Kanishka Perera

Current Employment: Senior Architect, Proprietor and Director at the Pollen Studio

Education: University of East London – Degree in Architecture and Diploma in Architecture,
University College London – Charter in Architecture

Return to Sri Lanka

Kanishka studied architecture in London and was lucky enough to receive a part scholarship to do so. He graduated at the top of his class in 2003 and was placed within the top 100 students in the UK that year. He was also nominated for the prestigious President’s Medal (Silver) the same year, for his work on the consolidation of the University of East London in the Docklands (the ‘Moving Project’).

He spent 10 years working in the UK on a variety of projects in a number of sectors and for the most part was employed at BDP one of the largest multidisciplinary practices in Europe. His design experience at BDP was primarily concerned with hospitals, schools and universities, but also included commercial sector projects as well as housing developments.

At the end of 2011 Kanishka negotiated a sabbatical, which allowed him to travel and take a much needed break. During this period he spent four months in his homeland where he noticed visible changes taking place in a post-war Sri Lanka.  He felt a tangible sense of a changing mind set amongst people. Knowing that he wanted to be part of that change – he decided that it was time to come home

Thoughts on careers and professional development

In the summer of 2012 Kanishka moved back to Sri Lanka with the intention of setting up something unique and which epitomized the values he wanted to bring both to the design process and work culture within architectural practices in Sri Lanka.

Initially he began working as a partner at Building Design – a medium sized architecture practice in Colombo where he completed the renovation of the main lobby and common areas at the Ramada Hotel Colombo.

Alongside this, he set up Pollen Studio in 2014 both as a design consultancy and a collective. Although most of the projects are solely run by Kanishka, the Pollen Studio functions as a design collective, and has done so for some time prior to its formal establishment in 2014. Amongst its recent projects are the Trunk store fit out and the Foot Rub installation at Crescat Boulevard. The Pollen Studio is unique as it involves ongoing loose collaborative works between professionals in the industry – architects, sustainability experts and specialist engineers.  It fosters a flat hierarchical structure to enable employees to learn more, take on added responsibility and enjoy a profit share.

Kanishka feels that an important advantage of having one’s own business in Sri Lanka is the ability to be selective about the design work one takes on, whilst at the same time enjoying a healthier climate and a more fulfilling lifestyle. He values the luxury of being able to decline work which isn’t aligned with his professional aspirations, being something he might not have had the opportunity to do during his employment for a large practice in the United Kingdom. Kanishka himself is now focusing on high end interiors – as he has noticed a gap in the market in that respect.

Opinions about work culture

Kanishka was accustomed to working with European nationals at his previous place of work, and found that his biggest challenge, from the moment he began working in Sri Lanka, was a laid back work ethic. He found himself adapting by surrounding himself with professionals who were driven and eager to learn. In fact Pollen Studio strives to recruit employees of this nature and in return it offers its employees, a great deal of training and insight gained from overseas exposure.

The second challenge he found were clients. Firstly finding the right type of clients with a genuine interest in design and who were open to benefiting from his exposure in London. Secondly identifying those clients who could afford to pay a premium for the design services they would receive. Kanishka notes that most clients do not comprehend what constitutes high-end design and as such they do not see the value in paying for it. He feels the need to persuade Sri Lankan clients that design is a valuable service and not an off the shelf product.

Take on quality of life

Kanishka feels that quality of life in Sri Lanka is high on account of the climatic conditions prevailing in the Island – which provide opportunity for many pleasurable outdoor activities. He enjoys spending his weekends windsurfing on the south and east coast of Sri Lanka in places like Bentota  and Trinco

Experience with compensation and living expenses

Kanishka remembers that a large proportion of his wages in London were spent on renting accommodation. Notwithstanding this, an architect in the UK with comprehensive experience and one who works for a large practice can earn a considerable amount of money. Remuneration is also dependent on the complexity of the design involved and type of project undertaken.

In contrast, Kanishka observes that living expenses in Sri Lanka can be disproportionate to the remuneration one can make. He says an architect’s ability to make money in the design sector in Sri Lanka is challenging and can depend on his/her level of experience.  The final hurdle he says is marketing oneself in a place where one has no reputation. After one has completed a few projects then things become easier.

Advice for potential returnees

Kanishka grew up in Colombo so he had recourse to numerous groups of family and friends from his childhood. He observes however how tough it can be for outsiders to break into existing social circles of Colombo. He notes that it is not always easy to meet new people here unlike in other cosmopolitan cities around the world and advises potential returnees that anyone moving here should give themselves a few years to find their feet.