Ten LESSONS for constructing in a tropical paradise

In his book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell, the author says you need to apply yourself for 10,000 hours to master a subject or skill. That’s five years at fifty hours a week if you allow for holidays and days off.

“If I go by that rule, I am one year into my graduation into mastery of tropical construction, “let my clients be the judge of that”, said Trevor Morgan, Co-Director of Tamba Villas, a luxury 37 Luxury Villa development in Thalpe. “Over my time in Sri Lanka, I have been running an architectural design and construction project management practice, so we have experienced the whole process from design through to delivery, and then hoovering up issues after our clients start using their properties”.

The following are the ten most important lessons I’ve learned while constructing in Sri Lanka.

Lesson 1 – The principle reason for owning a house in the tropics is to have a home you can enjoy.

This may sound like a strange lesson to start off with and call my principle lesson, but I think it has to be the guiding principle of designing and constructing here in Sri Lanka. Most of my career, I have worked in cities where practical consideration generally override. But in stark contrast, the only reason you would desire a home here in Sri Lanka is to derive pleasure from its use and ownership. For the projects we have delivered, that has meant making sure the property is beautiful, functional and well-designed, along with making sure the actual construction process is enjoyable.

Lesson 2 – Understand local materials and local skills

We are now into the hard-core construction stuff. In Sri Lanka, we don’t have access to the massive spectrum of materials & products available on the international market. On the other side, there are also skills that make things possible here that would be extremely challenging or expensive to achieve in other countries. The important lesson here is to make sure that from both a cost and practical perspective, that your design work is achievable and deliverable within the Sri Lankan environment. Going outside the envelope can cause considerable issues.

Lesson 3 – Sri Lanka is a high maintenance environment so design for maintenance.

Buildings in Sri Lanka require far more maintenance than in any other place I have worked. This is down to a number of factors, humidity, bright sunlight, very active termites and monsoon rains. Therefore, we need to specify products that can withstand the environment, and everything you specify must be easily sourced, so not to cause issues when the need for replacement arises.

Lesson 4 – Carefully asses the contractor

This is probably a good guiding principle wherever you are constructing as I found this to be a key success factor that I could not overstress. The only reason anyone would pay the premium to use a company like ourselves to oversee the construction is with the expectation we can deliver a project to an internationally acceptable standard, in terms of aesthetics, timing, construction quality, materials, specification and finish. To deliver on all the aspects, we have to make sure that the contractor has the ability to meet these measures at the required standard. If you thoroughly vet your contractor and make sure they can demonstrate, and to ensure they have already delivered projects to the required standard, kept their previous clients happy, and that they have the available experienced management for your project, you are 90% of the way there to delivering the project successfully. On the flip side, if your contractor is not capable of the standard required, you need to strap yourself in for a very rough ride.

Lesson 5 – Be highly conscious where you spend the money

There are a few areas of a building where a good budget makes a huge difference. For example, floor finishes, internal pool finishes, doors and windows. These are things that can consume a chunk off the budget, and would not make much of a difference to the finished project. The main culprit in my experience is having frivolous design details. When specifying a building, you always need to make sure that you use your budget where it counts.

Lesson 6 – Integrity and transparency

When you work on a construction project, the team will be working together for at least two years, so it is highly important that the team works well together, and never forgetting that the team includes the client. To give your team complete confidence, they must trust you in terms of both honesty and competence. Maintaining a good relationship with the client is also of vital importance. The client needs to trust you, and your decisions and they must know and trust that you will protect their interests.

Lesson 7 – Be on site every day

One of the main reasons I feel we have been successful in managing construction projects here in Sri Lanka is that we maintain a daily presence on site. This helps from many angles, it helps maintain a close relationship with the people actually constructing the project, it helps the flow of the project as queries can be dealt with on the spot, and any issues can be caught before significant impact is caused.

Lesson 8 – Specify in great detail and stay ahead of the construction

It is far better to deal with the issue before they actually arise wherever possible, as this saves an immense amount of time and money. For this reason, we give very clear drawings for all the details on our projects which leaves very little room for misinterpretation.

Lesson 9 – Carefully chose the site manager

The contractor’s site manager is the guy who actually builds the project on the ground. The selection of the site manager should be an integral part of choosing the contractor.

Lesson 10 – Be available

You never want anyone on the project to think you are too busy or too unapproachable to deal with them, as many things can go wrong when people are too afraid to ask a question.
With a B.Eng. in Combined Engineering from Coventry University, UK, Trevor Morgan founded his first company with seventeen staff covering manufacture, design, administration, and fittings. He then gained extensive experience in construction and interiors in exclusive areas of Barcelona, with eight development projects, and a £8.6M development project in Kensington, UK.
Now, teaming up with Co-Director Eduard Hempel, Trevor has taken on the development of Tamba Villas in Thalpe, situated along the famous Golden Mile of Galle. “We are well on the way with seven villas sold since our launch in September and the inquiries keep coming”.
“Tamba is just the right size to create a sense of community”. “It is something which is very difficult to achieve in a residential development, yet this is what we have set out to do”, said Trevor Morgan.