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Emergence of Modern Architecture. In order to give a right perspective of the architecture in independent Bangladesh, it has to chart the developments and associated events of two and a half decades since 1947 the period that bred the direction of modern architecture of later years in this country of water and green. The 1947 was a step towards nationhood for the present Bangladesh, marking the beginning of a new phase of it’s architecture in line with a search for identity in all spheres of life; the growing Bengali nationalism sought architectural expression too. Nevertheless, a void in architecture was created during the post-Colonial period in the then East Pakistan due to the break of socio-political and cultural continuity and absence of qualified professionals.

Bangladesh embarked upon physical development in a considerable scale to meet the demand for new government offices following 1947. This made the state a major client, patronising the import of foreign architects and non-architects from the West and the West Pakistan. The Public Works Department became the main organisation undertaking construction and physical development of mostly the government projects. Besides some rare exceptions, architectural practice became compatible to the idea of Pakistani state bureaucratised and alienated with little scope to establish an identity. The faceless and impersonalised style served well the lack of awareness of modern architecture and insensitivity to the context.

The anonymous and bland International Style had a heyday globally in the 1950s and 1960s. The European modern style of the twenties did not appear in Bangladesh till the mid-fifties. Two British architects planned the land use of the city after 1947 through the ‘Dhaka Re-planning’, and led the government jobs by designing several large and important public and private buildings, many of those also the firsts in terms of type and volume. As the land was less scarce, the architects could lay the buildings often around courtyards and introduce landscape. Yet, the mostly unsuitable buildings became monotonous, unimaginative and less contextual, lacking spatial harmony, or innovation in terms of climate or materials.

Meanwhile non-Bengali businessmen and industrialists emerged as a large clientele.

They patronised people like Thariani a diploma architect from Karachi who won many


Art College, by Mazharul Islam

government and private commissions. These included industries, commercial and civic buildings, and numerous residences. Ignorant of contemporary global thoughts, he copied from foreign sources, which disrespected the local climate, culture, materials and aesthetic notions, and catered for a temporarily popular architecture. Despite designing hundreds of buildings, Thariani could not establish an environment conducive to good architecture.

Though most architects passively accepted the state-defined needs and forms, few strove to express the national spirit by imprinting buildings with the marks of a newfound identity. They started to make their presence felt towards the late-1960s by overcoming the political difficulties posed for the country being a part of Pakistan. A style gradually started to emerge in a host of buildings in that decade.

Modernity in local architecture was first brought in the designs of the Dhaka University Library and Art College by architect Muzharul Islam. Vastukalabid formed by him in 1964 put a mark in the architecture of Bangladesh with designs of Chittagong and Jahangirnagar university campuses, NIPA Building, Krishi Bhaban, Polytechnic Institutes, etc. He believed that exemplary works by world-renowned architects in the country could help to grow an awareness of and aspiration for modern architecture among people, and inspire and guide the local architects. Thus architects like Louis I. Kahn, Paul Rudolph and Stanley Tigermann were engaged who contributed towards the development and orientation of architecture here.

In the late-1960s, architecture swayed between foreign architects producing few good works, and local professionals using cheap Islamic cliché. Consulting Engineers Pakistan collaborating with the Luis Berger of USA in the 1960s designed some rational and neat buildings in Dhaka, though ignoring the local context. Of them, Robert Bouighy better understood the vocabulary and aesthetics expressed through structural honesty. Works like BUET Gymnasium and Kamalapur Railway Station used canopy unifying a number of functions. His other works were at the Agriculture University, Engineering University, Notre Dame College, St. Joseph School and Holy Family Hospital. Architects Spiro, Dunham and Rolf Kaiser worked on buildings in Rajshahi and Agriculture University, and some Bank buildings that contributed in creating an interest in architecture among the people.

Among other foreign architects, Doxiades designed Ford Foundation funded institutional complexes like Bangladesh Academy of Rural Development in Comilla, Home Economics College, and Institute of Educational Research and Teachers Students

Sangsand Bhavan: MP’s Hostel, by Louis Kahn


Centre of the Dhaka University. Groups of buildings of multiple functions in these projects were adapted to the local climate. Tigermann designed five polytechnic institutes by using a generic form integrating sensitivity to local building materials. Rudolph chalked out the master plan and designed few important buildings of the Agriculture University in Mymensingh, along with Neutra. These projects subtly integrated the western formality with the local needs and the context. The architectonic quality thus achieved through surface modulation, spatial solutions and use of available materials and technology harmoniously blended the indigenous with contemporary.

The above exercises culminated in the design of the National Assembly Building at the Sher-e-Bangla Nagar undertaken to appease the nationalistic sentiments of the Bengalis. After failed efforts to engage other Master Architects, Louis I. Kahn was commissioned to design the complex, initiated in the 1960s and completed two decades later. With international awards and criticism, the Assembly Building is an edifice widely discussed both outside and inside the country. Through a strict discipline of modernism, it tried to blend to the surrounding, and became an icon that influenced the education and practice of architecture in Bangladesh.

The first architecture school set up in 1961 provided a foundation for the architecture of next two decades, spent in finding an indigenous response to pertaining issues. The architects eventually succeeded through their work to create an impact and awareness among the general people and at the same time generated greater co-operation among different institutions, and other professionals, environmental or citizens’ groups. Thirty years later and in a spate of 15 years, ten new architecture schools opened in both public and private universities, graduates of which are going to influence the practice.

The Independence, Wakening and Growth. The strive of predominantly rural- based agrarian society in Bangladesh for reiterating and establishing a national identity under the Pakistani rule took new dimensions after the bloodstained emergence of a sovereign nation in 1971. However, rather than searching for identity the architects in the 1970s had to face the challenge of large-scale reconstruction and building and long-term planning based on political ideology. They had to focus on such more pressing needs like natural calamities and in-urban migration of a magnitude never experienced before.

The last two decades of the twentieth century however opened up a new horizon of architectural development in Bangladesh with realigned government policies, interventions and participation by the international donor agencies and non- government organisations, and opening up of the market economy. Such resurgence encompassed every aspect of the building sector, be it design, construction, education or practice. The extent of variety, both in terms of types, volume, scope, and client groups, presented a tremendous opportunity to the local architects’ innovation and creativity in one hand, and capability of resource optimisation and space rationalisation on the other. A gradually more conducive environment provided them with greater freedom of expression and scope for a higher level of intellectual exercise.

Several events contributed in general upgrading of the quality, awareness and understanding of architecture in this country, through a continuous search for authenticity rooted to the place. First was the formation of Chetana Study Circle by a group of young architects and students guided by the master architect Muzharul Islam. Many of the new generation architects joined the search and enhanced their understanding by being a member of the circle. Second was the promotion of regionalism in architecture by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture by instituting awards, magazines, education programs, and workshops. Third, a number of academicians returned with higher degrees from abroad who gave time and effort to disseminate new ideas. Fourth, architects and students had greater exposure and participated in various international activities, enabling them to compete internationally. Lastly, the Institute of Architects Bangladesh was gradually becoming stronger and more active, playing a decisive role towards the improvement of the practicing atmosphere.

There has been progress in the range of available materials in the post-Independence period. This has increased with the gradual opening of the market and exposure to foreign developments and life styles. Complex constructions have increased due to the advent of new technology, building services and aids, materials and forms. Many finish materials like marble tiles and aluminium sections are now locally produced and easily available at moderate price, and hence are used abundantly. Besides to serve an affluent client group, expensive but quality finish-materials like stone, fabrics and fixtures are now heavily imported. In some cases this has resulted into bizarre and lavish interior and exterior in both residential and commercial buildings.

Following it’s use in the Sher-e-Bangla Nagar Complex, exposed machine-made ceramic brick gained popularity in the 1970s. This was followed by weather-protective heavy-duty gunuting finishes in the mid-1980s after it’s use in the Hotel Sonargaon. Currently many types of climate-friendly and aesthetic finishes like snowcem and weather coats are extensively used. The innate qualities of exposed building materials is understood and exploited in many of contemporary buildings. The range of finish materials has widened as to include various surface finishes and use of colour, interior design, wood panelling, marble cladding, and wall fabrics. Lately exterior metal cladding has become popular particularly on high-rise blocks and shopping malls.

With the development and diversification of the economy a bourgeois citizenry developed in Bangladesh who became the new and important clientele for architects. A search for an authentic local form is often visible in the design of individual houses. There were attempts to recreate a rural idyll in an urban setting by incorporating intrinsic elements and spaces into the building and blending it with it’s surroundings. This, along with contrasting post-modernism, is apparent in the spawning residential areas of new Dhaka. However, in the same building terracotta, aluminium frame, tinted glass, tiled roof and austere concrete surfaces are visible which often puts the identity search into question.

Variety and Style. Variety and diversity in building types is a characteristic of the contemporary architecture of Bangladesh. Architectural conservation, developer built housing, sports and recreational buildings, health facilities, shopping malls, non- government institutional buildings, educational buildings, interior design, urban planning and landscape design etc are areas of recent professional intervention.

Residential Buildings and Housing. The residential buildings, a greater part of it in the rural areas, belong to the major building category that defines the general architecture of the country. With respect to relationship between formal, family and service spaces, contemporary urban residences are not very different from rural houses. The dual domains of formal-public-front-clean-dry and informal-private­ back-dirty-wet domains exist in both rural and urban houses. However, their planning and organisation have undergone a process of transformation and consolidation caused by the urban dynamics and economics. The land has become a scarce and hence expensive commodity in the water and farmland locked urban areas. Any new settlement has to be developed at the expense of these lands. Moreover, the tremendous pressure of one of the highest rates of urbanisation in the world in the 1980s and 1990s meant that more people had to be accommodated on limited land. The idea of each house delineated by the boundary walls, as necessitated in the urban areas for various reasons, snapped the link with the ground. The urban houses had to find new expressions, as the vertical expansion process that started in the 1950s became unavoidable towards the end of the century. Densification and urbanisation was aided by technical advancements and introduction of modern gadgets and utilities. Nevertheless, the contemporary residences have become visually more sensual than ever. Some of these reinvented traditional elements and features like pitched roofs and deep verandas; yet contemporary sensitivity made it possible to adopt modern materials and utilities.

Up to the 1960s in the major cities, and in many other areas till now, individual rooms in a house were linked with corridors. This is now eliminated in favour of flow of more airy and lighted spaces, subtlety of which is further enhanced by the introduction of multi-height spaces with play of light, loftiness and visual connection. Many contemporary residences affirm the application and understanding of architects about the building forms. Often they have reinstated traditional forms, their aesthetics, potentialities and functional advantages. However, under the patronage of the nouveau riche, residential suburbs are growing as an exposition of architectural extravagance and fantasy. Unfortunately except some examples where they create congruent environments, these houses exemplify post-modernist kitsch, and borrowed elements irrespective of their suitability to the context.

There has been a marked change in the design of all types of residences from single

unit individual houses to multi-storeyed apartments. Rising construction cost, reduced plot size and a changed life pattern have warranted a gradual consolidation in the arrangement of internal spaces, bringing the service areas comprising kitchen and

toilet, hitherto kept separate often in a different block, close to living areas. Drawing and dining spaces more often have no permanent partition; in many large houses separate family lounges are added. The new spatial arrangement usually evolves around the dining space as the centre of all family activities and hence conceptually the core of the house. Thus a dining and/or family lounge in modern contemporary houses replaced the traditional courtyard as the focus of activities and spaces.

In the urban housing sector, proliferation of high-rise apartments, particularly since the mid-1980s in Dhaka, is a noticeable change against the low to moderate height single to multi-family houses. These now rule the urban skyline in many parts of the large cities, especially Dhaka. The type poses a formidable challenge to the architects to provide an expression compatible to the local history and culture, not filling up the neighbourhoods with concrete and glass jungle. Only a concerted effort by the professionals and the policy makers can pave the way for this emerging powerful form to provide a desirable addition to the urban morphology, and to everybody’s reach.


The Eastern Housing Ltd. at Mirpur delivered the first developer-built housing in 1964 in the form of both serviced plot and complete house, a novelty at that time. Mirpur, a newly developed satellite town became part of the sprawling city conurbation in about a decade. Eastern Housing was soon followed by the Free School Street Property, another cooperative style developer. It developed compounds with walk-up residential blocks since around the same period, mainly for the wealthy businessmen migrating from India or

West Pakistan. As the pressure of urbanisation was less severe in the 1960s, and the decisive event of 1971 that brought tremendous changes in every aspect was unforeseen, such endeavours by a few developers were visionary. They were proved so within less than two decades with the rising demand for developer built ready flats.

In the mid-1970s, the inflow of remittance by Bangladeshi workers and professionals working abroad, mainly in the oil-rich countries started to grow. This was coupled with migration by both landless poor and others for education, jobs and services in a burgeoning city of a newly independent country. The demand on both urban plots and rural land started to grow due to the absence of safe vehicle to invest the savings, and

The Eastern Housing Ltd. at Mirpur

an inherent desire in Bengali psyche to own real landed property. Later, these expatriates relying on friends and family found it difficult and unwise to build their own houses in absentia from the country. Thus the need to produce affordable ready flats started to generate. A handful of developers, foresaw the future demand for ready flats, and started to cater to the need with tempting condominiums on prime land.

There are now several hundred developers in Dhaka alone, and several others in large cities like Chittagong and Sylhet. Owing to the keen contest in the market, all developers are now engaging architects for more attractive, functional and competitive designs. Thus the sector has become in one hand the brooding ground for many prolific designers, and on the other hand the largest sector employer of architects either on full-time payroll or as consultant.

Till the mid-1980s, along with the companies mentioned earlier, Building Technology and Ideas and the Property Developers, were the leading group of developers. Apartments built by the Eastern Housing Ltd. were primarily designed by the in-house architects. Eastern buildings, mostly with medium size apartments, are characterised by easily identifiable features like fawn colour and distinctive shading devices. On the other hand, walk-up brick structures, often with sizeable planned outdoor areas, have become the hallmarks of apartment buildings by the Free School Street, designed mainly by Architect Bashirul Haque.

Apartment building, the phenomenon that became prominent in the early-1990s, has

changed the current urban scene. Initially, these buildings were usually of higher heights concentrated in the inner city area (of Dhaka). The inner city was mostly built up except for the lands occupied by the few visionary developers; new ones had to take up projects in other areas. Among these were the apartments built on plots originally developed and sold since the 1950s by the RAJUK (Capital Development Authority) and other government agencies, which evolved into the most sought-after and expensive quarters. The developers eventually got engaged in further areas up to the city periphery or the old Dhaka since the mid-1990s.

The government developed plots were meant for single-family occupation; often there were more families living in low-rise houses in these mostly large plots. These areas situated in prime locations, and well planned with many amenities at hand, were highly desirable for living and therefore pricey too. There were yet people who could afford and aspired to buy in these areas, but could not do so as lands were already built upon and occupied. There was also demand from the second or third generation of the original allotters of these plots, many of them living abroad. Therefore, the areas had to give in to six storeyed buildings, limited by the city authority, to accommodate a larger number of families. There is now a surge in apartment developments on such planned government land in various parts of Dhaka.

Designs by mainly the younger architects, prominent among a host of apartment buildings, have broken the monotony and monopoly of same floors stacked one upon another. Many apartments now have central courtyards larger than light wells, some

are providing terrace and pergolas for general use, others are giving some community amenities and designed landscapes either in one building or in group of buildings within the same compound. Architects like Rafiq Azam overcame the barrier of a boundary wall and used it as an amenity, besides making buildings and spaces floating. While continuously experimenting with materials, methods and building elements, he is also inspiring others. Bashirul Haque, Uttam Shaha, Vistaara and DW4 are other architects whose characteristic designs of apartments have taken these to the level of art work through sensitive use of mass and materials, and geometry and green.

Despite a limited number of other schemes, public sector housing in Bangladesh has been synonymous with the so called ‘staff quarter’ that has primarily catered to the needs of the government employees. These often yellowish two units per floor walk- up buildings with ample outdoor areas within large compounds dominate the sector with their distinctly identifiable appearance. That public sector is beginning to implement housing schemes for the general mass including a limited number of sites­ and-services projects, core housing, hire-purchase flats for sale, and slum upgrading/ rehabilitation schemes is in itself redemption for negligence of the past. Public sector housing has emerged as a significant building type, covering besides government, semi-government and corporation employees, low to middle-income groups, students, working women, squatters, cyclone victims etc.

The form of the staff quarters, the most visible form till the 1970s, contributed to the development of architecture and a contemporary urban form in Bangladesh. In the 1950s, it showed that it is possible and necessary to stack multiple units of dwellings, and connect them with a staircase that serves more than one unit at each level. This initiated a form that became and remained all pervasive till today. Secondly because of stacking dwelling units both horizontally and vertically, efforts continued to bring wet service areas (kitchen, toilet etc) closer to the core of habitable rooms. This form facilitated to the gradual consolidation of the urban house to cope with the population crisis.

These ‘flats’ designed by the government architects were devoid of hierarchy of space, community feeling or sense of belonging. These segregated people, and created both physical and social barriers and imbalance. The monotonous anonymous designs of the usually walk-up flats replaced uniformity amidst diversity the forte of traditional architecture. In initial years, prototype staff houses ignored the aspects like context, optimisation, orientation etc. Since the post-Colonial decade, the lavish bungalow for high government officials shrunk in floor size and got taller in number of floors. Though policy papers discouraged the construction of the highly subsidised ‘flats’, the government departments continued building multi-storied staff houses as these were considered representing ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’.

The form started to make departures from it’s more recognisable features in the 1980s with changes in lavish government entitlement in a short-lived era of austerity. The unit sizes became smaller and hence more compact; there were often more than two units at each level served by a single staircase. On way to solving the problem of

providing all type of spaces required for a family, architects had to gradually overcome many of the integral notions of privacy, pattern of space, service usage etc. Thus the evolving concept of public housing reflected increasing consciousness of social dynamics and intangible determinants of the morphology, where lies the making of an architecture that transcends the physical and rises above function to touch the indefinable spirit of excellence, and extreme rationalisation.

Office and Institutional Buildings. Government office buildings and institutional buildings have changed substantially in form and content in recent years from a series of rooms against long corridors. With Independence, the government (public) architecture gradually began to wear a democratic face, with varieties of kinds and functions, and became more accessible to the general mass. Government offices, and buildings of many non-government institutes with out-reach programs, are now to be seen in increasing number in the rural areas as well. In this way architecture has to some extent been carried close to the mass and thus became popular.

The gradual shift from superfluous formal approach towards more functional and rational architecture and judicious use of space has contributed to the development of contemporary government architecture. A conscious attempt to create a congenial atmosphere by manipulating light, colour and finish can be identified in these buildings. There is now a tendency towards organising office spaces in open plan by grouping and keeping the service and circulation areas aside and rest of the floor for functional distribution. This encouraged interpersonal contact and a homogenous workflow, leading to a positive work environment, which is more effective than the stereotyped double-loaded corridor pattern.

The government has the largest architecture office, which plays an important role in the building sector being responsible for designing all types of public buildings including houses. However, private firms or independent architects are now wining commissions, and designing government and semi-government offices and civic complexes too. Engagement of free consultants often resulted into breaking away from the inherited norms. Moreover, there have been more context and site sensitive designs, and an emphasis on form in terms of both three-dimensional massing and detailing, and also expressing the structure, material and internal function. Architects are increasingly showing an awareness of the buildings’ role in the environment and the community, and it’s impact upon the users and the locality. Thus buildings became sensitive to the surrounding landscape, urban scale, and their siting.

The Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council complex an assembly of few low rise structures in red brick, Sarak Bhaban (Roads and Highways Head office) a horizontally spread building amongst one of the oldest green areas that took extra care not to destruct the existing landscape, Department of Public Health and Engineering Building a sculptural building expressing mass-solid-volume, each was a marked and positive deviation from conventional office building design. There have been few

other good buildings, for example inside the cantonments. However, such examples are few and could not develop into a trend.

Most of the university buildings mentioned earlier predated 1971. Hardly any outstanding university building or campus was designed afterwards. However few buildings at all the public universities made some attempts, as there were scopes. Attempts were made in four different campuses in Gazipur area to respond to the context and vernacular. The private universities are opening an enormous scope to the architects to mark their creative capabilities and aesthetic sensitivity in the design of these new campuses, which often are situated in very tight urban sites. Some of them are selecting architects through open design competitions.

Conventional design of institutional buildings was simple, linear in plan with running verandas and repetitive series of rooms, often in several blocks, seldom around a courtyard. When there was more than one floor, it had the same plan for each level with either open or double loaded long corridors connecting the rooms. The toilet and/or stair were stacked usually at the end or often in the middle. Major emphasis of the planning layout was on a general utilitarian concern based on simplicity, legible circulation, ease of construction and development of a prototype. This typology thrived with the fact that with less scarcity of land, buildings tended to expand horizontally rather than vertically, and non-architects designed many of these unimaginative buildings.

Since the Independence, varieties of cultural and institutional buildings were needed, which have their own identity and expressed the function. Many civic and religious buildings were added to these. Such buildings with multiple of functions were more complex than straightforward office layout. The challenge of conceiving the three- dimensional form with spatial arrangement meeting the overlapping function and technical requirements was well tackled by the architects working in both the government and private sectors.

Some of the government buildings were prototype, set in anywhere irrespective of the orientation, approach, view, topography and landscape. Others were often modified little to adjust with the site orientation only. Thus functional and climatic requirements were wrongly overrun by economisation of the design process. Among such prototype designs were those for the district level offices and bungalows, hospital, court, institutes, etc. At individual level attempts were often made to integrate the layout with the land, to some extent made possible by arranging few low-rise blocks, often connected with wide corridors, with or without arranging around courtyard(s).

A new group of clientele for designing institutional buildings emerged after the independence, especially since the late 1980s. These are the relatively large NGOs having their training institutes or various prototype outreach centres scattered all over the country in the rural or semi-rural areas far from the bustling cities. Early in that decade the SOS Children Village developed their orphanages mainly at the periphery of large urban centres. Later Grameen Bank and BRAC, two of the largest NGOs of the world, formed their own set up to design various types of utilitarian buildings

BRAC Bhavan, Mahakhali

starting from rural centres to full-scale training institutes including hostels. Other top NGOs like Prashika, Nijera Kari, Banchte Sikha etc joined the trend (of establishing own buildings in rural setting).

Many of these centres are designed as low-key structures built in mostly local

materials dominated by brick, used abundantly, often in it’s true exposed form. When use of exposed brick was almost made redundant by general architecture, many of these complexes revived versatile use of bricks in various elements of a building, and created congruent spaces. Use of this particular material was compatible with the setting and the scale, which only enhanced the democratic nature of the complexes offering a scope for interactions between the people and built environment. Building interiors also have become interesting with the play of light from top with the use of different kinds and shapes of roofs. These not only gave exciting forms, but also


fulfilled functional and climatic requirements, for example in Hermann Gneimer School, Smriti Soudha mosque. Other such examples are Gobinda Gunalankar, Banoful, training centres of BRAC, Prashika etc.

Along with different functional spaces, architects have also involved themselves in creating meaningful spaces of various scales both inside and outside the building. Ample outdoor spaces were landscaped using both hard (pavement) and soft (vegetation) materials. The planned outdoor areas also blended appropriately with the whole scheme, functionally and spatially becoming part of the composition. The Osmani Memorial Hall by a team of government architects is one example emanating such spatial quality where landscaping guided by Japanese experts has been exploited. Architects have also been conscious about the setting. For example, the monumentality of the National Library and Archive has appropriately responded to the Assembly Building in the same area.

In some of these projects a distinct shift from formal and/or rigid layouts to

informal, flexible organisations and an imaginative interaction between indoor and outdoor spaces by integrating the hitherto neglected outdoor areas in the schemata are evident. This has largely been possible due to both clients and the architects who now being more informed are interacting increasingly and positively.


The development from shop-houses in alleys to glass skyscrapers is not linear, and the desire to experiment with new forms, materials and technology is evident, though may not be contributing directly to the evolution of the form. The demand for multi-level construction due to scarcity and commercial value of prime land, and increasing economic activities, made the application of new technology in coming up with suitable solutions inevitable. Architects

especially in recent decades had to design higher buildings as the demand for more commercial spaces is ever increasing with the progress of a new nation. Growing economic activities in the country, and rapid development and globalisation were symbolised by the ‘citadel of commerce’ in the metropolitan areas, inside and outside the business districts.

In these modern high-rise blocks, architect’s skill confronts the needs and limitations of the indigenous architecture and national identity. The architectural expression of commercial buildings was decadent, dominated by superficial visual elements without exploring or exploiting their potential. In this milieu, some rare buildings were designed; perceptible changes in content and context made them responsive to new concepts, technology, materials and quality of workmanship. Despite the rise in construction cost, service functions and environmental controls were given importance. Instead of making abstract expression with irrelevant motifs, facades often relate to internal function and the purpose of the element used.

There were only half a dozen around­

10-storey-high buildings before

Shilpa Bank Bhavan, Motijheel

(left) Sena Kalyan Bhavan and Bangladesh Bank Bhavan, Motijheel

independence; number of buildings taller than 15 storeyes is now numerous. The Bangladesh Bank building, WAPDA building, Hotel Intercontinental building in Dhaka were few of the first generation high-rise buildings of the 1960s. Thariani with good links in various sectors had almost no competitor to design these. Though not excellent, yet these buildings gave some considerations to climate, orientation, massing (low pediment plus tall tower), and situational context. These were soon joined by few other tall structures going around 15 storeyes in height in the next decade. These include the several Bank buildings, Islam Chamber, Hotel Purbani, Krishi Bhaban, and Janata Insurance etc all in the Motijheel CBD. Muzharul Islam was involved in the design of the last two high-rises, which emphasised on the form, and expression of materials, function and structure, and hence stood out amongst the early high-rise buildings with marked impressiveness.


Not until the 1980s that around 20-storey high buildings were started to be designed and built. The second business district of Kawranbazaar was set up and plots were distributed to many large public bodies in mid-1970s. They soon started to plan and build their own head office buildings with additional areas to be lent for commercial use. Though in initial years most of these buildings were built only partially, by the mid-1990s they started to expand vertically. Some of the original owners of these plots sold those to private business houses, which then erected multi-storeyed offices.

Few other bank and corporations started to build their own rather taller corporate head offices around the same time in Motijheel. These include the Shilpa Bank, Uttara Bank, Janata Bank, Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC), couple of insurance companies, and the tallest one in 30 storeyes- the Second Annexe Building of Bangladesh Bank. Designs of many of these buildings were selected through open architectural competition, which produced some outstanding results. For example, the BCIC Building by architect Bashirul Haque with it’s honest attempt to express mass, structure and materials, and catering for the functional and climatic needs, is an exception among host of high-rise buildings in Bangladesh. This like Muzharul Islam’s early buildings was profoundly influenced by Le Corbusier, and is marked as a truly modern architecture.

The third generation of modern high-rise towers started to come up in the late-1990s.

This was facilitated by the addition of two more distinct commercial cum office building zones in Agargaon on the outskirt of Kahn’s capital complex for various public bodies, and Banani for private and individual land owners amidst a dense residential area. Development and commercialisation of new major road links in the city also gave scope to erect more high-rise office towers along them in this period. These include the Panthapath, Sonargaon Road, Pragoti Sarani, Airport Road, VVIP Road, two Gulshan Circles etc; many buildings on these roads are poised to be rebuilt as high-rise blocks. Mention worthy buildings in this group are Anchor Tower and Iqbal Tower by architect Uttam Saha, Unique Tower and Peoples Insurance Building by Vistaara Architects, Summit Tower by architect Raziul Ahsan, and the IDB building by Sthapati Sangshad.

Many of these buildings are distinguished for different reasons. Most of these in the examples given above, except the IDB building, had to deal with tight commercial sites, often blocked on three sides. Yet the architects could come up with interesting solutions that made these buildings not only efficient in terms of usable floor area but also aesthetically attractive. Their scale and proportion, and relationship with the setting too were handled well. These buildings introduced many new elements in the design of high-rise tower blocks curtain glass, coloured aluminum frame, fare face concrete surface, technical and visual integration of mechanical system in the design, lofty entrance commensurate to their scale and purpose, etc.

Some of these buildings utilized the scope to manoeuvre with form and mass, often by

introducing two or more blocks of different form and mass one lower and horizontal, and the other higher and taller. For example, the Bangladesh Bank second annexe building,

Janata Insurance building, BCIC building, WASA building, Bashundhara City complex, the DPHE building, Hotel Sonargaon, BRAC Centre, and the IDB building. In the last example, a tower block was juxtaposed on a high podium block with a multiple height atrium that invited natural light in the heart of the building from top. On the facade of the high-rise tower, geometry of Islamic architecture and other motifs were beautifully represented in an abstract but easily legible way. The shape of some of the lower podiums in these examples was curvilinear derived from function and/or the site.

Some of the high-rise office buildings had ribbon windows with solid cores to express the structure and function. First of the tallest buildings started with the Shilpa Bank Bhaban that used aluminum frame openings quite extensively. Aluminium in little over a decade was made popular by the developer built apartments. Later came the era of curtain glass, with or without frames. The first such example was the Sena Kalyan Sangstha Building in Motijheel by the Prasthapana, propagated by others like Anchor Tower.

One phenomenon that has distinguished the development of commercial buildings in the city is the modern shopping malls varieties of stores under one roof. These multi­ storeyed buildings have come out of straight-jacket designs and are now emphasising more on the creation of lofty multiple-height spaces which are visually exciting and spatially fluid, and providing many modern services. The architects aim to create these buildings as an experience, comfort and convenience, not as mere envelop to contain functions. They have also been using many new materials and services towards this end, often in competition to attract customers. First such project of a considerable scale was the Eastern Plaza, which however is putting the neighbourhood into lot of stress with the amount of traffic it generates. Another popular development was the Rifles Square with some open areas within the plot.

If these were not architecturally memorable, Bashundhara City certainly is. Opened in 2004 and designed by the Vistaara, it is one of the largest shopping cum entertainment malls of Asia. Bashundhara City caught the imagination of the visitors with it’s multiple height rotunda, offset, profuse use of glass and aluminum, and the shear scale. Another such mall under construction is the Jamuna City, billed to be yet larger. With the conversion of major peripheral roads around government developed residential areas, series of shopping malls and office buildings are coming, many of those of spectacular design.

Specialised Buildings. Health facility buildings of various types and sizes over the years have been built throughout the country, carrying the benefit of architecture to the grassroots level. The existing facilities were also expanded and new ones were established. The design of health care facilities in both the public and private sectors has come a long way from converted buildings to purpose-specific centres. Excellence of the facilities built in post-1970s, mostly sponsored by international donors, lies not in facade treatment or creation of memorable spaces or aesthetic dominance, but in an almost austere functionality ensured by set space standards. Logical functional

interpretation, efficiency and efficacy became measures of success of such physical facilities. Devoid of superficial ornamentation, the forms and facade of these buildings were usually neat and simple.

Three specialised hospitals within the Capital complex area set the standard though were hardly matched elsewhere. These utilitarian buildings blend perfectly with the surroundings, yet used the true scale appropriate for such buildings of public use. These exploited local climate and materials and created congruent spaces that served the function well. Though in a more unassuming way few other hospital buildings done in the 1980s outside Dhaka using sometimes exposed bricks tried to remain close to the soil and hence the mass.

In recent years modern hospitals have been established in association of renowned international healthcare groups from India, Thailand, etc Otherwise done by foreign architects, Continental Hospital by architect Nahas Khalil stands out among these due to the architects’ commitment to develop sustainability through honouring the local climate and materials. There are under construction hospitals by local entrepreneurs too which show more interest in using metal and glass. The CRP Hospital in Mirpur is a good example of a high-rise hospital complex on a tight urban site made humane through it’s porosity, flow of spaces and inviting greens.

In the 1980s sports and recreational facilities received hitherto unknown government support, and later private sponsorship, marked by their development throughout the country. Better organised, functional and complete, the form of such facilities is definitely expressive and specific. Conscious effort was there to articulate spaces and built forms to make them visually appealing. Commercial exploitation has resulted in the utilisation of the outer envelope as shopping arcades in many of such new buildings. In Bangladesh Sports Education Institute (BKSP) at Savar meaningful and relevant landscaped outdoor was created, achieving integrity and visual harmony by using unifying elements in the buildings designed by different architects. The articulation of the facade of the Lawn Tennis Complex testifies to the shift from conventional design. The small unassuming buildings of the Children Park respect the environment and in no way intrude or destroy the visual character of the lush green surroundings.

Architects have been involved in designing industrial buildings mainly in the 1990s despite general apathy towards these and the lack of a congenial market for their services. The Telephone Shilpa Sangstha at Tongi, Eastern Cables Factory at Gazipur, Philips Colour TV Factory at Mahakhali and Bangladesh Insulator and Sanitary Ware Factory at Mirpur are some early examples. Adoption of new technology and materials in contemporary industrial architecture is reflected in many new complexes. The architects gradually shifted from steel truss clad with iron sheets to concrete flat and shell roofs, and then again went back to metal but in a more imaginative way for example using space frame with translucent envelope to create larger, lofty and more lighted areas which are both functional and inspiring. Among the current clienteles are

various corporate houses, pharmaceutical, textile and garment industries. One example is the F&E Sweater factory in Gazipur by Leela Isabella with it’s creative, playful and exciting yet functional spaces.

Civic and Religious Buildings. To rejuvenate and capture the spirit of Bengali nationalism, formal monumental and civic buildings like memorials, museums, library, hospitals, and institutions are now designed and built in an increasing number in independent Bangladesh. In most societies such buildings often become the symbol of the city, region or the nation, carrying an iconic meaning going far beyond their mere physical existence or aesthetic aura. In that sense these have social and political roles to play as well. In last three and half decades since the independence of the country many such buildings were erected; a majority of them could not exploit the scope to become icon of the place. The failure is attributed to lack of architectural quality, absence of formal expression and spatial excellence. It is common for these not reading the required scale correctly. These also failed to instil a sense of pride, unity and belongingness among the citizen, and did not try for an architecture rooted in the soil.

Thus sometimes wrong buildings were projected as the symbol the worst example being the DIT (Rajuk) building which had nothing exciting about the form or the space though novel in disposition with a clock tower. Being the head office of the capital development authority it should have been a landmark structure that the citizens could identify themselves with and use as the city’s symbol. Among other examples of such failures are most of the university buildings, stadiums, transport terminals except the Kamalapur Railway Station, many bridges, and almost all public and civic buildings.

There are however exceptions, for example the Parliament Building. Another one that came close to meeting the expectation is the Nagar Bhaban the Dhaka City Corporation head office. This is a mere high-rise office building with rooms arranged along two open corridors on the north and south. However it achieved a degree of monumentality by using a befitting approach to a lofty entry lobby and grey concrete like finish, which was originally planned to be clad with brick. It stands more like a robust but perforated wall between the two parts of Dhaka old and new. City Corporation or municipality buildings in other areas failed the same way. None of the National Museum, Shilpakala Academy or Zia International Airport buildings could reach the iconic status though had the potential.

Jatiyo Smritisoudha (National Memorial) at Savar designed in mid-1970s by Syed Mainul Husain and built about a decade later stands as an outstanding example with it’s skilful abstraction of the theme blended with the landscape, and an ideal scale. While the hardness of bare concrete was accentuated with the sweeping shapes, it was humbled due to extensive use of brick, water and green within their reach in human scale. Also the unique form drawing inspiration from all the important events in the history of nationhood of the Bengalees, which culminated into the liberation war and the subsequent independence in 1971, has an authentic appeal.

In fact as expected, the events that created the independent nation gave impetus to the erection of numerous monuments in memory of the martyrs and momentous happenings. Many of them, though may have been confined within their locality, attained the iconic status as mentioned above, often at the national level too. This however started half a century back with the erection of a memorial commemorating the struggle to establish Bengali as the state language. Similarly, the form of the Central Shahid Minar, built on the ruins of the original one conceived by sculptor Hamidur Rahman abstract representation of a mother welcoming her children, has a profound effect on all such monuments, not only all over Bangladesh.

Many other monuments, for example the Mirpur Intellectuals Memorial by the government architects Abdur Rashid and Mostafa Quddus Hali, Rayerbazaar Smritisoudha in memory of the martyr intellectuals by architects Farid Uddin and Jami Al-Shafi, Mujibnagar Smritisoudha by Diagram Architects, Milon Memorial by Vitti, and the under construction Swadhinata Stambha in Sohrawardi Udyan by Urbana, all have the ingredients of classic architecture in contemporary form that symbolises the beliefs and aspirations of generations. To these have been added few more monuments within the cantonment areas, and numerous public sculptures that

Rayerbazaar Intellectuals’ Memorial


BUET Mosque

also have made it possible to overcome the religious inhibition against this form of art. Moreover, by being accessible, these have in one hand made people aware, and on the other hand enhanced the urban aesthetic.

In the post-Independence period, several mosques and a few non-Muslim worship centres were designed, often by foreign architects. Mosques designed by architects usually followed the established Sub-Continental model based on strong frontal axis, openness and clarity, with numerous formal manifestations like sahn, liwan, mimbar, mihrab, dome, minaret etc. However, due to site constraints and economy, the appropriate way of responding to mosque architecture is most often disregarded. Nevertheless, a general notion of adding a veranda with the main built form and the scope for future extension can be observed. The BUET Mosque designed by Abu H. Imamuddin recalled all characteristics of an architecturally ideal mosque on a smaller scale. On the other end is the Ghausul Azam mosque in Mahakhali adopting the classical model.

Modulation of both exterior and interior spaces is improvised in some mosques. Often in multi-storeyed mosques, large floor punches allow spaces to flow and enhance spatial dimension. Architects are now exploiting the plasticity of concrete, to achieve interesting form, facilitate climatic protection and exploit the advantages, though restricted by the demand for identity, easy identification and symbolism. Therefore, they take simple but rational approaches to the formal interpretation of the mosques in it’s totality rather than in facade ornamentation.

Mosque as a statement of Islamic spirit and unity has always played a significant and dominant role in the society. It is now standing at a crossroad of western ideas, new


technology, religious needs, local norms and aspirations. Architects, since the Independence, are striving for a contemporary identity in mosque architecture, often through the traditional building materials like exposed brick, for example in Savar Memorial mosque featuring strong geometric relationship and use of vault. There are however few mosques that broke away from convention and took abstract forms. For example, the Baitul Muqarram national mosque done by Thariani before Independence, and the Bashundhara mosque 40 years later by Vistaara that gave new definitions to the set norm of mosque architecture.

In recent years, expatriate architects have designed buildings that recall older architectural notions. The International Islamic University in Gazipur by Doruk Pamir is a project where Islamic sensitivity found expression in local elements and materials, which at the same time was sympathetic to the spatial and climatic context. On the other hand, the US Chancery Building by Kallman, McKinnel and Woods attempted to re-establish the sensitivity of Indian architecture through elemental pastiche and surface fenestration. Though typical Sub-Continental elements were used in this building, their disposition, unlike in Indian architecture, brought down the massiveness to human proportions. French architect Bruno designed Banoful School in Mirpur which is distinguished by it’s formal expression, porosity, and a canopy unifying different functions under one roof.

Architectural Conservation. Preservation of few heritage buildings is among limited architectural conservation activities in Bangladesh. The others are historic restoration with adaptive re-use involving occasional expansion, extension and modifications of the original structure to suit current needs. These mainly government initiatives were more of an accomplishment of it’s initiators than implementation of a concerted policy. While there are many legal, technical and economic problems pertaining to conservation work, lack of socio-economic appreciation of the heritage value of the buildings is the greatest obstacle. The understanding about architectural conservation among the architects and other relevant experts and laypersons came in the late-1980s, mainly through two Aga Khan Award-sponsored workshops in 1985 and 1989. These encouraged a number of academic studies undertaken by universities and non-profit organisations.

The Jessore Collectorate Building, a nineteenth century administrative building, marked the debut of the government Architecture Department in architectural conservation in 1980. Since then, it has undertaken conservation of the Chummery House (1911), the Old High Court Building (1905), the Mahanagar Pathagar (1953), Tara Masjid (early eighteenth century), and Ahsan Manjil (1872), the last was awarded the ARCASIA Gold Medal 1991. There have been private efforts too, for example a recent project involving renovation of the Chittagong Railway Station funded by the Grameen Phone. Other efforts include separate groups of conscious architects, professionals and citizens raising voice to save centuries old historic artisans quarter and buildings in Dhaka, historic and ornate Chittagong Court Building etc.

Conclusion. Exposed to the material and technology of the present world, challenged by the task of solving complex problems of the contemporary society, seized with an atmosphere of austerity and standing on a great heritage of the past, contemporary architects in Bangladesh, in their search for identity, are awakening to the long-absent Bengali sensitivity. The development of a national architecture in the present context means the blending of those forms that have been identified as Bengali, unique and intrinsic to this region, culturally and climatically, with the building needs and

problems that too are in much extent unique. While intrinsic to the nation, many of the indigenous needs and problems are yet shared by other developing countries. Many of these have several similarities in terms of technical or economic development, and available resources in one hand, burden of colonisation, and struggle against the neo­ globalisation on the other hand.

Since independence the profession has become truly inter-disciplinary as the opening

up of the economy and an invigorating private sector gave rise to more complex and diversified needs. The architects as an influential group of professionals are making significant contributions to the society than ever before. Besides for aesthetic sense, their services are sought after also to analyse problem, innovate solution, rationalise process, and optimise resource usage. There is an increasing awareness of the value of rich architectural heritage versus the needs of a modern society and the way socio­ economic and cultural context shapes the built forms.

Most architectural programs in the country followed the BUET curriculum, confining it within it’s bias. Because of interdisciplinary nature, these needed to be diversified into specialised areas such as construction management, building sciences, digital media, emergency and affordable shelters, theory and criticism, etc. The IAB is trying to establish standardisation, diversification and quality assurance in the growing number of such programs. It exercises a control over the quality of the architects entering the profession by setting criteria while the planning authorities allow only IAB-members to design buildings. There are no criteria for ensuring teaching standards in the country, teachers’ training, performance evaluation, selection and promotion. Architectural schools show little interest in research and publication.

Increasing interaction with outside cultures, inflow of architectural thoughts, and exchange in design, research, teaching and practice of architecture brought a tolerance for the international themes. Outsourcing has opened up new areas for local architects to engage in. The profession is also mediating the influences and demands of a globalised world while meeting the society’s requirements. Thus bold architects are experimenting with postmodernist pluralistic statements often copied from foreign trends while some with conservationist ideals are advocating preservation and conservation of heritage sites. The profession is diluting the boundaries that defined it’s traditional identity, and at the same time facing the challenges of defining a new role for itself in the world setting.

Though modernism has had it’s roots in Bengal for more than a century, it was not

until recently that the profession moved beyond it’s traditional role of reflecting the immediate socio-cultural and economic setting to a much more globalised and place independent expression. While making it possible to use new and modern building materials and technologies globalisation is also promoting unaccountable building practices in the country. Profuse use of new materials and products, even technologies that were not possible before due to a lack of local expertise, has made them trendy. Some often employ foreign architects irrespective of their competence to produce

responsible design, leading to the proliferation of inferior works. This is weakening the IAB’s control on accountability and good building practice in the country.

The profession has not been able to establish a root among the mass. Based in major urban centres, architecture has become a servant of the privileged only. With poverty alleviation and housing as national agendas, architects faced with the challenges of developing creative visions, alternative housing solutions, and integration of the marginalized with elitist planning. While slum upgrading and affordable housing projects prepare the future architects, the professionals are gradually being involved with the design of affordable housing, disaster and cyclone shelters, low-cost infrastructure, and sustainable environments.

As regional and physical planners, architects shoulder the responsibility to bring better environmental management and green technologies. Meaningless use and design of air conditioned glass boxes, promotion of environmentally detrimental building products and the design of shopping centres and skyscrapers only increase the deficiency of resources. Ethical consciousness towards socially and environmentally responsible architecture would push the profession towards a more responsible and sustainable architecture, which currently is not at the centre of the discourse in Bangladesh.

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