Architecture of Bangladesh: Consciousness on contextual architecture

--Ar. Quamrul Ameen Pappu

“We are the people our parents warned us about” – Jimmy Buffet

7. Arch Quamrul Ameen (Pappu)

The self-evident blight about Dhaka is the lack of green. In the race to build a megalopolis, not only do we lose our closeness with nature, we feed urban blight and  feel warped by the concrete jungle.

Louis Kahn, the US American architect, most celebrated in Bangladesh explained the process in these words, “Design is not making beauty, beauty emerges from selection, affinities, integration, love.” He also said that “Architecture is the thoughtful making of space.” Put in the context of his approach to architecture, where does architecture in Bangladesh stand today? Given that the main city is getting beyond overcrowded, is there a role architects can play in decentralization? And in choosing not to do that, are architects making the wrong choice? Architects must bring forth solutions, not just Codes and Laws.

“The street is a room by agreement,” Kahn had said. Considering that, are architects in Bangladesh utilizing this concept at all? Context is missing in how we build Dhaka currently. In affluent residential areas, towering walls and gates separate each building from the street. The idea of context comes alive in the language of the locality, the neighbourhood that a particular building will be a part of. A grand Gulshan mansion will look out of place within the ancient majesty of Old Dhaka or the feel of Tejkunipara,Bashabo, Md pur etc.Each area has their own language (may not be “tradition” separately).  The aim is not to discriminate between these area but find an “interactive language” that is common to each specific area.

At a time when participation is buzzword, what exactly, is the role of the local people in coming up with architectural solutions? The self-image of architects is that we are the master of our own art. But are we really? Architecture has been lauded as a practical art, it sits atop the junction of engineering and reality. If that is the case, where are people really being involved? If people view art as being beyond the scope of their understanding, if architectural creations are inaccessible to them, then it “surely” misses the point. Art has to come to people, at least for Architecture.

The FAR rules established recently have brought about drastic improvements in the city’s living environments. While the failures on the implementation side need to be conceded, a space has at least been created for a new better start.

With all that in mind, those of us involved in the building industry and practice this disciplined need to be on guard. We need to be more conscious of these concepts, and have a greater sense to the ethical obligations in our profession. Repeatedly we neglect environmental and contextual integrity, and there is no law in place yet to ensure that we stop. Thus these choices still depend completely on the practicing professionals, and if continue to be unaware the problems will keep perpetuating.

This is not a responsibility architects can keep avoiding. If the subject persists being posh in its approach, and perceived as such by those outside the field, the future looks discouraging. Architects can no longer avoid how what we build should reflect inner feelings, follow well-established rules all the while providing viable solutions. Addressing context necessitates meshing in with the local language in problem solving, involving the people and determining clear-cut steps in decentralization.