Keep the nat’l icon intact | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 26, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:45 AM, December 26, 2020

Keep the nat’l icon intact

Architects, urbanists call upon authorities to backtrack on plan to shift Kamalapur station plaza

The plan to dismantle the iconic parabolic umbrella roof and plaza of Kamalapur Railway Station to make way for a multimodal hub and an extended metro rail line has stirred up an outcry among experts who say it will be like destroying part of the history of Dhaka.

They have demanded the authorities build the multimodal hub and carry out any expansion keeping the unique structure intact in its current position.

The Bangladesh Railway and Dhaka metro rail authorities agreed to a new plan last month, which requires shifting of the station plaza to make space for the extended MRT-6 line up to Kamalapur from Motijheel.

Besides, as part of the plan to make Kamalapur a multimodal hub, the existing plaza needs to be demolished to make space for other facilities, Railways Minister Nurul Islam told The Daily Star last month.

The minister, however, said they would build a replica of the parabolic umbrella roof after dismantling the present one as part of their plan for a "true transport hub".

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will make the final decision in this regard as the existing plaza, an iconic structure, has to be demolished to implement the new plan, he added.

Architect Iqbal Habib, joint secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon, said the architecture of Kamalapur is acclaimed internationally and it symbolises Dhaka.

"If you draw a picture of Dhaka, Kamalapur will invariably come to your mind. People keep that iconic image as postcards. You can also find it as decorative paintings behind rickshaws," said Iqbal Habib earlier this week.

"The decision to move it is like destroying one of our very few symbolic architectures in Dhaka city."

The government should implement any expansion without touching the original structure of the station to preserve the history and heritage, he added.

Taimur Islam, founder of Urban Study Group (USG), said the structure may be over 50-year-old but its architectural value is undiminished.

"It is a part of Dhaka's history. The extension of railway is needed but the authorities should try to do the work keeping that intact," said Taimur Islam.

In the last 100 years, Dhaka has grown up as a new modern city and Kamalapur is part of that history, he added.

MAKING OF KAMALAPUR RAILWAY STATION

Dhaka became the provincial capital of East Pakistan after the end of colonial rule in 1947. Fulbaria was the central railway station in Dhaka at the time.

But as the city was growing as an important commercial centre and expanding with the growth of its population, city planners in 1948 suggested shifting the station to the less populated Kamalapur.

It, however, took a decade for the then provincial East Pakistan government to start executing the plan in 1958. A new railway line from Tejgaon to Khilgaon, and then to Kamalapur was constructed.

On July 27, 1968, Kamalapur was unveiled, which also marked the last journey of a train from Fulbaria, with the otherwise vast paddy fields being turned into one of the most beautiful and modern railway stations in Asia.

Officially known as Dhaka Railway Station, it is now the central rail station of Bangladesh.

AN ARCHITECTURAL MARVEL

The parabolic umbrella structure at Kamalapur is considered one of the modern architectural ideas of the '60s. Daniel Dunham and Robert Boughey were the designers of this gem.

The station's parabolic umbrella roof over the terminal was unusual for its time but the shape was quite fitting for a tropical country like Bangladesh, where rain is a dominant phenomenon.

Along with Louis Kahn's parliament building, Constantino Doxiadis' TSC, and Richard Vrooman's Architecture Building at Buet, the pioneering structure of the railway station symbolised a "golden age" of architecture in Bangladesh during the 1960s, according to Adnan Zillur Morshed.

The concrete roof structure provides a rhythmic visual effect, unifying the spaces below it. The parabolic roofline recalls other contemporary masterpieces, such as Danish architect Jorn Utzon's Sydney Opera House, the architectural historian mentioned in his book "DAC/Dhaka in 25 Buildings".

"Just as Utzon's Opera House shaped the skyline of the Sydney harbour, Kamalapur Railway Station's repetitive arches created a new skyline in this low-rise area of the city," wrote Adnan, also executive director of the Centre for Inclusive Architecture and Urbanism at Brac University.

 

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