Although 75% of Bangladesh's population is rural, the architectural profession is heavily urban-oriented: most practices are located in Dhaka, as are four of the five architecture schools, and the city is the principal source of private and public commissions.

Architecture's presence in Dhaka ebbs and flows. The vibrancy of Louis Kahn's work and Muzharul Islam's monumental contribution to a regional Modernism are still unsurpassed. However, because architecture is considered an elite activity, the profession's socio-cultural and political impact is still limited.

The practitioners featured in this report, which range from pragmatic endeavors to critical engagements, make it clear that there is a generation of young architects in Dhaka who are eager to engage in an internal and transnational dialogue about the future.


The literal meaning of the name Dhaka is "concealed." Situated in the deltaic plain of Bengal amidst a maze of rivers and canals, the Bangladeshi capital, with a population of over 9.4 million, is one of the densest cities in the world. Every day the people of Dhaka negotiate civic deterioration that is, ironically, exacerbated in the name of building, development, and progress. Thus the paradox of city-building: one can undo a city by building it. Nowhere is this more evident than in the wanton development of Dhaka. While Dhaka shows signs of being a "globalized" third-world city, it cannot ignore a more fundamental reality: located amidst the most dynamic hydrological system in the world, Dhaka is first and foremost a progeny of water. Like most metropolises in which the control of capital and land is hotly contested, Dhaka is a socially and spatially heterogeneous place. Six morphologies define the city, each representing a particular social, economic, or environmental destiny. READINGS
From an article by Kazi Ashraf, originally published in MIMAR,31, 1989. A conversation with Nathaniel Kahn, whose 2003 film, "My Architect: A Son's Journey," explores the life and work of his father, the architect Louis I. Kahn, and focuses in particular on Kahn's Capital Complex at Dhaka. An interview with Muzharul Islam, the renowned Bangladeshi architect whose contribution to the articulation of a regional Modernism remains unsurpassed. Recorded over twenty years ago, Islam's observations on Dhaka's development have proved to be prescient. The advent of the garment export industry has radically transformed the gender landscape of Dhaka. Where the city's social space was once an exclusively male domain, women - at least working class women - are now everywhere, with important ramifications for Dhaka's development. In an evocative patchwork of image and metaphor, the celebrated Bangladeshi poet Shamsur Rahman renders Dhaka's complex vitality in verse. In this richly textured excerpt from his 1988 book The Shadow Lines, the acclaimed writer explores the changing city of Dhaka through the recollections of his grandmother and the memories of his youth.





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6/11/04

The problem with Dhaka is that it is primarily in the hands of people (or forces) who have very little idea or concern about its future. What is being spewed out in terms of developing the city is mostly rhetoric. And the people who might have some real vision about turning Dhaka into a modern, yet deltaic and sustainable city are completely ignored. How does one work from here?