2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture

Friendship Centre

Kashef Chowdhury / URBANA
4. October 2016
Located in rural Gaibandha where agriculture is predominant, the project's roofscape merges with its environment. (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Rajesh Vora)

This recipient of a 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture is a community centre that makes a virtue of an area susceptible to flooding in rural Bangladesh.

The centre is a training facility for the NGO Friendship, which works with communities living in the rural flatlands of northern Bangladesh. In this region permanent buildings are conventionally raised 2.4m off the ground, to mitigate flooding, but the budget did not allow that here. Instead, an earthen embankment was built around the site, with stairs leading down into the building from open ends. Adopting the vocabulary of a walled town, the programme is organised around a series of pavilions that look inwards onto courtyards and reflecting pools. Because of the embankment wall, there is no horizontal light, so in essence the centre is top-lit. This connection, between an architecture of the land and the light coming down from above, makes for a very elemental building.

Top view at dusk. The square shaped mosque is rotated to obtain the qibla direction, its roof is covered in green so it merges with the surrounding landscape. (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Rajesh Vora)

The plan is cruciform. Circulation runs lengthwise down the centre, connecting the two external stairs, while the two parts of the programme bisect the site in the other direction – the ‘Ka’ block contains the more public spaces, such as teaching rooms and offices, and the ‘Kha’ block, the more private accommodation. Between the two blocks are large tanks for collecting rainwater. The landscaping is in two planes – at grade, brick paving in all the circulation areas and courtyards; and above, earthen rooftops with green cover, which act as insulators and absorb the rain.

To prevent flooding, the Friendship Centre is built directly on the low land and the entire site is protected with an embankment which could be built and maintained for much less. (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Rajesh Vora)

Traditional brick masonry is used in a modernist idiom. The bricks were sorted for size, shape and colour by the site engineers, who kept only three out of every ten bricks produced by the local kiln. Of these, only the most aesthetically pleasing were used to create the exposed brick finish, while the remainder were incorporated into the foundations and other unseen parts of the building. In parts, the structure is reinforced with concrete, as this is a seismic zone.

The ‘Ka’ Block contains the reception pavilion, offices, library, training/conference rooms and pavilions, a prayer space and a small ‘cha-shop’. (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Rajesh Vora)

Monolithic, a seamless continuity of material in harmony with its surroundings, the Friendship Centre embodies what Louis Kahn described as an ‘architecture of the land’.

The access to the building from the earthen bundh is organised via two entrance stairs at opposite ends. The programme is then organised around a series of pavilions, courtyards and reflecting pools. (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Rajesh Vora)
The inspiration for the building came from the Buddhist monasteries in the area, and the exposed brickwork, stark character and quadrilateral layout are clearly the architectural influence. (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Rajesh Vora)
View of reception space in the open pavilion (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Rajesh Vora)
The Friendship Centre gets more beautiful because it impacts so many lives and brings so much dignity to those who had forgotten to hope. (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Rajesh Vora)
Dining room, another space that brings people together (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Rajesh Vora)
Through training locals, Friendship's goal is enabling these vulnerable communities to improve their living conditions in many aspects: health, nutrition, education, disaster management, infrastructure development, good governance, and sustainable economic development. (Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Rajesh Vora)
Floor Plan

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