“Beautification of a house comes through the natural light and space in it. If these two are kept in mind, the entire place can come to life. If our buildings were designed to let in sufficient sunlight, along with a library and a playground, Dhaka would have been a better place to live in”
The Arcadia Education Project in South Kanarchor by Architect Saif Ul Haque is one of the six projects that won the 2019 Aga Khan Award. The bamboo-built school is water-repellent and during monsoon, for a third of the year, its lower half remains submerged.
Saif Ul Haque shared his experience of contextual architectural work, the architectural condition of Dhaka city, and his journey as an educator with The Business Standard.
About the Arcadia Education Project, Haque said, "The place is such that it offered a challenge. Therefore, we planned it differently to incorporate a preschool, a hostel, a nursery, and a vocational training centre. Considering the natural stream of the river water, we kept the design in line with the habitation process."
Another remarkable work of Haque is the Camp House that he designed in Bogura for an archaeological team. These projects show the sustainable development of architecture in Bangladesh.
His notable works include the BRAC training center in Faridpur, the 'Banchte Shekha Center' in Jessore, the Camp house for French Archaeological Mission in Bogra and the Govinda Gunalanker Hostel in Chittagong.
Haque is a guest faculty at University of Wuhan, China and a guest critic at Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET), Dhaka, ETH Zurich, Switzerland and University of Pennsylvania, USA.
Since childhood, Haque wanted to be an architect. One of his cousins used to study in BUET. "I used to help him with his submissions on making model buildings. Looking at him drawing the designs, that entire process of getting involved in something creative inspired me to do the same in future."
When he was a student, the environment of the Architecture Department in BUET was exciting. The classes were mostly based on studio methods. The entire process of studying and learning as a group was very thrilling and meeting project deadlines was fundamental.
Saif Ul Haque passed out in 1983 along with 150-200 of his batchmates.
"Right after we graduated, few of us tagged along with Architect Raziul Ahsan for further guidance. During that process, the pioneer of modern architecture in Bangladesh, Architect Mazharul Islam, took few classes for us.
Being under his tutelage and getting involved with the creative process of making a house inspired me to learn and practice more."
Around 1953 or earlier, there were few qualified Bengali architects in East Pakistan. There was only one institute for architecture and arts – Sir JJ College of Architecture in Mumbai. Mazharul Islam filled the void in Bangladesh. However, according to Haque, our architecture was always prolific, as we see in Mahasthangarh in Bogura.
Haque shared, "But eventually, we could not hold on to Mazharul Islam's legacy. There was little progress in the architectural arena since his demise. It is only recently that we have been waking up and creating our position internationally. Marina Tabassum, Kashem Mahbub Chowdhury have received the Aga Khan award. Therefore, Bangladesh's name has come to the spotlight. I believe that we are on our way to a brighter future."
Haque's writings on architecture and city have been published in Bangladesh and abroad. His books include 'Pundranagar to Sher-e-banglanagar: Architecture in Bangladesh' (1997) and 'Sher-e-banglanagar: Louis I. Kahn and the making of a Capital Complex' (2002). The idea of having a better city encourage him to work on different projects.
In the Bengali culture, big verandas were necessary for having evening tea accompanied by a book or few guests, and thereby, open spaces were a must have.
Now, architecturally, Dhaka is one of the most unattractive cities. The countless high-rise buildings without any breathing spaces, tiny verandas and no access of sunlight –make the scenario rather unpleasant for its residents.
"Beautification of a house comes through the natural light and space in it. If these two are kept in mind, the entire place can come to life. If our buildings were designed to let in sufficient sunlight, along with a library or a playground, Dhaka would have been a better place to live in."
Why and how did Dhaka become a concrete jungle? "It is a result of the ill management of building designs and structures. We have come a long way from the changes that were brought by our independence in 1971. Had the fundamental rights of living been considered for every class of our society, such malfunctions would not have happened in the first place," expressed a disheartened Haque.
Moreover, structuring the city has to be a collective effort and not a personal interest. Ample amount of sunlight, playgrounds for children are among the basic necessities of life that are currently not being served.
Everyone should be able to afford these but it has to be very well planned. Regardless of his or her financial or social situation, everyone has the right to live well.
To Haque's concern, Dhakaites have to suffer for making the city a concrete jungle. "Decentralising Dhaka, enriching the other cities with work opportunities, investing and re-empowering are the demands of time. However, social housing has to be well organised and countries like Germany can be followed as models."