U.N. Gunasekera (1922 – 2008): 100th Birth Anniversary of a Pioneering Engineer

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U.N. Gunasekera was a Sri Lankan Civil and Structural Engineer, considered to be one of the most influential and pioneering Engineers in the modern history of Sri Lanka. He revolutionised local engineering in Sri Lanka through the construction of high-rise buildings, including Sri Lanka’s first five-star hotel (the Ceylon Inter-Continental – now known as the Kingsbury) and the then largest five-star hotel in Sri Lanka (Lanka Oberoi – now known as Cinnamon Grand), among various other projects.

U.N. Gunasekera was born on the 15th of May, 1922 and studied at Royal College, Colombo 7 where he excelled in sports – he represented the school in the Bradby Shield and received school colours for both rugby and athletics. He then completed the Cambridge Higher Diploma and went on to graduate from the University of London with a degree in Engineering and later qualified as a Chartered Engineer.

In the early 1950’s, U.N. Gunasekera established what went on to become one of the largest Sri Lankan construction companies of the 20th century: U.N. Gunasekera Engineers and Builders. By initiating the local construction of high-rise buildings in Sri Lanka, he played a role in the economic and social development of Sri Lanka. U.N. Gunasekera proved the potential of local contractors and thereby saved large amounts of funds for Sri Lanka on contracts which would have otherwise gone to foreign contractors.

Some of the projects which were completed by his company include the former HNB Headquarters, Headquarters for the National Armed Reserve, the Headquarters of the Air Force, SLFP Headquarters, UNP Headquarters, People’s Park Complex, Mount Lavinia Hotel Extension, Welikada Plaza, the Bishop’s College Auditorium, an Academic Building for the Arts Faculty of the University of Colombo, Headquarters of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Headquarters of the National Institute of Business Management.

In addition to his construction company, he owned other commercial enterprises, such as the Glass House Health Center and Diagnostic Laboratory in Colombo 7, a printing press, a food manufacturing company and he also invested heavily in real estate in Sri Lanka.

U. N. Gunasekera was the President of the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka in 1978 and later served as the Chairman of its Board of Trustees. He was awarded life membership of the National Construction Association, in recognition of his professional excellence.

He was also the President of Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (CR & FC), Vice-President of the SSC and a Vice-President of the Royal College Union.

U. N. Gunasekera married Sita de Silva, daughter of the Cambridge-educated Banker, Barrister, Business Magnate and Philanthropist Sir Ernest de Silva (the first Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon) and Senator Lady Evadne de Silva.

U. N. Gunasekera was a strong Buddhist, a vegetarian and a philanthropist with strong ethical principles: he was one of the largest contributors to charities in Sri Lanka, albeit in a silent manner. His approach to life, where he lived as a humble and courteous man, made his vast wealth seem unapparent.