Think about reasons while going for change: Bangladeshi award-winning architect | The Daily Star
12:28 PM, September 14, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 09:29 PM, September 14, 2019

Think about reasons while going for change: 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 have understood the implications of the changes," architect Saif Ul Haque, one of the recipients of the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, told UNB.

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 will share $ 1 million among them.

Responding to a question, he 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," Saif Ul said.

He said 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 am 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 is attending the Award giving ceremony, told UNB.

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.

Jury Citation

The approach to building the three-classroom preschool was to design a structure that rises with the river's water level and adapts to the surroundings - without altering the natural condition of the site and allowing for uninterrupted, year-long use of the building.

Here the paradigm of the architect using his professional knowledge - yet thinking outside the box by adapting traditional methods - is remarkable, especially as the construction is modest and direct, without fetishizing craft.

Site-specific in its technological approach yet global in its solution, this low-cost, low-impact project was the outcome of teamwork between architect, client and builder, each of whom displayed resilience and innovation as they approached the social responsibility of building the school.

The modesty of the programme, the use of materials and the construction method are all successful parts of building this amphibious school through experimental and collaborative teamwork.

Though simple and compact, the project resolves complex issues - of buoyancy, anchoring against the river current and waste management.

The Project strives to elevate people's lives, contributes to social and economic development, and provides a pathway to solutions for the global issues of rising water levels and access to education in rural communities.

The winners of the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture received the award at a ceremony on Friday afternoon.

The ceremony and its related events marked the culmination of the 14th triennial cycle of the Award (2017-2019).

The Award designated ANO "Directorate of Sports and Social Projects" as the event management company for the 2019 Award ceremony events.


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