Bangladesh can be an example for other countries if people from all disciplines, not just the architects, can put in their best efforts for the country, says a young architect.

"We got the recognition relatively in a very early stage. It proves that those in the architecture discipline are demonstrating world class examples," architect Saad Ben Mostafa told Dhaka Courier.

Mostafa is one of the three young architects whose project titled "Community Spaces in Rohingya Refugee Response, Cox's Bazar" won the prestigious 2022 Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA).

Six winners shared the USD 1 million award, one of the biggest in architecture, showing promise for communities, innovation and care for the environment.

Mostafa along with his two teammates - architects Khwaja Fatmi and Rizvi Hassan - received the award with other winners on October 31, 2022. The award giving ceremony was held at Royal Opera House of Musical Arts.

The graduate from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) laid emphasis on focusing on work while understanding people's needs and roots, not just replicating foreign designs.

"I would say, we are going to receive the award on behalf of all. I see it as a big recognition for Bangladesh," architect Fatmi told Dhaka Courier.

Architect Hassan said they wanted to see whether they can work based on local elements - taking materials and creating a beautiful, sustainable and an advanced design.

In future, he said, they want to work in rural areas. "We want to engage people from the villages in our work. We want to see them join hands with us. We will work together."

The three architects said the latest achievement is part of a long journey and they want to work keeping people and the country's needs in focus.

Recalling the challenges of working in a crowded Rohingya camp, Mostafa said it was difficult but they tried to create something extraordinary.

"Through our work, we explored how such a structure's longevity can be extended with sustainability," said architect Hassan.

Architect Fatmi said this was the best time for them to focus on the skills, creativity and wisdom of the local community to reflect on the spaces and the design. "We wanted to give voices to their skills and expertise."

Architect Mostafa said they decided to involve all the craftsmen and people in the community as they tried to create a dignified space, a space that represents their identity with the touch of their hands.

Architect Hassan said they tried to develop and propose a new solution in this tropical monsoon climate.

Rather than separate projects, the six sustainably built structures in the world's largest refugee camps - housing Rohingyas fleeing genocide in Myanmar - are a collection of practice exercises. Each created scope for the next according to need.

Much of the design was created collaboratively in the field. A women-friendly space, very low to withstand cyclones, features a complex roof truss built by Rohingya bamboo craftsmen without drawings or models.

A safe space offering practical support to women and girls employed local materials and an exterior scheme that avoids disturbance caused to visiting elephants by the blues and pinks of standard camp structures.

A facility for women to create and showcase their handmade products is built of bamboo and thatch.

One community support centre uses colourful mattresses as roof insulation; another mixes natural materials with industrial ones; another is built around existing betel nut trees, resisting the tendency to deforestation.

Another project from Bangladesh titled "Urban River Spaces, Jhenaidah" is also among the six winners.

Through consistent community participation and appropriation, extensive involvement of women and marginalised groups, and a local workforce, the seemingly simple undertaking of cleaning up the access to the Nabaganga river in Jhenaidah led to a thoughtful and minimal landscaping project with local materials and construction techniques, thus transforming a derelict informal dump site into an attractive and accessible multifunctional space that is valued by Jhenaidah's diverse communities.

As such, the project managed to reverse the ecological degradation and health hazards of the river and its banks, and induce effective ecological improvement of the river, in one of the most riverine countries on earth.

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture recognises examples of architectural excellence in the fields of contemporary design, social housing, community improvement and development, historic preservation, reuse and area conservation, as well as landscape design and improvement of the environment.

Architect couple chose to live in Jhenaidah

Khondaker Hasibul Kabir and Suhailey Farzana, an architect couple from Jhenaidah in Bangladesh, have shown the world how they co-designed a public space in their own town - keeping in mind the nature and people.

Their community-led initiative titled "Urban River Spaces, Jhenaidah" is one of the winners of the 2022 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

"This is not a project, I would say, rather it's a process that has begun," Farzana, who came to Muscat with his husband and son, told Dhaka Courier hours before receiving the prestigious award.

What kind of city do we want? What kind of street do we want in our city? What kind of open space do we want in our city? These are the questions the architect duo discussed with locals in Jhenaidah town.

"This is for the community and its people. We are working as per their desire and as architects we are getting involved in a process. Our first identity is that we are residents of this city, then we are architects," Farzana said.

Architect Kabir was optimistic that people from other parts of the country will be inspired to do something similar.

"We tried to figure out how we can get involved in the process and how we can do something better together," he told UNB.

"If we can do this in our city and set an example, people from other parts of the country will say, if Jhenaidah can do it, why can't we?" - Kabir added.

Farzana said, instead of moving to Dhaka, they decided to stay in their city. "We are local architects. We understand local needs better. There was no need to get someone from outside the city for this project."

She said this is an example for other cities and towns in Bangladesh. "Architects can return to their roots and work for their respective cities."

Responding to a question, Farzana said, "We didn't do this alone. We have a big team and we are representing that big team. We are also representing Bangladesh."

Farzana noted that this is also a proud moment for Jhenaidah.

Architect Kabir said people of Jhenaidah are happy. "This recognition comes with more responsibility. Financial gains are not major but the energy that it brings is strong. With that energy, we can do more for the country and its people."

The community-driven project provides public spaces in the riverine city with 250,000 residents; over time, access to and use of the river and banks had become impeded.

To date, the project comprises two ghats - steps leading down to platforms at the river, with adjacent walkways - and the opening of obstructed pedestrian pathways leading to them.

Locally available materials such as brick and concrete were used in the simple, contextual designs, all built by local builders and masons; the site-specific projects retain all existing trees and vegetation.

Future phases focus on public use of the river area with walkways, gardens, cultural facilities and environmental efforts to increase biodiversity in the river.

Through consistent community participation and appropriation, extensive involvement of women and marginalised groups, and a local workforce, the seemingly simple undertaking of cleaning up the access to the Nabaganga river in Jhenaidah led to a thoughtful and minimal landscaping project with local materials and construction techniques. Thus, a derelict informal dump site transformed into an attractive and accessible multifunctional space that is valued by Jhenaidah's diverse communities, according to the Aga Khan Award for Architecture jury board.

Architecture is truly global, can also be deeply local

Princess Zahra Aga Khan, the eldest child of the Aga Khan, has said architecture is truly global and can also be deeply local, noting that the projects and the people they honour exactly show that.

"They show us how architecture can create dialogue among people, build bridges between communities, and act as places of sanctuary for those in need," she said.

Winners of the 2022 Aga Khan Award for Architecture shared the stage with Crown Prince of Oman Sayyid Theyazin Bin Haitam Al Said and Princess Zahra Aga Khan at Royal Opera House of Musical Arts, Muscat.

Officials of the Sultanate of Oman, architectural experts, the Award's Steering Committee and members of its Master Jury, as well as dignitaries from around the world were present.

Economist and social thinker Hossain Zillur Rahman and Country Director, ActionAid Bangladesh Farah Kabir were present.

Of the 463 projects from 55 countries nominated for this year's award, the Master Jury selected 20 to visit and evaluate.

The six winning projects (2 from Bangladesh) of the 2022 Aga Khan Award for Architecture embody an inclusive, pluralistic outlook which were chosen to share the $1m prize.

Other winning projects came from Indonesia, Iran, Lebanon and Senegal, and range equally widely in their execution.

"The Award has been a lighthouse to those who feel we can design and build differently; to those who believe we have a responsibility to build appropriately," said Princess Zahra Aga Khan. The Award for Architecture ceremony concluded the three-day event, which also celebrated laureates of the 2022 Aga Khan Music Awards.

These laureates were featured in two gala concerts presented in the Royal Opera House Muscat's House of Musical Arts.

The evening included a performance by the Aga Khan Master Musicians with special guest Yurdal Tokcan, an eminent oud player who served on the Master Jury of the 2022 Music Awards, and the screening of a film on the 2022 Award recipients.

"The Sultanate of Oman's hosting of the ceremony of the Aga Khan Awards for Architecture and Music and its accompanying events support the objectives of Oman's cultural strategy, which calls for an identity open to the cultures of peoples; affirms the continuous support for culture, literature and the arts; and puts the role of the Sultanate of Oman on the world map of culture as well as achieves partnership and integration with local and international institutions in the cultural fields," said Sayyid bin Sultan Al-Busaidi, addressing the gathering.

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture, now in its 45th year, was established to encourage such architectural excellence.

The Award recognises the innovative use of local resources and appropriate technology to successfully address the physical, social and economic needs, and the cultural aspirations of communities in which Muslims have a significant presence.

Above all, the Award celebrates projects that promote a spirit of pluralism: in the words of the Aga Khan, the embrace, rather than the elimination, of difference.

Princess Zahra Aga Khan, representing the Aga Khan at the Awards, paid tribute to the host, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, and the Sultanate of Oman, as well as Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitam Al Said, for his presence.

"Celebrating the Award here in Oman," she said to the gathering, "reflects a deep and shared conviction that buildings can do more than simply house people and programmes, they can also reflect our deepest values."

She said that Aga Khan believes profoundly that architecture is not just about building but is a means of improving people's quality of life.

Princess Zahra Aga Khan's address emphasised both the pluralistic philosophy of the Award and the need for architecture to find solutions to physical and environmental concerns.

"Over the years, the Award has been a lighthouse to those who feel we can design and build differently; to those who believe we have a responsibility to build appropriately - with thought, with consideration, and with the knowledge that architecture at its best is an inherently pluralistic enterprise.

"It is our honour to recognise each of you for the spaces you designed in the service of humankind. Taken together, they help us better imagine an architecture for the future that will acknowledge the needs of diverse communities, respect the natural world, and enhance the quality of life," she ended.

"Every project has a story - about how it has been conceived, built and lived - that cannot be explained simply through drawings and images," said Farrokh Derakhshani, Director of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

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