Review: Architecture exhibition by Kashef Chowdhury

After reading a review on the New Age on 25th Dec by Ziaul Hasan (apologies I don’t have the link to the article) of the exhibition, I thought I would also add my thoughts.  They do not reflect any particular institution or organisation, but merely my own appreciation and critical understanding of architecture, the little that I have amassed.

The exhibition titled ‘To Live is to be Slowly Born’ at the Bengal Gallery in Gulshan 1, which runs for another 2 weeks, presented nine models of the architects current projects some of which are Bengal Foundations’ own pet projects – such as the Friendship hospital and the Boat Museum in Savar. Kashef is recognised as one of the most prominent architects of the country, and has awards to his name, as well as some fantastic projects. I felt the exhibition at most did not reflect the brilliance of the architect, to my dismay. What it reflected, was a poet, an artist, attempting to communicate through some badly finished models, his approach to architecture.  The fluidity that perhaps Kashef is known for, was not so apparent in an exhibition full of student quality models. We can appreciate the nature of the task for Kashef, this is the first real retrospective of substantial stature, it definitely commands applaud, and his portfolio of works represents great diversity.  There was something missing. We are given access only to Kashef the sculptor here, not Kashef the Architect, or even, Kashef the sensitive poet/artist.  In deducting the presentation to mere models, one would expect a certain quality – and Bangladesh is definitely NOT short of craftsmen of any type, be it carpenters or metal smiths, indeed our Tangail project is giving us a glimpse of the talent available in Bangladesh.

As ritic and public we would want to absorb in the work, not in the crude detail of the models, but in the context and process of the architecture.  The processes which led to the creation of the buildings, is where the real juice for any young, aspiring architect is – to understand HOW the architect arrived at a final building design, and what the program looks like… Otherwise, it is devoid of architectural content. If it was a sculpture exhibition, then the art is not befitting the exhibition gallery.  So, in short, if we are all poet/artists acting as architects in Bangladesh – then it is likely we can also have a strong presentation in galleries across the country. It is this sensitivity that often undermines the great work being done, and it is also this sensitivity which is necessary to respond accordingly.  Imbalanced sensitivity, to me, shows a lack of maturity and perhaps we can rightly say we expect better from future presentations. For me, it also presented, unfortunately, a disconnect from the everyday reality of the problems of the city, and an absorption into the world of poetics, void of context and process.  A desensitised sensitivity, which critically reflects on the idea that the poetics of space is the architects domain, nothing further. Models without any site context reflects this simple observation. Yes, the architect knows how to detail, and knows how to design buildings, it is a shame it was not presented and articulated as such.

Perhaps I can add some thoughts on some of the projects on view: The Ittefaq Babhan, is an oval glass office tower, with a crude plan, masses of waste-space and contains little thought of the real context of Bangladesh. A glass tower without any real innovation: hardly fitting for an exhibition! I can imagine filling the entire building with central AC, and using decorative ‘green’ panels to suggest they will seriously keep out the heat and the glare? It would have been nice to see here, the reality of a glass tower existing in a context such as Bangladesh, with real connection with the topography, climate and cultural connotations that come with it.

An octagonal cyclone shelter, provides little clue as to how and where it sits, why it is actually needed to be octagonal, as oppose to square, or circle. It also provides a form that is alien to the landscape of Bangladesh. Maybe that is the intention. I am unsure as to where the Art lies within this project, maybe others can clarify?

The boat shaped Boat Museum, show a lack of depth of development, and perhaps an artists fancy and folly with the banal form, its simplistic, rather than simple, and although interesting, provides scope for little real engagement with site, surroundings and context, why this particular boat shape? Hard to decipher.

I have not had the honour of meeting the architect as yet, but have visited and seen some projects which are of note. Some of the projects did not reflect any real process, but a mere exercise of form, and forcing of spatial arrangements and program in the form.  It is clear that my review loaded with criticism, but it is intended in the best of intention, as my passion is for an honest architecture and the desire to see Bangladeshi architects continue to succeed on an international platform.

What is telling is that, a friend who was visiting from London, UK, said ‘these buildings look like they have been taken out of the West End’, meaning they could have been plonked in London, New York or anywhere else.  I fail to conclude in any other way.

For now, I shall continue reading Built upon Love by Alberto Perez Gomez, and try to understand the ethical dimension and role of the architect for our century.  It is clear, however, that as architecture evolves in Bangladesh, there will be others who will rise to the challenge.

Thanks to Abdullah Lizu for providing some images.


One Comment on “Review: Architecture exhibition by Kashef Chowdhury”

  1. tabassum says:

    you are somewhat right about more explanations about the projects. these are all un-built projects by urbana. i was luckily on the tour architect kashef gave around the exhibition. for the octagonal cyclone centre i can tell you that the shape came from the ramp that surrounded it and that was meant to act as a protective layer from the cyclone. inside is a cruciform shaped space with voids on four corners if you have noticed; they are there for light and wind. for the oval itefaq building, the facade has been treated with double glazed facade, but if u had noticed the model there were some panels in which the first layer of glass was missing. these channel the wind from south into the gap between the double glazed panels to drive out the heat that accumulates there. i could go on explaining almost all the projects in that exhibition. a huge big fan of the architect.


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