A REVIEW OF THE ARCHITECTURE OF BANGLADESH By Dr Muzammel Mridha
Bangladesh is a part of Indian sub-continent. It is located on the north-eastern extremity of the sub-continent bounded to the north by the Himalayas, on the south by the Bay of Bengal and to the east by the dense hilly forests. (Fig.)
From very ancient times, Bangladesh was known as one of the richest areas of India. Culturally and ethnically, along with the west Bengal, it forms a unique unified national entity. Present Bangladesh came into being on December 16, 1971.
Due to the location of Bengal in the north-eastern corner of India, people invading India came to this area a certain period after entry into the sub continent from the West Invaders, such as the Aryans, the Greeks, the Mongols, the Turks and the Afghans entered India from the west and their influence on Bengal was felt much later in modified forms. The only exception was the invasion of the British who first occupied Bengal and took decades to occupy the whole of India.
“Bangladesh has a hundred gates open for entrance but not one for departure” -Bernier.
Etymologically, the word Bangladesh is derived from the cognate “Vanga” which was first mentioned in the Hindu scripture Aitareya Aranyaka (composed between 500 B C and 500 A D). Legend has it that Bengal was first colonized by Prince Vanga, the son of King Bali and Queen Sudeshna of the Lunar dynasty. According to linguists, the roots of the term Vanga may be traced to languages in the adjoining areas. One school of linguists maintain that the word “Vanga” is derived from the Tibetan word “Bans” which implies “wet and moist”. According to this interpretation, Bangladesh literally refers to a wetland. Another school is of the opinion that the term “Vangla” is derived from Bodo (aborigines of Assam) words “Bang” and “la” which connote “wide plains.”
Proto-history and Pre-history
Geological evidence indicates that much of Bangladesh was formed 1 to 6.5 million years ago during the tertiary era. Human habitation in this region is, therefore, likely to be very old. The implements discovered in Deolpota village in the neighbouring state of West Bengal suggest that Paleolithic civilization in the region existed about one hundred thousand years ago. The evidence of Paleolithic civilization in Bangladesh region is limited to a stone implement in Rangamati and a hand axe in the hilly tip of Feni district. They are likely to be 10,000 to 15,000 years old. New Stone Age in the region lasted from 3,000 B C to 1,500 B C. Neolithic tools comparable to Assam group were found at Sitakunda in Chittagong. Hand axes and chisels showing close affinity to Neolithic industries in West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa have been discovered at Mainamati near Comilla. The thinly forested laterite hills in eastern Bengal dotted with fertile valleys provided a congenial environment for Neolithic settlements. However, the archaeological evidence on transition from Stone Age to metal age in this region is still missing.
Factors Affecting Architecture
Certain physical and cultural factors not only act as constrains but also as the source of idea for the forms and content of architecture in any civilization.
Topography and climate play an important role in this region. The topography of Bangladesh is basically low lying, flat land, traversed by innumerable rivers and channels. Most of the soil is alluvium, deposited by the river and eminently suitable for agriculture and for the production of brick and tiles.
The climate is marked by heavy rainfall during four months of monsoon from June to September, with cool weather for four months from November to February, and hot humid conditions in between.
Since ancient times the predominant building materials have been soil itself and timber, bamboo and grass which grow in abundance on this soil.
The economy depending solely on agriculture for thousands of years has always been dominated by rural life. The rural agricultural-economic relationship dominated all aspects of our culture.
To clearly visualize the forces that shaped the form and content of architecture in Bangladesh, it is necessary to examine buildings from ancient times to the present day. In Bangladesh, as in any other country, two parallel sets of activities in building construction can be identified.
On the one hand, we can see the rural buildings were constructions (and even constructed today) of easily and cheaply available local materials subject to quick deterioration and frequent maintenance. The forms were comparatively simple and changed very little through the centuries.
Parallel to this, building activities also continued in the urban areas which were different from the rural scene in quality. In the urban context many buildings were built in permanent materials, and logically the predominating building material was brick. The most important buildings for society (religious buildings) were whenever possible constructed in brick.
Due to changes of rulers from time to time, the urban scene changed comparatively more frequently and quickly than in rural areas. Unfortunately, due to the destructive activities of man and the ravages of nature, very few ancient buildings survived up to the present day. The destructive nature of the shifting river regimes must be realized to understand the cause for almost total absence of ancient buildings. No traces can be found of the cities which flourished in ancient Bengal, such as Gange, Tamralipti, Karnasubarna, Kotibarsa, Panchanagari and Rampal. There are also many identified archaeological sites, which have not been excavated yet for various reasons. We are left with few monuments, which can give a picture of continuity or rather discontinuity in the architectural traditions of the country.
The Ancient Period (3rd century B.C. 11th century A.D.)
Present Mahastangarh is the only remains of an ancient city. It is identified with Pundranagar, a flourishing city during the Gupta-Pala regimes. According to a copper plate excavated from the site, the city dates back to 3rd century B.C. From the remains it seems to have been a fortified city raised on a platform with a large number of brick built houses laid out in a contemporary congested urban pattern. (Fig.)
It is evident from Mahastangarh that the technique of making and use of bricks was already highly developed, though the disappearance of these monuments above ground level makes it difficult to visualize the complete form and details. The city was rebuilt successively on the same site in three distinct periods.
The only remains of ancient structures in this region are religious buildings constructed between the 8th and 11th centuries. These include Buddhist viharas, monasteries and temples. Hindu temples of this period are conspicuous by their absence.
The sites of the Buddhist religious buildings extend from Paharpur in the north to Mainamoti in the south-east. Of these few existing remains, the most famous and impressive is the Sompur Vihara at Paharpur (Fig.). Measuring 281 meters (NS) by 280 meters (EW), is probably the single largest monastery in the sub-continent. It had 177 monastic cells, gateways, votive stupas, minor chapels, water tanks and other structures around the dominant central shrine. The fascinating thing in Paharpur is the sophistication in the making of different types and sizes of brick and terracotta, and their use. Even in the present condition of the ruins, the quality of bricks and of the wall details make an architect excited about the ancient art and the tremendous possibilities of brick tiles in our present day context.
The orientation, the geometric configuration of the structure and the proportions prove that in ancient times the people of Bengal were sensitive to the highest demands of the forms and techniques of architecture.
Although, the Hindu temple originated in other parts of India, in Bengal it was transformed into local forms, which are typically Bengali. Based on roof-form, they can be identified into three basic types: a) Sikhara b) Chala c) Ratna.
The earliest surviving temple is a Sikhara-form in Barakar in Burdwan district (West-Bengal, India) of the 8th century A.D. A later example is the Kodla Math near Bagerhat. (Fig.)
The Chala-form, clearly derived from the rural huts of Bengal, has been more popular temple form, as is evident from illustrations in ancient manuscripts and plaques and existing structure. There are variations of this form and the Dhakeswari Temple at Dhaka (early 17th century A.D.) and the Jor Bangla at Pubna are examples (Fig.). It is interesting to note that in the 16th and 17th centuries, this roof form was used quite indiscriminately in Hindu temples and Muslim mosques.
The Ratna-type is an elaboration of the previous types. The form consists of a central spire surrounded by minor pinnacles. The most impressive example of this type is the Kantaji Mandir in Dinajpur (1692-1723 A.D.).
The Advent of the Muslims: The Sultanate Period (1204-1576 A.D.)
Muslims came to Bengal in the 13th century A.D. from north India and within a short period of time became the rulers of the country. Most of the time for the next 300 years the connection with Delhi was tenuous and the Sultans of Bengal behaved like independent rulers of the country.
After the initial disruptions, there began a period of great activity based primarily on the existing culture of Bengal- there were translations into Bengali of ancient scriptures, poetry in Bengali, research in medicine and sciences, and of course, flourishing of a distinctive architecture of Bengal, all made possible by the direct patronage of the Sultans of Bengal through their sympathetic understanding of local culture. It was truly the emergence of Bengal as a nation- with a distinctive language, architecture and literature.
Architecturally, the important aspect of the Sultanate period is the synthesis of regional forms, techniques and traditions with the ideas and concepts of the foreigners. Although, new building types, such as the mosque and mausoleum, were introduced, they eventually found expression through regional forms and features. Some of these features, drawn from the same roots, were used interchangeably in mosques and temples. The specific of the structures of this period are their form, the structural system, richness of surface decoration, use of traditional brick and terracotta, occasional stone carving and glazed tiles work, use of curvilinear cornice and the Bangla roof.
Examples are the structures in Gaur and Pandua, Sat GAmbuz mosque in Bagerhat (1459 A.D.), Sura Mosque in Dinajpur (1493 A.D.), Chota Sona Mosque in Gaur (1493 A.D.), Bagha Masjid in Rajshahi (1523 A.D.) and Atiya Masjid in Tangail (1609 A.D.).
The Mughal Period (1576 A.D. – 1757 A.D.)
The specific feature of the Mughal period is the ides of political centralization, when all ideas and ideals flowed down from Delhi. This was an imposition of an imperial idea where everything grows and flows out of the concept of the central ruling power. Architecturally this meant the imposition of forms from Delhi by the Governors of Bengal. This was a break with the continuity of the architectural tradition of the region. The complete break came along with the advent of the British.
Mughal structures include mosques, mausoleums, and forts. Although replicated from North Indian forms, the Mughal structures in Bengal were more modest in scale and less articulated in execution. The traditional expression of brick was abandoned for a plastered surface. The three domed mosque was adopted as a Mughal structure as against the variety of multi-domed mosques of pre-Mughal times. Also a few of the pre-Mughal innovations were continued or developed to suit Mughal intensions.
Examples in and around Dhaka include the Sat Masjid, Bibi Paris Tomb, the Lalbagh Fort, the Katra buildings, the river first ( all 17th century), Sangi Dalan in Rajmahal (1740s), Jami mosque in Rajmahal and Zarad mosque in Murshidabad (Indid) (1740s).
Even when the Nawabs of Bengal asserted themselves in independent rulers, from 1707 to 1757, after the weakening of Mughal power, they hardly deviated from Mughal building principles. Only after the advent of the British, and when the ruling elites had succumbed completely to European inflorescences, do we notice a growing fascination for European products, as seen by the hiring of a European to design the Nawabs Palace in Murshidabad in the European style in the 1820s.
The British Period (1757 A.D.- 1947 A.D.)
The greatest discontinuity in the history of Bengal region occurred on June 23, 1757 when the East India Company – a mercantile company of England became the virtual ruler of Bengal by defeating Nawab Siraj-ud Daulah through conspiracy. Territorial rule by a trading company resulted in the commercialization of power. The initial effects of the British rule were highly destructive. As the historian R.C. Dutt notes, “the people of Bengal had been used to tyranny, but had never lived under an oppression so far reaching in its effects, extending to every village market and every manufacturer’s loom. They had been used to arbitrary acts from men in power, but had never suffered from a system which touched their trades, their occupations, their lives so closely. The springs of their industry were stopped, the sources of their wealth dried up”. The plunder of Bengal directly contributed to the industrial revolution in England. The capital amassed in Bengal was invested in the nascent British industries. Lack of capital and fall of demand, on the other hand, resulted in deindustrialization in the Bangladesh region. The muslin industry virtually disappeared in the wake of the British rule.
Imperialist cultural imposition, initiated mildly by the Mughals, was total in the case of the British. The British cultural dominion was so thorough and devastating that it completely severed the continuity of Bengali socio-cultural and economic life, including the development of regional architecture. The impact of devastation is felt even today. The activities of the British, cultural, architectural, or otherwise, must be reviewed in the frame of their overall attitude and intension. Their activities, guided by the sole intension of economic exploitation, totally disregarded the culture of Bengal. In fact, by their attitude and behaviour, they almost destroyed the existing socio-cultural scene totally Sir Charles Trevelyans description of Dhaka in 1840 is worth mentioning as an indicator of the effect of the British activities: The population of Dhaka has fallen from 150,000 to 40,000 and the jungle and malaria are fast encroaching upon the town Dhaka, which was the Manchester of India, has fallen off their first from a very flourishing town to a very poor and small one. Similar descriptions of other towns are also available.
Meanwhile, Calcutta, a town developed by and for the British, began to flourish as a center of the British rulers. Here, and later in other part of the country, they put up their first buildings as exact facsimiles of buildings in Europe visually executed in the Neo-classical manner popular in Europe in those days. Examples include Calcutta Government House, Serampur College and Dhaka Old State Bank (Fig.).
Climate was the first factor which forced a change in the imported European buildings. Locally used architectural elements, such as, overhanging eaves, wooden lattice and the verandah began to be introduced in the British buildings and gave rise to a new type with a strange mixture of elements.
It is interesting, but not surprising to note that the local elite, completely overwhelmed by the European economy and culture, accepted in totality the British buildings. The Palace complex of the Nawab of Murshidabad (1820s), the Murshidabad Imambara, Ahsan Manzil in Dhaka are examples as are the many residences of the Zamindars and elites all over Bengal. Thus, both the Englishmen in India and the local elites contributed to create a hybrid style- a pastiche of diverse and discordant elements. This trend has influenced the ideas of the ruling class up to the present day.
The Partition of British India in 1947 was a step towards nationhood for Bangladesh; it also marks the beginning of a new phase of its architecture. Break of cultural continuity and absence of architects created a void in post-colonial architecture in Bangladesh. Though modernism was born in the twenties in Europe, modern architecture in Bangladesh was almost unknown till the mid-fifties.
As the state emerged as the major client; foreign architects and non-architects from West Pakistan and the West were often given commissions. The development of the Public Works Department as the main purveyor of construction and physical development is also another characteristic of the period. Thus architectural practice was deprived of patriotic zeal and succeeded in becoming bureaucratised and alienated.
Two British architects, Edward Hicks and Ronald McConnel, joined the Government of East Pakistan in 1948. The latter, who was already working as a senior assistant architect, was the consulting architect. Hicks’ master plan, ‘Dhaka Re-planning’, designated the future land use of various areas of the city of Dhaka, eg Motijheel commercial area, Nawabpur shopping area, and Azimpur and Dhanmondi residential areas. Hick undertook the design of several projects such as Hotel Shahbag, New Market, Azimpur Housing Estate etc. After his departure, McConnel was eventually became Chief Architect. McConnel designed many important public and private buildings such as Holy Family Hospital, Viquarunnesa Girls School, the nine-storied Secretariat Building etc.
Construction works picked up momentum during the 1960s, but in the backdrop of ignorance and indifference towards modern architecture, the adopted styles were not sensitive enough to the context. Despite some outstanding exceptions, the so-called PWD buildings dominated this period. The earlier buildings were bland, faceless, impersonalized and institutionalized, no attempt was made to relate them to the context. The contradictions of the formation of Pakistan statehood are reflected in the fluid architectural scene of its eastern wing, which passively accepted state-defined needs and forms, yet strove to reflect the emergent national spirit.
Muzharul Islam, the leading figure in architecture of the region, began his lonely yet committed struggle under these conditions, by designing two building in Dhaka in 1953, which, it might be said, initiated a “renaissance” in contemporary architecture for East Pakistan. Having trained first as an engineer, Muzharul Islam opted for further study in architecture and went to the University of Oregon in the United States and to Yale University where he received a Masters degree under the supervision of Paul Rudolph. It was upon his return to East Pakistan, and as part of his responsibilities within the ubiquitous Public Works Department (as no private architectural firms existed at the time) that he designed two edifices which are landmark in terms of the recent history of the profession locally: Dhaka, Public Library (now Dhaka University Library) and the College of Arts and Crafts. (Fig.) The former was clearly organized in a Corbusian modea cubic volume on stilts, complete with ramps, sun-breakers and pristine while colorbut it indicated for Dhaka then fresh qualities of urbanism and environment. The western wing of the project, with its climate control devices such as shell roofs and brick louvers for the openings, was an original articulation by the architect. It was, however, the College for Arts and Crafts, which came closer to mediating with the conditions of the place and program. Sprawling, low building volumes, the use of exposed fired brick which always has such a magical resonance with the “green” of Bengal, the natural garden setting on an urban site, all went to from the atmosphere of a campus that was ideal for the contemplation and learning of the arts, and, more importantly, indicated a spatial environment evoking the architectural poetics of the land.
Consulting Engineers Pakistan Ltd. established an architectural firm in Dhaka in 1960 named ‘Berger Engineers’ in collaboration with the American firm ‘Luis Berger Inc’. Several architects working for them and teaching at East Pakistan University of Engineering & Technology (EPUET) designed many institutional buildings up to 1967. An inconsistency can be traced in their work as many of them had little knowledge and experience of the local context, and often, different architects were designing different buildings in the same campus. Nevertheless, their works were comparatively rational and neat.
Among the Berger-architects, Robert Bouighy maintained a consistency in architectural vocabulary, technical excellence, and aesthetics in his creations. Concrete frame structures and its honest expression through ribbon windows, non-load bearing partition walls and cantilevered verandas are some examples that characterised Bouighy’s design. An inter-marriage of spatial and structural innovation culminated in his outstanding designs of the BUET Gymnasium building and Kamalapur Railway Station. Bouighy and Dunham designed the Station, which is remarkable for the open petal-shaped canopy unifying a number of otherwise disjointed buildings, an innovative expression through architectural forms. Bouighy’s other works are one hostel and the club house of the Agriculture University; Civil Engineering building, three hostels and pavilion of BUET (1963-67); Brothers’ Hostel of Notredame College (1963); St. Joseph School and Holy Family Hospital Sisters’ Hostel. (Fig.)
The Eventful 1960s
In the political area the 1950s registered the first tremor of a rift between the two wings of Pakistan. The dominant political consciousness in East Pakistan, particularly in the 1960s, motivated by the issue of economic disparities between the two wings, and fuelled by the manipulative use of religion by the central government, would polarize most Bengali intellectual towards secular, socialist thinking.
Turbulent as this period was politically, the 1960s were significant too in the architectural realm. A development spree (often as part of “foreign aid packages”) saw a profusion of building activities. There was chaos in architecture, but there were achievements too. It was in this decade that formal architectural education was established. An it was in this decade that important foreign architects like Louis I Kahn, Paul Rudolph, Constantine Doxiadis, Rechard Neutra, Stanly Tigerman produced their works here. In the 60s there were very few practicing architects, there were gaps in architectural sensibility, and inadequately trained people with vested interests were operating with the profession, yet there was an agreement among the architects to offer their very best to society
The involvement of the American trio Kahn, Rudolph and Tigermanwas due, to a great degree, to Muzharul Islam who saw a need in the vacuous contemporary situation to provide visual and provocative paradigms in the Bengali landscape. The intention was not too dissimilar to the still-fresh, high adventure of Le Corbusier at Chandigarh-Nehru’s “jolt” to Indians. Paul Rudolph was Muzharul Islams teacher at Yale, and Stanley Tigerman was a close classmate in the same institution. While students both Tigerman and Muzharul Islam had resolved to work together someday, and this was accomplished through the commission of five polytechnic institutes in Bangladesh. Paul Rudolph was invited in 1966 to prepare a master plan and to design important buildings of the Agricultural University ay Mymensingh. In the overwhelming atmosphere of national development through primarily Western models then prevalent, the work of these otherwise deeply sensitive architects provides interesting insight into the encounter between architectural morphology basically developed in the West and conditions that are often totally different from the original milieu. The most perceptible zones of this encounter were the architectonic and spatial solutions by which specific climatic conditions were tackled, the intelligent exploring of available materials and technology, and the subsequent abstract sculptural rendering of the artifact in the brilliant, tropical light. (Fig.)
However, the most poignant event would be to invite Louis I Kahn to design the capital complex at Shere Bangla Nagar in Dhaka. Kahn’s involvement at Dhaka is of epic proportions in itself. The Shere Bangla Nagar project eludes categorical statements of economic and cultural impropriety often made by some critics; the project continues to provoke an inspirational dialogue on the very fundamental nature of architecture and of human institutions. The force of Kahn’s ensemble is not merely formal, but emotional too; its genesis has become inextricable linked with the recent national struggle of the Bengalis. And this is what many people outside the Bengali domain would fail to comprehend. Of course, Kahn never intended this consciously, and whether the work of any other architect would have performed the same role is an open question, yet it is possible that Kahn’s special philosophical speculation about universal qualities in architecture to mediate between global and specific culture, “ancestral voice” and contemporaneity, found in the Dhaka project a coincidental significance.
Although the planning of Shere Bangla Nagar is informed by Beaux Arts sensibilities and much of the architectonic character by a Roman aura, it nonetheless creates a communion with certain aspects of Mughal planning and even the architectural order in such monastic complexes as Nalanda (in Bihar, India) and Paharpur (in North Bangladesh). This gives meaning to a still open search for archetypal dimensions in human enterprises. In spite of the debatable issue of economy and those abrupt circular cut-outs, Kahn’s work for a long time will stir and elucidate, as well as inspire generations of architects, in Bangladesh and India, to take up architecture as a serious, spiritual mission. (Fig.)
Doxiadis Associates, led by the famous Greek architect-town planner-philosopher, designed several institutional complexes sponsored by the Ford Foundation. Doxiadis’s projects, like Comilla BARD, College of Home Economics, IER and TSC of Dhaka University, express climatic adaptability and functional versatility in the design of groups of buildings of multiple functions in the same campus, and stress their inter-relationships. (Fig.)
After the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent sovereign nation in 1971, the issue of reiterating and establishing the national identity of a predominantly rural-based agrarian society took new dimensions. Architects then had to face the focus on the pressing needs of reconstruction and building rather than search for identity. The last quarter of the century, however, has opened up a new horizon of architectural development. Both in terms of types and volume, there was presented a tremendous opportunity for local architects. It provided them with greater freedom of expression and scope for higher level of intellectual exercise than before.
The architecture of the 1960s guided the architects of the next two decades and helped them find an indigenous response to pertaining issues. Architects succeeded through their work eventually to create awareness among the general people and at the same time achieved greater co-operation between different professional groups. 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, with the building needs and problems which, while intrinsic to the nation, are shared by other Third World or developing countries. A bourgeois citizenry developed who formed the new clientele for architects. In the design of individual houses, a search for an authentic local form is evident which tries to recreate a rural idyll in an urban setting by incorporating intrinsic elements into the building and blending it with its setting. This, coupled with 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.
There has been considerable progress in the varieties of building materials available in the post-Independence period. 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, are easily available at moderate price, and hence used abundantly. 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 in bizarre and lavish interiors and exteriors in both residential and commercial buildings. The use of exposed ceramic brick, following its use in the Sher-E-Bangla Nagar Capital Complex, gained popularity in the 1970s. This gave way to bontile finishes in the mid-1980s following its use by the Japanese architects of Hotel Sonargaon.
In recent years, some expatriate architects have designed buildings that recall several established architectural notions of the past. The Islamic Institute of Technology in Gazipur by the Turkish architect Doruk Pamir is a project where Islamic sensitivity has found expression; at the same time it is sympathetic to the local context. On the other hand, the US Chancery Building by the Boston firm of Kallman, McKinnel and Woods attempted to re-establish age-old Indian sensitivity through elemental pastiche and surface fenestration. Typical sub-continental elements have been used, but not in ways used in Indian architecture to tone down the scale of massive buildings to human proportions. (Fig.)
In the urban housing sector, proliferation of high-rise apartments, more particularly since the mid-1980s in Dhaka, is noticeable. Architects are now faced with a challenge. To provide an expression compatible to the local history and culture, while filling up the urban skyline with concrete jungles is a challenging job. Only a concerted effort by professionals and policy makers can pave the way for this emerging powerful form to provide a definite and desirable addition to the physical character of the urban areas of Bangladesh. (Fig.)
There has been a marked change in the design of all types of residences from the single unit individual house to multi-storied apartments. Rising construction costs, reduced plot size, and a changed life pattern have warranted a gradual consolidation in the arrangement of internal spaces, which usually evolve around the dining space; a replacement for the traditional courtyard as the focus of all family activities and spaces. Drawing and dining spaces are usually without any permanent partitions, and in many luxurious houses one or more family lounges are added. (Fig.)
Public sector housing in Bangladesh is still synonymous with housing for public servants – the so called ‘staff quarters’. Despite a limited number of sites-and-services projects, core housing, hire-purchase flats for sale, and slum upgrading/rehabilitation schemes, public housing have primarily catered to the needs of government employees. That public sector is beginning to implement housing schemes for the general mass is in itself an act of redemption for negligence in the past. The evolving concept of public housing is reflective of architects` increasing consciousness of social dynamics and the 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 rationalization. (Fig.)
Buildings for government use and institutional buildings have always been built in Bangladesh, but they have changed substantially in form and content in recent years. With Independence, government architecture gradually began to wear a democratic face, and became more accessible to the general mass. The gradual shift from a superfluous formal approach towards more functional and rational architecture and judicious use of space has contributed to the development of contemporary architecture. A conscious attempt to create a congenial atmosphere by manipulating light, color and finish can be identified in these buildings. There is a tendency towards organizing office spaces according to an open plan, which encourages interpersonal contact and a homogenous workflow, rather than the stereotyped double-loaded corridor pattern. (Fig.)
The demand for multi-level constructions due to scarcity of land makes the application of new technology inevitable. The innate qualities of exposed building materials is understood and exploited in many buildings. Architects have started to design higher buildings as the demand for more commercial spaces is ever increasing with the emergence and growth of the nation. Growing economic activities in the country is symbolized by the rising commercial towers in metropolitan areas. In these modern high-rise blocks too, architect’s skill confronts the needs and limitations of the indigenous architecture and national identity. (Fig.)
Since independence, varieties of cultural and institutional buildings have been built, which have their own identity and functions. 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. (Fig.)
The scope for interaction between the people and built environment further enriched the typology. Along with different functional spaces, architects have also involved themselves in creating meaningful spaces both inside and outside the building. The Osmany Memorial Hall by government architects is expressive of this spatial quality where landscaping has been considered an integral part of the schemata. Architects have also been conscious about settings. For example, the monumentality of the National Library and Archive has appropriately responded to the Assembly Building in the same area. In many of these buildings, brick has been used abundantly, often in its true form. (Fig.)
To rejuvenate and capture the spirit of Bengali nationalism, formal monumental and civic buildings like memorials, museums, libraries, hospitals, and institutions are now being designed and built in an increasing number in independent Bangladesh, although these are often devoid of good architectural qualities. Among these Jatiya Smrti Saudha (National Memorial) at Savar stands out and is of a quality with its skilful abstraction of theme blended with the landscape and its ideal scale, it is a work which can compare with the best work done internationally. (Fig.)
Health facilities have extended all over the country, carrying the benefit of architecture to the grassroots level. Existing hospitals and rural health centers were also expanded and new ones were established. Logical functional interpretation, efficiency and efficacy became measures of success of such physical facilities. The forms and facade of these buildings are usually neat and simple and devoid of superficial ornamentation. (Fig.)
In the 1980s development of sports and recreational facilities received hitherto unprecedented public support and resulted in the development of different sports and recreational facilities throughout the country. More organized, functional and complete, the forms of such facilities are more definitely expressive and specific. Conscious effort is made in them to articulate spaces and build forms to make them visually appealing. Exploitation of commercial aspects has resulted in the utilization of the outer envelope as shopping arcades in many of the new sports and recreational buildings. In the Bangladesh Sports Training Institute (BKSP) at Savar meaningful and relevant outdoor spaces with artificial lake and mounds were created, in addition to the uniform treatment given to the buildings, contributing to integrity and visual harmony. (Fig.)
In spite of general apathy towards industrial buildings and the lack of a congenial market for their services, architects have been involved in designing factory buildings. The Telephone Shilpa Sangstha at Tongi, Eastern Cables Factory at Gazipur, Philips Color TV Factory at Mahakhali and Bangladesh Insulator and Sanitary Wares Factory at Mirpur are some examples of creative work done in this sector. Adoption of new technology and materials in contemporary industrial architecture is reflected in many new complexes. The architects are shifting from steel truss clad with iron sheets to concrete flat and shell roofs. (Fig.)
In this condensed survey of architecture in Bangladesh, the rich heritage of this country can only be partially expressed. One feature which makes architecture in this region unique in its own forms with special qualities. Whatever came to Bengal ultimately was absorbed in the culture giving a fresh and new dimension to the existing framework. Up to the advent of the Mughals whatever happened was ultimately Bengali with its roots deep in the tradition and culture of the country. The Mughals came with an imperialist outlook and created the first disturbance in the continuity in the field of architecture. The coming of British saw a severance of all ties with the existing culture of the country.
Architecture sustains its life on living civilizations and living culture. Without roots deeply embedded in the culture and people, architecture is meaningless shell. Visual clichés and idioms without any reference to the local culture do not produce architecture, or even good buildings.
After 1947, the whole of the Indian sub-continent faced crisis due to the almost total absence of architects in the country, neither was there a viable and reasonable system of education for the architect in the sub-continent. The few architects who were practicing were trained in England and the English educational system had nothing to do with the Indian culture. Bangladesh as a part of Indian sub-continent faced the same problem. Almost all contemporary works are rooted in western culture, though the architects, local and foreign, have tried to solve problems with local conditions in mind. Perhaps it is not possible ever to bridge gap in the real sense between the Sultanate period and the present day Bangladesh, or the ancient past and the present day scene.
The architects in Bangladesh are working under continuous pressures. On the one hand the educational system and the architectural world outside are completely dominated by western ideas and culture. On the other hand, there is a tremendous urge to respond to local cultural needs and aspirations. Probably the situation is similar in all the countries of South Asia. There is no reason why any architect in our countries should have a view limited by the boundaries of our countries. It is obvious that technologically and culturally nobody can live in isolation. Then there is a question of pride in ones own work and that work can be the product of ones own creative activity. Without deep roots in ones own culture and the heritage of the people, it is not possible to sustain a creative. The present day architects in Bangladesh bear this in the bottom of their hearts.