Hosted by Department of Architecture, BRAC University in collaboration with Estudio Abierto

The Congress will explore the particular condition of density in Dhaka which can be seen to transcend the “Culture of Congestion” Rem Koolhaas mentioned in Delirious New York. In New York the urbanism is based in a formality set by the designer on behalf of the authorities/organized capital, and in Dhaka, the urbanism grew rather organically, giving rise to a curious case of dense configurations.  

The Congress aims to start a conversation regarding “Ultradense Urbanism”. Since the condition in Dhaka can no longer be classified as an extension of the normal urban configurations of desired densities, a new term needs to be coined that is beyond the hyper-, or the super-. This condition of density is pervasive not just urbanistically in the fabric, but also in the intimate scale of how human bodies are packed.   

The negative spaces produced in between the bodies, and the architecture in addition to the congested flows in the city mediates and configures the two extremes of spatial agency. The ultradensity of Dhaka results in the collapsing of this void redefining the boundaries between the common political space and the intimate one. This phenomenon of the packaging of the bodies, repeating with architecture in the urban fabric, exhibits the limits of human cohabitation—and this particular and spectacular collapse of the inbetween spaces is what we aim to portray with ultradensity.

Taking Dhaka retroactively as a body of evidence, we are curious as to how this condition can be exploited to form new territories of knowledge in architecture and urbanism. What are the new limits set forth in this massive packaging of bodies, materials and culture?  Particular socio-economic factors produce, maintain and are simultaneously resultant of this ultradensity, set  within the dialectic of formal and informal mechanisms of control. For a future with an increasing number of dense cities, unpacking Dhaka is going to provide a transcendent learning of this particular urban phenomenon. With a staggering density of 73,000 people per square mile, on par with Mumbai, we see Dhaka as an uncharted territory and a minefield for such an exploration.

If New York was the conscious metropolis of the 20th century that exploited the culture of congestion as a playground for a spectacle of capitalism, then Dhaka is its conspicuous twin, only late in birth from a post-capitalist and global economy. William S. Lim postulates in Incomplete Urbanism that shifts in global capital toward the East is resulting in new loci of capital which brings with it a consummate collapsing of urbanity that is no longer possible to be planned due to the complexity of the city.

Unpacking the ultradense condition therefore requires recognizing the thematic agents entangled in its making ranging from the intimate to the political spaces, their interrelationship and the resulting lived reality of the city. Beyond the purely representational, this multi-modal and interdisciplinary unpacking is crucial to re-construct a thick description of ultradensity.

To begin the unpacking, we propose the following operative sub-themes.  


A. The Body in the Space _ compactness _ intimacy and proximity _ civil distance _ how privacy breaks down in the domestic space _ erotic space _ idea of social justice

B. The Architecture in the Fabric _ negative space _ informal growth _ impact of building code _ resulting public space _ friction of activities / programs _ the tectonic of negative space _ articulation of voids

C. The Movement in the City _ dense mobility _ constricted fluidity _ pedestrian _ traffic congestion _ organization of flows _ supply and waste flows _ critical temporality _ the infrastructural moves      

D. The Socio-economic in the Culture _ density of transactions _ markets and people _ cultural overlap _ density of events / festivals _ informal economy _ real-estate developer

E. The Control Mechanism of Ultradensity _ political control of city _ norms _ moral rules of public behavior _  religious camaraderie _  formal policing + informal control _ local godfathers _ legal codes _ building authorities _ power _ signs of control ( do not pee here ) _ and symptoms of rebellion

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