I didn't have a clue that Bob Boughey was alive and still working in Thailand. Every time I visit the Kamalapur Railway Station, I think of what he described to me a few years ago about the Dhaka of the 1960s. He was a gentleman, courteous, cautious, and sounded a tad melancholic about his memories of Dhaka. 

Boughey was one of the two designers of the Kamalapur Railway Station (the other was Daniel Dunham). If you catch a train ride from this station or pass by it, you would notice that it is not one of those familiar colonial-era red-brick buildings that typically served as railway stations across South Asia. The station's parabolic umbrella roof over the terminal was unusual for its time. Along with Louis Kahn's Parliament building, Constantino Doxiadis' TSC, and Richard Vrooman's Architecture Building at BUET, among others, the pioneering structure of the railway station symbolised a “golden age” of architecture in Bangladesh during the 1960s.

These buildings also had a political history. They were the products of what the military regime of Muhammad Ayub Khan called the “Decade of Development” (1958-68), intertwined with West Pakistan's shrewd political strategy of placating East Pakistan's agitating Bengalis through architectural and infrastructure development.

To understand the significance of Kamalapur, one needs to understand the history of railway in this country. The first railway line in East Bengal—connecting Kolkata with the western Bangladeshi town of Kushtia—was introduced in 1862. Called the Eastern Bengal Railway, this expansion of train service to East Bengal signalled a new phase in the growth of the region's colonial economy. However, the province east of the Padma River, including such urban centres as Dhaka, Chittagong, and Sylhet, long remained deprived of the benefits of railway because the extensive river system of the deltaic country created geographic logistical issues.

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  • This article is excerpted from the author's forthcoming book, DAC/Dhaka in 25 Buildings.