It takes more than a signed peace agreement to demilitarize a conflict zone; an alternative occupation for the army may also be required. This is what Milinda Pathiraja thought when he proposed that the skills and discipline of the troops be deployed for the building industry. He was trying to replace guns with tools. This meant training the military in a different set of skills. So, they put together a program for building schools and used the project and construction itself as part of the education process. Given the need for many new schools, this new knowledge has the potential to achieve scale and be replicated many times in the future.
To have seen a glimmer of possibility in a difficult problem—the demilitarization of a nation—is notable in and of itself, but Milinda Pathiraja was able to go even further by constructing a building of rather remarkable architectural quality: an intelligent insertion into its context. A careful understanding of the topography, an articulation of the volumes so as to integrate the surrounding landscape, the use of strong materials to provide thermal mass and lighter ones to allow for cross–ventilation, and an elegant architectural language are all operations that should not be taken for granted when working under charged circumstances. So many times we have seen examples that try to tackle complex political and social challenges that fail to deliver quality architecture. Milinda Pathiraja is an exemplary case that demonstrates that the best way to do good is to start by making a good building.