“The infrastructure of a city is concerned about its trading system and density. Hence, it is all about sharing facilities as we share the same building, recreation areas, educational institutions, hospitals and many more"
A city is born out of hard work and years of proper planning – making it very difficult to restructure its permanent form in case it comes tumbling down.
The architecture of a city can go astray if not structured well – believes prominent architect Ehsan Khan, principal architect at EK Architects.
What dragged Ehsan towards building a better city? A passion for art combined with his father's professional engagement with construction lured him into the world of architecture. And he dreamt of building a well-structured city.
Ehsan Khan has designed the Mausoleum of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Gopalgonj, he was nominated for Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2010 for designing Nishorgo Oirabot Nature Interpretation Centre at Teknaf.
"Architects build new structures, new cities – a belief which pulls one like a magnet. The spirit of creating something with absolute mental and physical engagement is a strong drive for me – one of the reasons why I wanted to become an architect," said Ehsan.
Legendary Architect Muzharul Islam had a big part to play in Ehsan and some of his friends' education and career. "Being a mentor, he granted use of his premise and let us work under him as a team so that we get to learn his methods. In architecture, we usually study the aesthetical and functional structure of a building but he taught us what my responsibilities are towards consumers, clients, environment, surrounding, country, and my next generation," said Ehsan Khan.
The infrastructure of a city
In Ehsan's words, first, we have to understand the physical environment of a city and a village.
"The infrastructure of a city is concerned about its trading system and density. Hence, it is all about sharing facilities as we share the same building, recreation areas, educational institutions, hospitals and many more. Whereas, a village is built focusing on its agricultural objective. We have to ensure all the civic benefits without changing the setting of a village."
Private sectors can help the government in their firm will to change the system and in achieving the goals of industrialisation, providing electricity, infrastructure, employment and many more. Real estate companies can help them to fulfil those goals. Also, we need to set goals according to environmental demands."
While building a city, we have to minimise the use of bricks – the topsoil in bricks harms agriculture.
Nonetheless, it is the era of urbanisation. We need strict laws and look for alternative options like using blocks or concrete. As we do not have any steel mine of our own, concrete is a safer option to build sustainable structure, especially for high-rise buildings, which can protect us from an earthquake.
On restructuring a city
"Architecture is an expression of art. In modern movement, art, literature, culture – everything has developed a philosophy for an ideal social system – so goes for architecture. Nonetheless, to create something new, destroying everything existing does not make sense. We have to find a middle ground," said Ehsan Khan.
In Dhaka city, most of the buildings are congested and enjoying the sunshine is a "luck by chance" here. On top of that, air conditioners are extremely harming the environment.
Our society and policymakers need to agree on points where they want to make changes.
"Very few professional architects are involved in sensitive planning. We need stricter building codes. Old and New Dhaka cannot have the same building rules as we are changing every day and rules have to be different for different places."
Our rules are made primarily (needs to be re-examine) which has been also compromised as there is no collaboration among RAJUK, City Corporations, Traffic Management, and DESCO," said Ehsan.
On specifications of commercial buildings
Ehsan said, "When we work in private sectors, our first priorities are to ensure sustainability, usability, safety, functional ability as high-rise a building, open space at ground floor, and natural source of light and air. We have been successful in meeting all these demands in some of our commercial projects."
The Skymark designed by EK Architects has been appreciated by the building users, especially for its open space as people can use it to take a breather in their spare time.
"It is not easy to keep open spaces in a city through planning only. Building awareness among citizens is a must, coupled with maintaining the place artificially – for example by putting grass on the surface. The bottom line is, limiting the parameter of environment pollution will help to maintain open spaces," added Ehsan.
On fire safety system in infrastructure
Only a few countries have an area of refuge after every seven floors.
"In the fire evacuation system, we use staircases which provide two-hour fire endurance to users that resists smoke through forced ventilation and pressure. Yet, it is a challenge for physically impaired people. We also require a fireman's lift. We need fireman's elevator which is also fire protected. It becomes activated when the building is set on fire. Yet, we have not included this neither in fire rule nor in BNBC code. And, clients need to be proactive for maintaining the rules," said Ehsan.
On balancing the imbalance
Currently, many buildings in Dhaka city are adding to its aesthetic value. This is where the challenge lies. Aesthetics changes its definition from person to person. Ensuring a building's functional ability is important than anything.
"We need to promote diversity with harmony and Bangladesh has the capability to do so. There are many cities which do not have well-structured buildings but they have a well-designed city. We are totally opposite to that. Look at our city, we neither have broad pavements, roads, enough trees, nor a good city environment. We are totally depending on buildings whereas we should focus on the city plan."