High density high rise vertical living for low income people in Colombo, Sri Lanka: Learning from Pruitt-Igoe

Thushara Samaratunga, Daniel O'Hare

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The Colombo Master Plan (2008) reveals that there are 66,000 households within the City of Colombo living in squalid slums and shanties unfit for human habitation. They represent 51 per cent of the total city population, and live in 1,506 pockets of human concentration identified as Under Served Settlements (USS) encumbering on state owned lands with no title. About 390 hectares of valuable prime lands in the City have succumbed to the encroachment process during the past five decades. Moreover they have engulfed all the environmentally sensitive low lying areas, canal banks and flood retention areas as well as roads, railway reservations and other open spaces. Since gaining independence in 1948, the Sri Lankan government has devoted much attention to finding a solution for this situation and has successively introduced policies, programs and projects to overcome poor housing in Colombo. However, most of these programs have proven to be only temporary fixes, and have not made any significant long-term impact to the housing sector overall. This research paper discusses the Sri Lankan government’s policy move towards high-rise high-density low income public housing as an appropriate solution for slums and shanties in Colombo City. It is noted that high-rise housing for low income people is not a universally accepted solution for housing for low income people and some countries have totally rejected high-rise for low income housing due to significant failures in the past. At the same time, some other countries claim success in high-rise housing for low income people including uplifting low income people to a middle income status through high rise housing. Therefore high-rise low income housing remains a controversial topic in many developed and developing countries. This paper revisits the literature on Pruitt-Igoe in order to identify lessons that may assist Sri Lankan authorities to avoid similar failures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-133
Number of pages6
JournalArchitecture Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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