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English. These powers left behind a non-vernacular architectural legacy imported directly from their colonial homelands. In contrast, recent times have seen a diplomatic shift in how foreign parties are approaching building in Sri Lanka as evinced by the newly built British High Commission in Colombo.
The British High Commission was designed by Scottish architect Richard Murphy in collaboration with Sri Lankan architect Milroy Perera, a former colleague of Geoffrey Bawa’s. The design is heavily influenced by Bawa in regards to its formal layout and use of a rich variety of local materials. In this building, the presence of sixteen internal and peripheral courtyards are a dominant recurring device, with variations that range from pools to gardens. Murphy had previously proposed courtyards for Jesus College, Cambridge, but similar precedents can also be found locally in Sri Lanka. Examples of similar forms can be seen at Sigiriya which is a fifth-century fortress that is topped with a series of pools and many of Bawa’s designs such as the Bluewater Hotel which also contain courtyards and pools. While the design heavily references local architectural traditions, the building is also clearly influenced by the the architectural works of celebrated Western architects such as Carlo Scarpa’s Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice and Louis Khan’s National Assembly Building in Dhaka. As a result of this inclusive approach, Murphy’s embassy serves as an ambassador for current British architecture, reflecting a respectful contemporary attitude towards its host.
Erandi de Silva
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