In an interview with The Business Standard, Nahas Ahmed Khalil, architect of the South Breeze Square building in Gulshan, talks about why he holds designing close to his heart, and his attempts to build sustainable buildings in cities, as well as remote areas
Wavy louvers covering its front and the entire structure representing a harmony of light and strength - the South Breeze Square building in Gulshan stands out from its neighbours with its unique design.
According to its designer and one of the most prominent architects in the country - Nahas Ahmed Khalil, the building volume was split so that one part could partially shade the other. Shading devices were put on the exposed part only.
In an interview with The Business Standard, he talked about the South Breeze Square building, why he holds designing close to his heart, and his attempts to build sustainable buildings in cities as well as remote areas.
On South Breeze Square's design, Nahas said, "A system of vertical and horizontal shading elements have been employed by designers to cut-off much low level sunlight. The wavy louvers you see are a series of concrete strips that open and close back in arbitrarily, but in harmony, cutting off the western sun almost completely, yet maintaining a sense of opening towards the only open west of this particular plot of land."
"Traditionally, natural daylight has successfully been harvested by large windows in office buildings. For current-day offices, glare on computer screens next to the windows force the use of window-screens, which, while stopping the glare, reduces a lot of natural light, without reducing the amount of heat from entering."
He explained that a system was devised where the lower mid-section, closer to the computers could be screened off, with individual controls, while the upper and lower segments would still remain free to allow unrestricted daylight.
By pushing out the mid-section above the height of the desk, and adding an extension inside, a light-tray is achieved, which, at the same time, keeps sunlight off the desk and bounces the sunlight deeper into the spaces.
Other than the South Breeze Square Building, Architect Nahas Ahmed Khalil has also created successful projects like Matir Bari, Akashprodip, Bengal Bangshibari, and Rashid Eye Hospital. At present, he is the Principal of Arc Architectural Consultants.
We asked Nahas about any particular project that he enjoyed doing, among all the ones he has designed till now. The architect shared that he simply enjoyed the process of design.
"My creative limits will set the level of my achievements. The judge of these achievements will be my peers, across a time-distance."
"What would be your particular designing style, if one may ask? What are the areas of architecture that intrigue you the most?" we posed our next question to him.
"While that is a question often asked of designers and artists, I believe 'style' should not be something the designer ought to be concerned about. I hope I do not have a signature that is evident to anybody who does not seriously follow my journey through the design process. That would mean I am repeating myself and should reflect very badly on my creative process."
"Louis Khan's Salk Institute, Kimbell Art Gallery, and the Shangshad Bhaban do not have a discernible signature. Only to those who have intently followed his thoughts through time and projects are able to surmise common decisions. That is why he is such a great master. He has not repeated himself, each project was born out of the need for the existence of that project."
We wanted to know about his selection of materials for building construction. Nahas said that for him, materials used should be local, as far as possible. He believes that when used simply, with the love and care that the material's beauty deserves, it instils the serenity that arts yearn for in the beholder.
"The only permanent building material in our delta has been clay - burnt clay, bricks and it still is. A material is neither inherently ugly nor beautiful. Take the example of corten steel or rusted iron that has been around. Not until its beauty was seen by man did we begin to celebrate its beauty," he elaborated.
Nahas's father was in the army and his family moved quite a bit. He went to 10 schools and they lived in 16 houses in 10 cities. In 1982, he graduated from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).
His interest in architecture began from an early age, as he recalled.
"There is no one clear memory which I can trace back to, influencing me to come into the world of architecture. But I know for sure that I had toyed with the idea right before I appeared for my HSC exam.
I had heard of one of our most revered architects, Muzharul Islam, and I am wishfully inclined to believe that his name could have planted the first seeds. I remember I was making cardboard model houses in seventh grade. Perhaps the thought came very slowly without coming to the conscious forefront."
Did the architect think that biophilic (the incorporation of nature into the built environment) or high-tech mechanical design would be the new modern for Bangladesh?
"Biophilic and hi-tech are not mutually exclusive, even though we, apparently, make them out to be. The first is trying to reconnect to something mankind has lost. The latter has earned a bad name for itself, because of our own misuse.
Reinforced concrete must have been very hi-tech in the mid 1850's. Both are finds. I wish all kinds of finds well. I wish we humans have the wisdom to choose the right path when we arrive at the end of a particular search," he said.
Building sustainable and eco-friendly structures for urban cities and remote areas is one of our major concerns, and according to Nahas, global warming has brought to the fore questions of environmental sustainability and architects have to do their part in alleviating global carbon emission and reverse the way of thinking.
"Look at our own architectural masterpiece, Louis Kahn's Shangshad Bhaban. Brick and concrete - mostly locally procured. The building was designed in the 60's and built by locally trained workmen, with much stress on natural light.
Look at the British colonial buildings. There was no air-conditioning available. The buildings were designed for maximising airflow and minimising heat gain. An average building now consumes more energy and uses much more materials, that are transported over long distances.
Not all solutions are transferable over climates and geographical locations. We will have to think and develop our own solutions. That is a challenge for us as a society – not only architects. If governments along with all the stakeholders work together, we will be able to contribute to the global basket of knowledge.
"'Touch the earth lightly'- wise words from the Australian architect Glenn Murcutt, I think, pretty much sums up our road map. If we all look for the answers together, I believe nature will reveal the answers," he concluded.