For the individuals of coastal Bangladesh, the monsoon can convey untold torment – and, sometimes, surprising pleasure. Yearly from June to October, in the Ganges delta area the place the nation’s three main rivers converge, the waterways swell and riverbanks burst, inflicting catastrophic flooding. The torrential rainfall is joined by heavy glacial runoff from the Himalayas, exacerbated lately by world heating. Houses and livelihoods are misplaced in a single day. However the meltwater additionally brings cascades of sediment that, a number of months later, go away unpredictable presents – new strips of land, generally known as “chars”, rising from the riverbed.
“You possibly can’t actually name it land,” says Marina Tabassum, who has been awarded the Soane medal, the first architect from the world south to win the prestigious gong. “It’s wetness. It belongs to the river. However for the landless, the chars supply some years of reduction. They supply a spot to fish, domesticate and settle with their households.”
Tabassum turned her attentions to the delta area final 12 months when the pandemic struck and work in her Dhaka workplace, MTA, slowed down. It gave her time to pause and mirror, and reassess the place the expertise of an architect could make the most distinction. The nationwide lockdown had induced many to lose their jobs, growing homelessness in the area, with numerous delta-dwellers compelled to dwell beneath makeshift tarpaulin shelters.
“As architects we have now a accountability to those individuals,” she says. “The development trade contributes half of all world emissions, however the individuals being affected by sea-level rise in the coastal areas have zero carbon footprint.”
Coming sizzling on the heels of the compromised deal agreed finally week’s Cop26 local weather summit, her lecture, to be given at Sir John Soane’s Museum on Tuesday night and streamed online, couldn’t be extra well timed. Hers is a mannequin of light-footed apply, in tune with what she calls “the knowledge of the land”. It’s an method that prioritises native expertise and supplies over technocratic options, working in concord with pure cycles and utilizing indigenous data to intervene with minimal means, with out “the roaring noise of structure”.
Final 12 months, Tabassum and her workforce used the pandemic lull to develop a low-cost modular home equipment for the landless char dwellers. They’d beforehand researched the area’s standard flat-pack properties, that are designed to be dismantled and moved when wanted, however the price of £1,500, together with their requirement for carpenters, places them out of attain of many. MTA designed a easy space-frame system utilizing lengths of available bamboo, linked with metal joints, that might home a household of 4 for £300, and be constructed by residents themselves. The Khudi Bari (Tiny Home) includes a pitched-roof higher degree sleeping platform above a floor flooring of compacted earth, with the construction clad in panels of woven grass, or no matter native supplies are at hand. 4 households have been rehoused up to now in Char Hijla, southern-central Bangladesh, to check how the design works, with 100 extra properties on the manner.
Born in Dhaka in 1969, the third technology of a Bengali immigrant household, Tabassum grew up in a war-ravaged, fledgling nation, witnessing famine, demise and destruction as a toddler. Her father was the solely physician of their neighbourhood, and he would spend every morning attending to an extended queue of sufferers from the neighbouring slum earlier than setting off to work – instilling a way of social responsibility that she brings to her personal apply.
She graduated from structure college in 1995 by which era, she says, “the affliction of shopper structure had already infested Dhaka”. Excessive-rise business blocks have been arising, and younger architects have been anticipated to affix the fray, however she selected to withstand. The identical 12 months, she co-founded her first practice, Urbana, with Kashef Chowdhury, each pushed by a powerful perception in craft and a want to design buildings in tune with the historical past, local weather and tradition of the delta. Their decade-long partnership, in work and life, spawned a number of noteworthy tasks, from the Bangladesh Independence Monument and Liberation Museum, to housing that responds to the tropical atmosphere with massive openings, terraces and verandahs.
Founding Marina Tabassum Architects in 2005, she launched into a challenge (as the architect, builder, fundraiser and shopper) that may shoot her to worldwide prominence 11 years later, when it gained an Aga Khan award. Standing on a frenetic nook of northern Dhaka, the Bait ur Rouf mosque is an oasis of calm, merely modelled from bricks and daylight. Its sq. prayer corridor is surrounded by a cylindrical brick drum, in flip enclosed in a perforated brick dice, the gaps between the geometries permitting shafts of sunshine to scrub over the partitions from above. It has a timeless air, with echoes of Louis Kahn, whose Dhaka parliament constructing was a powerful affect on the younger Tabassum, in addition to the brick mosques of Thirteenth-century Bengal. Like her subsequent work, it’s fully naturally ventilated. “I really feel breathless,” she says, “if my constructing can’t breathe with out the assist of synthetic means.”
The highlight of the Aga Khan award led to her being invited to show a studio at Harvard, for which she introduced the college students over to Bangladesh to work on low-cost rural housing tasks. She was then invited to exhibit at the Venice Biennale in 2018, and subsequent Sharjah Triennial, becoming a member of the worldwide lecture and exhibition circuit. However the pandemic gave her time to refocus, and final 12 months she established a brand new non-profit department of her apply, the Foundation for Architecture Community Equity (Face), devoted to tasks for the nation’s landless, extremely low-income teams and local weather refugees.
They’re presently working in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh, residence to the world’s largest group of refugee camps, the place round 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims have fled from ethnic persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. Tabassum and her workforce have been designing meals distribution retailers and ladies’s centres – for each the camp and its host neighborhood – aiming to create a extra dignified expertise than the regular tents for receiving handouts.
“The principle problem is that authorities doesn’t need something too lovely,” she says, “as a result of they worry the refugees will really feel at residence and never return.” Digging foundations, for instance, is forbidden, as a result of it may encourage the erection of extra everlasting buildings. She is utilizing the similar modular bamboo space-frame system as for the Khudi Bari, permitting the buildings to be short-term, however offering the alternative for co-design and creation with the refugees themselves.
Tabassum continues to design the extra common business tasks at MTA – an house constructing, a personal household museum and a 250-bed hospital on the outskirts of Dhaka are presently beneath development – as a way to subsidise the humanitarian work of Face, the place her coronary heart clearly lies. “Architecture has all the time been a service-rendering occupation,” she says, “responding to a shopper, price range and web site. In the present context, the place there’s such an infinite disparity between wealthy and poor, it’s not sustainable if we make ourselves out there solely to the 1%. We have to transcend that.”
And her ideas on profitable the Soane medal?
“At first I assumed it was a prank,” she laughs. “In comparison with the earlier winners, Rafael Moneo, Denise Scott Brown and Kenneth Frampton, I’m very a lot a piece in progress. The search remains to be on.”