Razia Alam and Saif Ul Haque recently won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the Arcadia Education Project outside Dhaka, Bangladesh
When Alam first went to see this land, it was the dry season, so it looked perfectly OK for building on. Only later was it revealed that for up to five months of the year, during the monsoon season, the whole area would be under water. The next time she went to see it, after the documents had been signed, there was a trawler chugging over the supposed site for her school.
Undeterred, Alam consulted her nephew, architect Saif Ul Haque. “If I brought in another architect, I knew they would look at me and say, ‘She’s a mad woman,’” says Alam. “So I went with a little bit of confidence that my nephew would not think I was mad.”
Nevertheless, Ul Haque was still fairly shocked. “We were standing there on the bridge and he said, ‘Auntie, I can see only water,’” says Alam. “I can still hear that phrase.”
There were various options available to Alam and her nephew. The obvious solutions were to build the school on a stabilised mound or to elevate it on stilts. Alam was not impressed by either. “It didn’t look nice to me,” she says. “I said, ‘No, do something that will float.’” And that is exactly what Ul Haque did. The result is Arcadia Education Project, ....