The East-West / North-South programme designed by arc en rêve in 2004 presented the essential purpose of architecture, giving people places to live, and placed creativity at the heart of the major issues facing societies as they turn towards the future. We observed at the time that dwelling solutions developed by populations in extreme conditions can inform the search for new modes of design to help us to build habitable environments here and now.
“Bengal Stream: The Vibrant Architecture Scene of Bangladesh”
7 June – 20 October, 2019
Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM)
Schaumainkai 43, Frankfurt am Main
Climate, mobility, time, and living are the shared materials for any architectural project. The architects Francis Débiédo Kéré (Burkina Faso), Junya Ishigami (Japan), Studio Mumbai (India) and Wang Shu Lu Wenyu (China), who have all honoured us with exhibitions, have taught us to look at the world in new ways and provide us with an inexhaustible source of inspiration.
Why organise a major exhibition on the architectural scene in Bangladesh, today in France? The curators, Andreas Ruby and Niklaus Graber, refer to this country, the largest delta in the world, as a universal case study.The high risk of flooding due to climate change in Bangladesh, and also the population explosion and mass exodus from the countryside towards the cities are the new challenges that local development bodies rise to with exemplary skill. This country, whose architecture used to be largely ignored, could become a global model for responsible architectural activism.
“Bangladesh is a global laboratory. All the negative effects of climate change can be seen there,” says Munir Muniruzzaman, former adviser to the president of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has a lot to teach us, especially about the way our planet can adapt to rising sea levels. For the people of Bangladesh, this future is now present: the lost of soil is a reality. Projects for floating schools and hospitals, structures built in two days with inhabitants, and whole villages raised to a higher level, are all examples of architecture that is able to respond to the inevitable.
In a chequered historical sequence of events, various trends have expressed themselves in different architectural ways, according to religious or socio-cultural developments. Nevertheless, many underlying motifs have held their ground in a typological sense for centuries and even represent a valid foundation for today’s architectural trends. Modernism also used these as a basis on which to build, whereby the most important local protagonist was Muzharul Islam. It was also in keeping with his personal identity, situated between localism and internationalism, to bring international protagonists like Paul Rudolph, Stanley Tigerman and ultimately Louis I. Kahn to Bangladesh for important construction projects. In ‘Bengal Stream’, original drawings by Muzharul Islam are exhibited for the first time outside of his native Bangladesh.
The main focus of this exhibition is on contemporary positions. Many of today’s protagonists were students, assistants or companions of Muzharul Islam and in recent decades they have formed an independent architecture scene that carries the societal and architectural concerns of their predecessors forwards in a contemporary way. Again and again, it is this loose group who, despite dynamic global pressure to develop, collectively stand up for architectural values and for an awareness of Bengali culture. The exhibition ‘Bengal Stream’ brings together over 60 projects by established and emerging architects in Bangladesh. One of the most internationally prominent architectural photographers, Iwan Baan, was brought in to document the projects.
When the exhibition opens, a Christoph Merian Verlag publication with the same title will also be released. This catalogue covers all the presented projects and looks at the exhibition’s themes in greater depth, with essays by the curators, as well as by local experts Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, Saif Ul Haque and Manzoorul Islam.
Today’s Bangladesh has only existed as a politically independent country since 1971. On the one hand, it has its roots in centuries-old culture from the Indian subcontinent, yet at the same time, as a young nation, it is spurred on by a dynamic sense of departure. In the Western world, this country with around 160 million inhabitants usually only appears fleetingly in the daily press – and when it does, it is often in connection with negative headlines, such as catastrophic floods, environmental sins or working conditions in the textile industry.
This is precisely what makes it so important for its societal and economic successes from recent decades to be exhibited in the West. With idealism, engagement and optimism, large parts of the population (architects and urbanists in particular) are confronting the deficiencies. Not just the country’s high risk of flooding due to climate change, but also its enormous population growth and associated rural depopulation present planners with new kinds of problems. Neoliberalism and the new world order are not making it any easier for this country to get out of the corner it finds itself in as a cheap production site, strategically well positioned at the interface between the Indian, Chinese and Southeast-Asian turbo-economies.
The multitude of difficult issues that are caused on a global level and must be addressed locally make the Bangladesh phenomenon a universal case study. The thinking of a previously small architecture nation could thus become a global model for architectural action. An ever-enlarging group of responsible-minded architects are acting in the interests of cultural identity and a contemporary approach to pending problems. One impressive aspect of the very active architectural debate is the fact that the architectural argument is constantly kept in mind. With inventive spatial approaches and innovative detailed solutions, it is being demonstrated that architecture as a discipline is able to provide relevant responses to urgent societal, economic and ecological issues.