When Architect Rizvi Hassan and his associates built a community centre for the Rohingyas, it became an Eden for the stateless
In 2019, the community centre named "Beyond survival," built primarily from bamboo, was opened to the Rohingya community of the camp to ensure better communication between the hosts and the stateless.
Upon arrival at "The Centre for Displaced Rohingya Women and Girls", people come across a curved wall, and as they pass through the gate, they see a circular courtyard and rooms that surround it.
It is a safe zone built for women and children of the Rohingya community who sought asylum at the world's largest refugee camp in Cox's Bazar.
Designed by a team of architects from Brac, this community centre will remind you how bamboos add an organic touch to architectural excellence.
The centre provides a mix of private spaces for counselling, refugee case management meetings, and a dedicated zone for breastfeeding.
Group gatherings and joint skills workshops for rehabilitation purpose are also arranged here.
"The idea is to create common spaces where users and hosting nationals can connect to share knowledge and support. Both the refugees and host communities are affected due to the influx and now the best way of dealing with the situation is to share empathy, knowledge, and ideologies for better understanding," shared Architect Rizvi Hassan while talking about the Integrated Community Centre.
The relationship between minority and majority groups among the Rohingyas has not always been good.
They also could not build trust with hosting nationals and others.
Fear, insecurity, and unwanted incidents have been making them increasingly skeptical.
To mitigate the differences, build connections, and increase trust between the Hindu Para society refugee individuals and the host community, the Integrated Community Centre arrived as a proposition for a colourful shared space, keeping in mind environmental factors and ensuring that the space becomes an impetus for better communication.
The exterior of the structure is well camouflaged and merged with the surrounding as a part of an environment-friendly, sustainable design solution, because the region falls near the Asian elephant's route.
Meanwhile, to give the feel of a jovial and vibrant space, the interior is decorated with motifs and patterns in red and yellow. Also, the interior surfaces have been brightly coloured for an added effect.
The outside of the structure is battered and attempts to blend with the unique situation.
The surface, shading, and setting are enlivened by the frequently observed "Paner Boroj" (Betel leaf shades) inside rice fields.
Then again, the inside has the hues sufficiently dynamic to make a lively environment.
The pocket spaces inside the structure create opportunity and space for the users.
Architect Rizvi Hassan and his team worked to design a system which would enable the refugees to develop hands-on skills, which would help them rehabilitate when they relocate.
For that reason, he tried to build the centre using techniques that are available, and materials that are common and locally found.
This project is the result of interactions between the local residents, open discussion of their necessities, and the technical know-how of the Brac team.
This group of enthusiasts, which included Project manager Tahrima Akhtar, Architect Rizvi Hassan, Engineer Biplob Hossain along with Deputy Project Managers Sheikh Jahidur Rahman, and Mehrin Ifthikhar, brainstormed and discussed ideas with the camp refugees to address their needs.
The camp's collective effort, along with the help from Abdullah Al Mamum, Kala Hossain, Anwar and others (project assistant, refugee masons, and craftsmen) resulted in this sublime structure for the refugees.
The Guardian referred it as "a union of a vital purpose and thoughtful design" while it was listed as the world's top 10 new architectural projects in 2019 that functions to facilitate a peaceful interaction between women and girls from communities.
As part of the project, the masons learned the skills necessary and implemented them into construction.
Basic materials such as woven bamboo walls (because they would be replaced by more permanent element), straw thatching and canvass (requires change in one-year span and can be supplanted with long-lasting materials) were used as they were low-cost there.
Just like the camp, the shelter is merely temporary, and the bamboo and the straws ought to get replaced in a year.
As Camp 25 sits in a region which is vulnerable to cyclones, the bamboo structure and straw-thatched roof would even be less dangerous during high winds.
Different construction techniques were explored and implemented based on knowledgeable experiences of the masons and the technical expertise of Rizvi and team.
"The residents shared probable needs and issues they had faced. They worked in the construction process too. The spaces are generally hand crafted by both the hosting national and the members from refugee community," Architect Rizvi said while sharing his experience about how they conceptualised and constructed such a fantastic project.
Toilets and bathing facilities are settled in separate outhouses to one side of the women's centre.
The privacy afforded here was a crucial a part of the design.
In the time of social-distancing, this structure became a beacon of hope for the residents living in tightly congested space.
"Currently the centre is open for any emergency situation. The spaces are also being used to make double layered masks out of clothes, increase safety awareness, and also provide common guidelines such as maintaining necessary distance, wearing face mask, washing hands and feet frequently etc," the architect said from his experience during the pandemic.
Certainly, this architecture is playing its role as a social platform for sharing and caring even during this crisis.
Here the community of refugees, despite their lack of resources and amenities, dream that one day they will overcome all the hardship and go back to their home safe and rehabilitated.
The community spaces by Brac, Unicef and Unhcr are a ray of hope for these people.
To tune in with the hopeful words of the visionaries of such a project, we can say that we can do a lot more for the people through architecture during crisis such as the pandemic.
Architecture can guide behaviours, influence cleanliness, and ensure a healthier environment. In the case of the Rohingyas, it is more important to have better solutions with temporary material because of shortage of space.
Hasin Ahmad Zahin is an architect.