The main objectives of this centre, located in a protected forest and nature reserve in Chittagong District in the south of Bangladesh, are nature education and interpretation tours, in an effort to create awareness and promote biodiversity, conservation and eco-tourism. Nishorgo means environment in Bengali, and the central concept driving the project is to cherish the sanctity of nature. The building itself is sensitively placed within the landscape: the reinforced concrete platforms of the ‘pavilion shelter’ float above the ground on structural walls; the concrete slabs are pierced by tree trunks where necessary, reflecting the project’s aim to create as little impact on the environment as possible. The visitor walks up the layers of platforms to a raised level to observe the surroundings. An exhibition area is enveloped in a compositional arrangement of openings framed by wooden lattices, and there is a space for viewing films with walls of exposed, burnt clay brick.

© Aga Khan Award for Architecture

The design concept originated from the architects study of the basics of the dominant vernacular house types of hilly areas in this part of Bangladesh, namely the house on stilts and the elevated house with large verandas. A basic sketch of two slabs on columns in a sloped forest of trees was the guide for design through competition drawings up to the competition proposal and through to construction at Teknaf. The contemporary architecture was abstracted yet functionally aligned to the vernacular retaining the positive ecological and climactic elements. Despite the use of reinforced concrete the buildings thin slabs and extended cantilevers at the veranda and entrance ramp provide a degree of lightness. The first floor space seems to float as the horizontal structural members get visually lost in the forest of trees. The sense of space and lightness is allowed to mix with shadows and light to increasingly obfuscate the massive buildings presence in nature. The connection to the ground is lost in the shaping of space, mass and visual perception. Through these formal design strategies the lightness of the vernacular architecture in timber is successfully translated into the much heavier concrete through highly formal yet simple gestures. The building is both light and durable.

Ground and First Floor Plans
Ground and First Floor Plans © Ehsan Khan

Response to physical constraints is a minor issue because the design of the Nishorgo Nature Interpretation Center originating from the competition was originally for a different location. The architect was able to choose his optimal site at the entrance clearing of roughly 1000m2 of the 120,000m2 site area. The architect’s response to the physical constraint in the case of Teknaf was to site the building on a north-south axis with the veranda facing south towards the southwest wind and east towards the view of the Naf River. Sensitivity to trees dictated that holes would be “punched” in the roof slab to accommodate three threes. None of the surrounding topography was affected by the construction of the Center.