Vol. 4 Num 43 Wed. July 09, 2003  
Star City

An architectural oasis
Architect, Rafiq Azam, offers hope and inspiration as he attempts to change the way people think about architecture

The mushrooming of high-rises and unplanned growth in Dhaka barely allows breathing space for city dwellers. Particularly for residents of the old city, the crowding and congestion due to haphazard construction becomes more suffocating with every passing day.

However, there is at least one individual working in the city offering us all some much needed hope and vision.

Architect, Rafiq Azam, has embarked on a mission to design houses for the most neglected areas of the city, particularly in old Dhaka. But the most unusual and inspiring aspect of this project is that Azam is willing to offer his vision and expertise free of cost. By offering his services to private landowners wishing to develop their property, he hopes to educate people about the importance of architecture in a city fast becoming the proverbial 'concrete jungle.'

His first such endeavour was the Kazedewan apartment building in Lalbagh. A single glance will tell you that it is distinctively different.

A combination of terracotta red-brick and concrete plasterwork characterises the exterior of the building.

"The outer surface of the apartment is very special because I didn't apply any paint to it. Paint can fade and decay very quickly in Dhaka because of the excessive humidity. That's why I kept it paint-free," said Azam.

Another unique feature of the apartment are its gardens.

"Almost every flat in the building has space enough to make a small garden. The house was built only a year ago, so the creepers haven't spread their branches around the building yet. But after a year or two, the green branches will be quite visible," said Azam.

The five-storey apartment was constructed on just four kathas of land. Yet 14 families are comfortably acco-mmodated there. Three different designs or sizes of flat are available. The smallest are 650 square feet, up to 750 square feet being the largest.

The architect's ingenuity is in evidence by the fact that each apartment is awash with sunlight, even within the confined environments.

"In the past, the houses of old Dhaka used to have large courtyards with a touch of greenery. I have made a provision of a courtyard on the ground floor so that the inhabitants can feel the warmth of a little space annexed with a garden," said Azam.

The building has been erected in such a way so that every flat has access to the southerly wind.

Azam has designed the rooftop of the apartment as a place for rendezvous. "Many people prefer to spend their leisure period on the roof. So I have made three cubicles for three different generations on the ceiling. The front cubicle is for the young, the middle one is for the children and the one at the back is for the middle-aged and even older people.

'I have received offers from all around the city to design houses for free. My next project is in Basabo," said the selfless architect.

Abdur Rahman, who is the landlord of the apartment, was understandably a satisfied man.

"I am really happy because all my tenants are getting ample air, light, sun, and greenery. I don't feel that any portion of the land has been misused. I am rather proud to be the owner of such an excellent house."

The Kazedewan apartment building is an oasis of architectural vision in old Dhaka. Photo: Rafiq Azam