Architect: Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury/URBANA – Client: Friendship NGO
The centre is a training facility for the NGO Friendship, which works with communities living in the rural flatlands of northern Bangladesh. In this region permanent buildings are conventionally raised 2.4m off the ground, to mitigate flooding, but the budget did not allow that here. Instead, an earthen embankment was built around the site, with stairs leading down into the building from open ends. Adopting the vocabulary of a walled town, the programme is organised around a series of pavilions that look inwards onto courtyards and reflecting pools. Because of the embankment wall, there is no horizontal light, so in essence the centre is top-lit. This connection, between an architecture of the land and the light coming down from above, makes for a very elemental building.
The plan is cruciform. Circulation runs lengthwise down the centre, connecting the two external stairs, while the two parts of the programme bisect the site in the other direction – the ‘Ka’ block contains the more public spaces, such as teaching rooms and offices, and the ‘Kha’ block, the more private accommodation. Between the two blocks are large tanks for
collecting rainwater. The landscaping is in two planes – at grade, brick paving in all the circulation areas and courtyards; and above, earthen rooftops with green cover, which act as insulators and absorb the rain.
Traditional brick masonry is used in a modernist idiom. The bricks were sorted for size, shape and colour by the site engineers, who kept only three out of every ten bricks produced by the local kiln. Of these, only the most aesthetically pleasing were used to create the exposed brick finish, while the remainder were incorporated into the foundations and other unseen parts of the building. In parts, the structure is reinforced with concrete, as this is a seismic zone.
Monolithic, a seamless continuity of material in harmony with its surroundings, the Friendship Centre embodies what Louis Kahn described as an ‘architecture of the land’.
“Looking at the sunken brick compound of the Friendship Centre, one is reminded of the archaeological remains of the nearby Vasu Bihara Buddhist temple, built during the third and fourth century. The Friendship Centre blurs the boundaries between an archaeological site and an architectural and landscape project. Through its configuration and its use of grassed rooftops it becomes part and parcel of the surrounding landscape. This grounding is both literal and metaphorical. The quadrilateral layout and the skilful brickwork reflect continuity with local architectural traditions.”
“The integrative design approach is registered in every aspect of the project, and at every scale. The imbrication of outdoor and indoor spaces, together with the treatment of the roofscape, make this an unusual and innovative building. With its spaces sunk into the ground and the vegetation growing on its roofs, the compound blends beautifully into the natural surroundings. Its relationship to the landscape and to history and archaeology is remarkable in every way.”
“An attention to detail, to the human scale, is expressed in the simplicity of the well-designed furniture, in the creation of a series of small pavilions and reflecting pools, and in the landscaping elements. All help to create a friendly atmosphere, supporting the building’s function of empowering a marginalised rural community living on a
precarious flood plain.”
“While every aspect of this project is local – local inspiration, local builders, local materials, local architect, local NGO – its architectural value and qualities are undeniably universal and merit both appreciation and attention.”
About Kashef Chowdhury – www.kashefchowdhury -urbana.com
The son of a civil engineer, Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury graduated in architecture from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in 1995. He established the practice URBANA in partnership in 1995 and, from 2004, has continued as the sole principal of the firm. He has a studio-based practice whose works find root in history with a strong emphasis on climate, materials and context – both natural and human. Projects in the studio are given extended time for research so as to reach a high level of innovation and original expression. Works range from the conversion of a ship and low-cost raised settlements in “chars” to a training centre, mosque, art gallery, museum, residences and multi-family housing, as well as corporate head offices.
Kashef Chowdhury teaches both at home and abroad. In 2006, he attended a Glenn Murcutt masterclass in Sydney, Australia. He also takes an active interest in art and has worked as a professional photographer. Chowdury has designed and published three books: Around Dhaka, 2004; Plot Number Fifty Six, 2009 and The Night of Fifteen November, 2011 – a photographic and recorded account of some survivors of Cyclone Sidr in the coastal areas of Bangladesh.
|Built area||3,053 m2|
|Design||May 2008 – December 2010|
|Construction||December 2010 – December 2011|
Aga Khan Award for Architecture Website
2016 Nominated Projects
Researched & Compiled by Arif Ali