'Architecture is no commodity'
From designing the Swadhinata Sthamba to working on a number of award-winning projects, Marina Tabassum has come a long way. It goes without saying, that she is arguably one of the most sought-after architects of the country today.
The irony here though is that as a student in school, Tabassum barely had any idea about the field of architecture. Born in a family filled with engineers and doctors, she was expected to follow suit. However, as it so happened, her intermediate results weren't good enough to allow her to sit for entrance exams in engineering.
Tabassum, who was a good student throughout most of her school days, was taken aback. The failure though, she says, made her more adamant.
“That was a down point in life. I needed to prove to myself that I was better than that. Right at that time, my father suggested architecture. I took a few lessons in coaching and it was an immediate connection. I knew this is what I wanted to be,” she recalls.
“My marks were good enough to apply for the architecture entrance exam, but it still was difficult since thousands of students applied in Buet back in 1987 and there were only 50 seats,” adds Tabassum.
It might have been difficult, but Tabassum aced the challenge in style. She topped the entrance exams and entered the field of architecture as the best student in the batch.
And from there on, the cogwheels never stopped churning. After graduating from the Buet, she worked for a brief period with architect Uttam Kumar Saha and then joined hands with Kashef Chowdhury to start their own practice, Urbana.
She worked as partner of Urbana for ten years on a number of award-winning projects before starting Marina Tabassum Architects (MTA) in 2015.
A small, yet ambitious, practice situated in Dhanmondi, the MTA is very selective in its projects and prefers not to work in the real estate sector.
“I don't like a tight time schedule when I'm designing a project. Architecture needs time and if someone does not give me that, then I avoid taking that project.
“Developers have a certain format and schedule and there is very little scope of doing much within that framework. And I find it difficult to accept architecture as a commodity. It's very challenging of course to maintain an office with a small number of projects, but we are surviving so far,” she explains.
While she believes that Bangladesh's architecture scene is in a much better place than many other countries, she, however, wants the future architects to focus more on architecture that are based on the needs of the region.
“I think a certain genre of architects, for whom architecture has a deeper meaning than just a practice, should come up. They should be able to create a kind of vocabulary that is right for our country. What should architecture in Bangladesh be? Because at the moment, we are still not searching enough,” says Tabassum.
And for that to happen, she wants more architects to focus on the architectural scenario beyond Dhaka.
“If all the architects run after the one percent of the population who can afford them, then the rest ninety nine will remain in dark. A goal of a profession cannot be to serve just one percent of the population.
“The field of architecture needs to be broadened. It has to go beyond Dhaka and into the small towns. It's not just about the fees, but also about the commitment you make to your country,” says Tabassum.