Dhaka Courier

Architecture: Improving the quality of human life

Saif Ul Haque, an architect of Saif Ul Haque Sthapati, Bangladesh is presented an Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2019 certificate for the Arcadia Education Project, South Kanarchor, Bangladesh, by His Highness the Aga Khan and Mintimer Shaimiev, State Counselor of the Republic of Tatarstan.

Think about reasons while going for change, says Bangladeshi award-winning architect

The architects and people who are involved in decision-making, planning and development in Bangladesh need to take environmental aspects into account instead of going for a "wholesale change", says an award-winning Bangladeshi architect.

"We can't just go and change the environment and landscape in a wholesale manner before we've understood the implications of the changes," architect Saif Ul Haque, one of the recipients of the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, told Dhaka Courier.

Saif Ul, a well-known architect at home, said this is what he exactly wants to pursue in the future. Saif Ul's Arcadia Education Project in South Kanarchor is one of the six winning projects of the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

At a time of rising sea levels, this modest bamboo school illustrates how to build an affordable and viable solution with locally available materials, says the jury board.

Five other winning projects are from Bahrain, Palestine, Russian Federation, Senegal and the United Arab Emirates. The winners shared $ 1 million among them.

Responding to a question, architect Saif Ul said Bangladesh has a "very vibrant" architectural scene and architects are trying to tackle all the diverse and complex issues.

"When it comes to my project, it was the site that triggered out some thinking - what do we do in a condition what was ready for construction and building. Amid water there, we needed to think what’s the strategy one can adopt," he said.

Saif Ul mentioned that they knew the recent development of getting sands from the river and leveling the ground. "I personally wasn’t keen to do that because that’s bringing in more problems to the environment."

The architect said, "When you erase the existing environment and create a new environment unless you study well about the implications."

Saif Ul said he wanted to have a "very soft and gentle approach though it took a little bit of time."

Thanking his client Razia Alam, Chairperson of Maleka Welfare Trust, the architect said, "I'm very thankful to my client Razia who allowed me the time and liberty of going for a very experimental structure."

AKDN’s Diplomatic Representative in Bangladesh Munir M Merali said the Aga Khan Award for Architecture – while setting new standards of excellence in architecture – has had a storied and successful presence in Bangladesh with the two additional projects recognised at this year's ceremonies, and several others, including the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka and the Friendship Centre in Gaibandha wining the coveted Award in 2016.

"With the record six winning and three short-listed projects, the Award has raised global awareness of the talent in the country and how Bangladeshi architects are seeking to identify, encourage and promote building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of societies and help to improve the quality of life through responsible and creative architecture," Merali, who attended the Award giving ceremony, told Dhaka Courier.

Project Journey

After four decades of teaching in United Kingdom, Razia Alam returned to Bangladesh where she established a school for underprivileged children, using her pension funds.

When the lease on the existing premises of this school expired, its founder sought out a site on which to build. The budget restricted her choice to areas not well-suited for development.

Wanting the school to be near water, she purchased a riverside plot which, it turned out, is submerged in up to 3m of monsoon water for a third of the year.

Rather than disrupting the ecosystem to create a stabilised mound for building on, or erecting a structure on stilts that would have been too high in the dry season, her chosen architect – a lifelong acquaintance – devised the solution of an amphibious structure, anchored to the site, that could sit on the ground or float on the water, depending on the seasonal conditions.

The building footprint was levelled using retaining walls of sandbags with sand, earth and local brick infill, and used tyres fixed atop for cushioning.

Bamboo posts sunk 2m into the ground serve as anchoring points for the school’s various independent but interconnected rectangular structures: three multipurpose spaces used mainly as classrooms; office; open-topped platform; toilet/bathroom structure; septic tank and water tank structures; and a single corridor offering access to all spaces.

Built of three types of bamboo, they are kept afloat by substructures of used 30-gallon steel drums within bamboo frames. The bamboo was sourced from neighbouring villages.

 Materials used for the substructure, anchoring posts and roof were chemically treated to remove any material that could rot.

All other elements were waterproofed by applying liquid made from boiled local gaab fruit – a traditional Bangladeshi method.

Most of the joints use a rope-tie technique rather than steel wire which would corrode.

The classrooms’ bow-arched bamboo roofs, allowing the spaces to remain column-free, required some prototyping to perfect. Aside from a few battery-powered drills, only hand tools were used for the construction.

The carpenter who oversaw the construction and procurement had worked for the client for over four decades. Now living nearby, he can attend quickly to any maintenance issues.

Bangladesh's excellence in architecture praised

Leading members of the architectural community from around the world highly praised Bangladesh for its excellence in architecture as six winning projects of the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) received their awards formally at a ceremony held at Musa Jalil State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre in Kazan, Russia on August 13.

Mintimer Shaimiev, State Counsellor of the Republic of Tatarstan, accompanied His Highness the Aga Khan, hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, in presiding over the award ceremony.

The six projects to share a US$ 1 million prize, as selected by the 2019 Award Master Jury are Revitalisation of Muharraq, Bahrain, Arcadia Education Project, South Kanarchor, Bangladesh, Palestinian Museum, Birzeit, Palestine, Public Spaces Development Programme, Republic of Tatarstan, Russian Federation, Alioune Diop University Teaching and Research Unit, Bambey, Senegal and Wasit Wetland Centre, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

Saif Ul Haque and his client Razia Alam, Chairperson of Maleka Welfare Teust, were seen greeted by architects around the world before and after the formal award-giving ceremony.

Razia Alam first went to the stage followed by Saif Ul Haque amid claps from the huge audience making Bangladesh's presence well-felt everywhere at the venue.

"This is amazing," architect Aziza Chaouni who came from the University of Toronto, Canada told UNB appreciating Saif Ul's project and Bangladesh's demonstration in architectural scene.

Architect Ahmed Al Ali, one of the six project winners and Executive Chairman of X Architects, also appreciated Bangladesh's strong presence in architecture saying Bangladesh's architects keep doing amazing things.

The six Award recipients, spanning three continents, include an urban heritage intervention, a floating school, a national museum, an ambitious programme to introduce public spaces across hundreds of localities, a university’s classrooms and halls, and an ecological centre.

“You’re implementing the largest charitable, educational and humanitarian projects, support proactive, creative people, regardless of nationality or confession," said Mintimer Shaimiev acknowledging the contribution of His Highness.

“Your peacekeeping mission, your commitment to bringing civilisations closer and achieving unity in diversity are consonant with our goals, especially to me, as the Unesco Special Envoy for Intercultural Dialogue.”

Speaking at the ceremony, His Highness the Aga Khan said, “I believe we all have a responsibility to improve the quality of life whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Our commitment to influencing the quality of architecture – intellectually and materially – grows directly out of our commitment to improving the quality of human life.”

He said human challenges seem to intensify at an accelerating pace these days - climate change, economic and technological inequalities, epidemics, political polarisation, population displacements and the daunting task of helping one another to live together in dignity.

"I believe deeply in the potential of the architectural world to help inspire and enrich a creative dialogue in all four of the areas I’ve mentioned: a dialogue between creative architectural partners, a dialogue between past and future, a dialogue between natural reality and human creativity, and a dialogue among diverse cultures," he added.

  • Architecture: Improving the quality of human life
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 11
  • AKM Moinuddin
  • DhakaCourier

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