Marina Tabassum from Bangladesh is the architect of the bamboo stilt homes. She is the first person from the global South to win the Soane Medal in architecture.
Marina Tabassum’s enviable reputation may have been built on her grand designs for museums, residences, and places of worship. She was able to help her native Bangladesh adapt to the crisis caused by the pandemic.
Now the architect’s entire 26-year career has been recognised in one of the highest accolades in her field – The Soane Medal – making her the first person from the global south to win.
Tabassum shot to prominence with her award-winning design for the Bait Ur Rouf mosque in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka: a temple of brick and light which, she says, focused “on the spirituality of the space that would heighten one’s sense of being in communion with God”.
Tabassum, whose work was being hampered by the pandemic turned her attention to coastal Bangladesh and the Ganges Delta region, became disillusioned. Where quick-thinking communities have been adapting ingeniously and successfully to the challenges presented due to climate change.
There, the villagers have built flood defences with mangrove rewilding, established early warning systems for extreme events and created flatpack homes that can dismantle and be moved when floods strike.
One legacy of retreating floodwaters are vast strips of sediment, known as ‘chars’, that provide fertile ground for growing crops on when the water recedes. These chars have been home to people for many years. However, extreme weather linked with climate change means that they are becoming more inundated by unseasonal flooding.
Monsoon season has caused entire towns to move around in this hotspot of climate instability. Some families have moved four times. Others feel compelled to move to the slums for a fresh start. And the prevailing flatpack design, Tabassum learned, came at a relatively high £1,500 cost, and required a team of architects and carpenters to construct over two weeks.
Tabassum explored the idea of a lightweight, ‘space-frame’ home constructed from locally available bamboo poles connected by steel joints. The Khudi bari was born. Simple to construct and dismantle, a 3m module can house a family of four and costs only £300.
Tabassum respects the natural world, whether she is designing bamboo stilt houses that cost only a few hundred bucks or stunning temples that take years. The Bait Ur Rouf mosque has many shafts of light, and is completely naturally ventilated.
“Architecture can reinstall pride in the age-old wisdom of living symbiotically with nature,” she said. “Architecture can empower communities to secure better lives and living conditions.”
Main image: Asif Salman