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Recycling revisited…

Living it the green way has become a craze in modern society. As you might have already realised, this “fad” is much better than the others, in that it actually benefits us. People today are aware of the fact that we are pushing our planet to the verge of destruction. Be it the ozone layer crisis, the green-house effect, the sulphur dioxide emissions…we know it all. It is amazing to see how conscious people are these days. Primary schools are holding lessons on environmental preservation, universities are initiating student campaigns, organisations are paying “green taxes”- life, from this point, would appear to be a paradigm of perfection. Nonetheless, it is the implementation of the ideas and public feedback that is stumping us out.

We all agree on the 3R's- reduce, reuse, recycle. But do we have the scope here in Bangladesh? Evidently, our country lacks a large-scale recycling industry. Much of the used materials are chucked in the garbage, which are then transported to the roadside. They are left there to rot and disintegrate. If this is so, then what is to happen to non-biodegradable items like plastic?

It is encouraging, though, to know that the country has been keen on recycling paper for a long time. Pages from last year's frayed textbooks, old newspapers and expired fashion magazines are being reused by street vendors of 'muruli' and peanuts as packets. Diligent students make use of arcane calendars and used chart paper to sheathe their new textbooks. A more sophisticated yet simple form of paper recycling has been promoted by the store “Jatra”, that is using old newspapers as shopping bags and gift-wraps.

This takes us to a less pleasant perspective. We have little, if any, facility for recycling anything other than paper. Every month, tons of plastic cups, soda cans, candy wrappers and batteries are dumped with an astounding finality. These are often used for landfills. But surely that is not the best way they can be put to use.

On the other hand, many have taken those small but crucial steps to ensure recycling at home. Some families sort their garbage by type- plastic goes into one box, clothes go into another and so on. While this is interesting and socially desirable, it is still small-scale. Moreover, there are many more homes that are yet to take such an approach.

On a final note, it is worth re-emphasising the importance of recycling. While Bangladesh has little scope for making practical use of the 3R's, there are signs of progress. However slow it may be, it is our responsibility to support these minute activities so that they can become large-scale recycling giants in the future. In the meanwhile, we can all cross our fingers and hope…

By Shahmuddin Ahmed Siddiky

Season Special

A truly green existence involves much more than just having plants and greenery around you. It involves letting fresh air, earth and water, all the different elements into every sphere of your life and all your living spaces in a way that harmonizes your life and living. In the west and throughout the world in recent years, a trend towards a green architecture is making waves and designers are creating spaces that are energy efficient, environment friendly and sustainable.

But if we look towards our own history countless examples of such spaces may be found here. Green courtyards open ended in the south were used in rural as well as old town buildings as pockets in which rooms could breathe into. Buildings face south to take in the winds blowing in and west facades are shaded with deeper shadows to keep out the heat. Whether it was because we live simply and without ceremony or because we try to save energy and costs being a small, impoverished country, our ancestors knew their orientation and sun and wind patterns and used them well as the Khanar Bochon clearly states! Not just that, we learned to amalgamate the elemental and practical with the social, understood the hierarchy of spaces that can create a bond between person and person, place and place and person and place.

However, somewhere between then and now, that bond seemed to have been shaken and we wavered, experimenting with the new and the Western, sometimes letting slip the wisdom we inherited. Here and there empty unfeeling spaces sprouted up where children couldn't play in the outdoors and our grandmothers had no space left to grow vegetables and our windows opened into someone else's bathrooms or bedrooms!

In small instalments a number of architects and design professionals have made strong efforts to bring the culture back to our architecture and spurs of hope like the works of architects Uttam Kumar Saha, Nahas Khalil and Rafiq Azam stand out in their midst. Shatotto, for instance have made quite a number of contributions very true to their tag line- architecture for green living. Since they became well known in the early 90s, architect Rafiz Azam and his team of dedicated architects and engineers have attempted to create holistic environments for people to live and work in. At a time when growing populations and hiking space prices have forced designers and builders to build 'up' rather than 'around', when highrise buildings overshadow our horizons, the firm has tried to bring the earth and water to the upper floors who can no longer avail them and provide breathing pockets in otherwise lifeless buildings. While most apartment buildings bring green up to their roofs and verandahs in the form of little potted plants, they made accommodations for earthen gardens in these spaces, with grass growing in them and affording the same natural habitat as they would at ground level. In addition to this, the firm re-introduced into the equation the social aspect of living, the interactions between neighbours through the sharing of a garden or between a passer-by and a house through a small seat where one can rest and drink some water. A shining example of their work, the Kazedewan Apartment building in Old Dhaka, nominated for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, gives every small flat either visual or physical access to green courts and gardens at various floors.

These few designers may have designed apartments with living terraces that reach out to the sky and become the breathing organ of the spaces within, but it is important to know they are still few in number. Many believe that the inclusion of FAR or Floor Area Ratio in the revised building code has made the move towards such design even smoother, but whether they are right or wrong remains to be seen. FAR is a technique by which percentage of open space on the ground level is measured based on the floor area and height of each structure and so in many cases more than double the spaces previously left free would now be gardens and green spaces for the community to enjoy. And not just in residential buildings, the new laws may even improve the commercial building scene. But as it always is in our country, it really depends on whether or not we choose to use all this, the law and our predecessors' examples. It all depends on whether or not we choose to design what we know we need, we know is right or continue this charade where our environment is silently crying out for us to respond to it, but we simply refuse to see the signs!

By Diya




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