The Liberation War Museum’s amphitheatres, semi-open spaces, and lofty break down in the intersection of the buildings make the establishment stand out from any other building of contemporary time
There is a ticket counter on the first floor and the galleries start from the second floor. But the way to the second floor is not through the stairs, rather there is a slope like "ramp" that leads to the second-floor galleries.
The wall of the ramp showcases ancient and contemporary motifs of Bangladesh. The architect's intention was to introduce the journey of Bangladesh to the visitors through those.
The motifs on the wall include our national flower water lily and there are many more familiar ones like the "Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban".
One of the museum officials informed us that this feature reminds him of the journey of the war refugees in 1971 when they had to flee from their houses in flocks for safety beyond the border.
A museum usually serves the purpose of storing historical artefacts or it represents the growth of society with time. It can also be an ideal space for research.
But sometimes it can do way more than that. If the ambience of the place succeeds in recreating some moments from the past, then it becomes a place that does much more than just displaying memorabilia.
But it is not an easy task to create such an ambience. This is where the charisma of an architect lies which happened in case of the Liberation War Museum in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.
Its amphitheatres, semi-open spaces, and lofty break down in the intersection of the buildings make the establishment stand out from any other building of the contemporary time.
This is because the architect wanted to evoke particular emotions among the visitors about their ancestors' struggle and sacrifice.
Initially, the Liberation War Museum was at Shegunbagicha, Dhaka.
Due to inadequate space, the important artefacts and relics from our valiant war were not exhibited there. It became a demand for time to have a bigger, more spacious museum to preserve those pieces.
A board of trustee with eight members was created who wished for a well-designed museum where visitors would be able to connect to their history. They held a contest asking for a design for the new museum.
Around 70 designs were submitted. Among them, the architect couple Tanzim Hasan Salim and Naheed Farzana from architectural consultancy firm Design Work Groups (DWG) won the first prize.
Tanzim Salim who was working in Abu Dhabi at that time returned home to design the museum. It was his dedication that resulted in a splendid edifice.
There are four galleries in the museum. They do not abruptly show the war relics. The galleries start from displaying pieces of ancient Bengal and the Indian independence movement against British rule.
It shows the birth of Pakistan and then the language movement. To make the language movement accurate, they used 2D and 3D pictorial presentation.
Then it gradually shows the revolts, uprising of people and pieces on war. The galleries are 3,500 square meters and the architect has utilised every inch of the space.
The flow of light was given importance while structuring the building.
In a conversation with The Business Standard, Tanzim Salim said it was challenging to execute his plan into reality.
"Our emotions are abstract. When I started designing the building, I could feel a rush of emotions. But expressing those emotions through geometry preserving the gravity of the cause was difficult. At the same time, I tried to keep it relevant for the young generation as well," he said.
However, he had to keep many things in mind while using the space. For example, he tried to keep the galleries in an elevated space.
Despite being fond of open space, he had to cover the roofs to protect visitors from rain or extreme sunlight. At the same time, he tried to keep relevance with the present generation as well as retain the historical significance.
"Museums can be a social institute for us. So, I tried to keep my design in a way that would evoke curiosity among young people," he said.
In all four galleries, there is a "space of isolation" specially designed for the young generation.
It is like a corner in the gallery separated by temporary walls where one person can enter at a time. Isolated from others, it would give them a moment to think about their predecessors who had to go on a war to earn their rights. It would give them a moment to think of their rebellious spirit.
In fact, Tanzim Salim himself was driven by the rebellious spirit of the freedom fighters while designing the museum. He anticipated that the semi-open spaces, the flow of light will help the visitors fathom the spirit of "rebellion" that once inspired a regular farmer to take on weapons to free his country.
There are glasses on the floor and the walls through which you can see the ground floor and they let in light through the floors. Also, they help the visitors catch a glimpse of the aircraft that hangs in front of the building.
In the galleries, there are audiovisual documentaries on the play. Anyone visiting the museum will not only see the static pieces, they will also see infographics and videos of the war that help to keep the narrative alive.
The use of a dark tunnel to illustrate operation searchlight creates a mood of suspense. It was designed by Ashok Karmoker.
To add authenticity to the ambience, a military vehicle, which had actually been a part of the war, is kept with its headlights on.
The museum has collected around 21,000 artefacts over the years. The new space has become a place to display all those.
To depict the refugee life in camps, a physical tunnel is assembled with the images and the memorabilia on display.
Along with the images and souvenirs of renowned personalities, souvenirs of unknown freedom fighters are also preserved in the galleries.
The top floor of the building holds a special place for events and gathering, giving the tour to the museum a content experience.
The Liberation War Museum stands as an architectural facet and is likely to remain so for years to come.