Shenuka de Sylva

Shenuka de Sylva profile picture

Lecturer School of Architecture

Research interests

Resilient living environments in response to sea level rise and floods, rebuilding communities after disaster and post disaster governance, vernacular and informal settlements, culture and context-appropriate housing and community development, traditional knowledge and sustainable practices, community sustenance and resilience, conservation of colonial fortifications, women in architecture


MSc (Architecture) University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

BSc (Built Environment) University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

Registered Architect, Sri Lanka


  • SARC 112 Design Processes / Ngā Tukangaas (Architecture Module) as Module Coordinator and Lecturer
  • SARC 378/478 Psychology and Behaviour in the Built Environment as Course Coordinator and Lecturer
  • INTA 412 Interior Architecture Design Research / Te Mahi Rangahau o te Ao Whakanikoniko as Course Coordinator and Lecturer
  • SARC 371/471 International Field Study/ Te Mahi a te Ao Whānui (Dubai and Portugal) as Course Coordinator and Lecturer

Research thesis supervisor

ARCI 591/592 - Architecture Research Thesis

Research Streams:

  • Public Infrastructure & Urban Housing
  • People and Designed Environments

Research focus

My research focus is on Resilience and Water. It explores the opportunities that become available to us as sea levels rise and floods become less predictable due to the effects of climate change. The aim of my research is to identify socio-culturally and contextually suited and sustainable solutions for increasing community resilience and sustenance. Of particular interest is the psychology of displacement and adaptation. This work draws from my architectural practice experience in the planning and design of coastal and riverine resorts, public housing, community infrastructure and slum relocation and rehabilitation projects and a new port and industrial city in southern Sri Lanka.

This research involves topics such as:

  • Adapting to living with the effects of climate change as sea level rise and floods
  • Effects of climate change on coastal and riverine communities and small island states
  • Socio-culturally and contextually suited solutions for vulnerable communities
  • Traditional and vernacular coastal architecture and flood prevention strategies
  • Translation and adaptation of indigenous culture in urban planning and architecture
  • Community sustenance via sustainable food production and livelihood resilience

My research expertise includes:

  • Rebuilding communities and housing after disaster
  • Infrastructure of refugee camps
  • Ephemeral architectures; bio construction materials and crafting techniques
  • Urban transformations of cities, communities and architectures through time
  • Histories and progressive conservation of living colonial fortifications
  • Exemplar modernist and regionalist women architects

Current research projects

I am currently working on a research project that investigates ‘adaptation’ to the effects of climate change, sea level rise and floods. This involves understanding how cultures and communities perceive and respond to environmental, social and economic changes taking place and the systems and solutions diverse communities have utilised in the past, current systems and new strategies being devised and implement in response to environmental hazards. The primary focus of the project is a comparative analysis of the effectiveness of strategies and systems based on resource availability and affordability. The aim of the project is to explore how vulnerable south and east Asian and Pacific communities and small island nations threatened by the effects of climate change might adapt diverse systems and strategies to their unique cultural and contextual situations, and thereby prosper.

Selected publications

de Sylva, S., & Vale, B (2019), Learning from less advantaged communities how to cope with natural disasters. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Building Resilience: Risk and Resilience in Practice: Vulnerabilities, Displaced People, Local Communities and Heritages. Official conference proceedings, 8th ICBR, 14-16 November 2018, Lisbon, Portugal.

de Sylva, S., Vale, B, & Holden, G. (2018), The Rise and Fall of the Bungalow. In J. Merwood-Salibury, M. Dudding & C. McDonald (Eds), Historiographies of Technology and Architecture, Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ), pp. 127-139. ISBN: 970-473-45713-67. Wellington, New Zealand 2018.

Freddie, A, & de Sylva, S. (2018). Disaster Resilience: A sustainable way for Niue. 3rd International Conference on Building Materials & Construction (ICBMC 2018). IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, IOP Publishing Ltd. Vol 371, pp.373-380, ISBN: 978-1-5108-6449-8. ISSN: 1757-8981. 23-25 February 2018. Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Shenuka de Sylva. (2018). Taking Back Control: Issues and Benefits of Bottom-up Redevelopment. In D. Amaratunga, & R. Haigh (Eds.), 7th International Conference on Building Resilience: Using scientific knowledge to inform policy and practice in disaster risk reduction. Procedia Engineering, Volume 212, 2018, Pages 348-355, ISBN/ISSN 1877-7058. 27-29 November 2017, Bangkok, Thailand.

Morten Gjerde & Shenuka de Sylva, (2018). Governance and recovery: comparing recent disaster recoveries in Sri Lanka and New Zealand. In Amaratunga, D., & R. Haigh (Eds.), 7th International Conference on Building Resilience: Using scientific knowledge to inform policy and practice in disaster risk reduction. Procedia Engineering, Volume 212, Pp. 527-534, ISBN/ISSN: 1877-7058. 27-29 November 2017, Bangkok, Thailand.

de Sylva, S. M., Vale, B., & Vale, R. (2017). 'Primitive attitudes' and traditional practices: looking back for sustainable solutions to future flood disasters. In M. A. Schnabel (ed.), Back to the Future: The Next 50 Years, (51st International Conference of the Architectural Science Association (ANZAScA)), pp. 5-14. ISBN978‐0‐9923835‐4‐1. Wellington, New Zealand.

de Sylva, S. (2017). Building Community: stepping beyond typical large scale housing development models to create better rural communities. In “East Meets West: Innovation and Discovery”. IAFOR: The Asian Conference on Sustainability, Energy & the Environment 2017, Official Conference Proceedings, pp. 57-71. ISBN 186-2311. Kobe, Japan.

de Sylva, S., & Leurquin, A. (2017). Resilient Living Environments: Identifying a Design Approach to Creating Housing Suited to Culture and Context. In “East Meets West: Innovation and Discovery” IAFOR: The Asian Conference on the Social Sciences 2017. Official Conference Proceedings, pp. 93-106. ISBN 2186-2303. Kobe, Japan.

de Sylva. S. (2011), Crisis in building resilience in rural South Asia. 1st International Conference on Building Resilience: Interdisciplinary approaches to disaster risk reduction and the development of sustainable communities. The Centre for Disaster Resilience, School of the Built Environment, University of Salford, UK and RMIT University, Australia. Official Conference proceedings, pp. 1-17. ISBN 978-1‐907842‐09‐2. July 2011, Kandalama, Sri Lanka.

de Sylva, S. (2008). Contested thresholds and displaced traditions of fisher dwelling: A study on traditional Sri Lankan Coastal Architecture. Twentieth Anniversary Conference of The International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments. Oxford, United Kingdom. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, 1 October 2008, Vol.20(1), pp.82-82. ISSN: 10502092

de Sylva, S. (2007). House Step Garden Shore Sea: Contested Thresholds of Fisher Dwelling. In M. Rahman (Ed), Society, architects, and emerging issues: conference book, pp. 1-10. Commonwealth Association of Architects, London and Institute of Architects Bangladesh.

Invited lectures and presentations:

de Sylva (2013) ‘‘Towards a sustainable architectural development: A site specific proposition for coastal Samoa’ on invitation by National Institute for Water and Air (NIWA) New Zealand.

de Sylva, S. (2012). ‘Urban Reconstruction &  Multi-cultural Identities’ on invitation by the Office of Ethnic Affairs, Department of Internal Affairs, NZ Government at the ‘Intercultural Cities’ at the EthnicA Christchurch Conference, 28 April 2012, Christchurch, New Zealand.

de Sylva, S. (2011). ‘Lesson for Pacific Island Nations: Learning from Asian disaster recovery endeavours’, on invitation by the New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering at the ‘Southwest Pacific Earthquake Resilience Workshop’, 22-24 August 2011, Wellington New Zealand.

de Sylva (2011) ‘Rebuilding Rural South Asia’, on invitation by Atelier Workshop, Wellington to the  National Institute of Water and Air, Wellington, New Zealand.

Master’s thesis supervision:

I have supervised over 43 Master’s thesis from the disciplines of Architecture, Interior Architecture and Landscape Architecture to completion and examined over 40 thesis since 2010 including as an invited examiner at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Those listed below are an indication of the range of topics supervised:

Aliashkevich, Anton (2019), Architecture of Interaction: Re-thinking Moscow’s Apartments

Saunyama, Ruwarashe (2019), KAS­TAM. Exploring the architectural principles of exchange and resilience.

Swift, Jordan (2019), A Case for Student Housing.

Freddie, Anthony Liuvaie (2018), A New Way. Niue: A resilient and sustainable architectural response to Niue's natural hazardous and harsh environment.

Ramos, Caryl (2018), STUDENT HOMELESSNESS: SHELTERING OUR FUTURE, An Adaptable Approach to Underutilised City Spaces.

Hennessy, Alexandra (2018), Engaging Neighbourhoods: Interrogating urban geometries and the implications on community.

Leurquin, Arnaud (2017), Sisyphus and Entropy: Adaptive Architecture in Flood Prone Nanjing.

Curran, Emma (2017), Suburban to Urban: Wellington High Density Family Housing.

Lawrie, Alicia (2016), Edge Effect: Reconnecting Whangarei's City and River.

McClintock, Lisa (2016), Reclaiming Social Space: Adapting Neighbourhoods to Support an Ageing Population.

Van Zoelen, Samuel (2016), Living on an Active Landslide: Alternative Housing on the Tahunanui Slump.

Bala Kumar, Suraj Khumar (2016), Facilitating Policy: Redefining Terraced Housing in Malaysia.

Brown, Samuel Peter (2014), Process + Product: The condition of low-cost housing in Bangkok, Thailand.

Au Morris, Jade Yu'An (2014), Adaptive Landscape Architecture: Embracing amphibious environments and empowering community sustenance.

Hunt, Marita (2012), Meaning in Landscape Architecture: Negotiating Identity in a Landscape of Local and National Significance.

Holmes, Celia (2012), The Adaptable Dwelling: A Response to Cultural Diversity.

Ibrahim, Ida (2012), Ownership and Sense of Belonging for the Displaced: Integrating Somali Refugees into Wellington City.

Radburn, Pamela (2011), Nautical Symbolism in Christian Maori Architecture.

Pyke, Camden (2011), Architectural Ecology: Cleansing & Regeneration of Polluted Place through Architecture.

Shearer, Liam (2011), Evolution and Recovery: Adaptable Housing Reconstruction in Post Disaster Scenarios.

Wong, James Kein Peng (2011), Renewing the Bornean Longhouse: Empowering the Rural Poor in Sabah, Malaysia through Architectural Intervention.

Md Zohri, Farah (2010),The Malay Women and Terrace Housing in Malaysia.

Scott, Hana. (2010).Moving Forwards, Looking Backwards: Re-Contextualising Maori Concepts and Understandings of the Living Environment.

Gordon, Rebecca Claire (2010) Identity Displacement: Architecture, Migration & the Islamic Woman.