From September 16 to 20, Alliance Française de Dhaka hosted an exhibition, titled River Rhapsody, which featured architectural designs for a museum of rivers and canals by architecture students of BRAC University. Adnan Morshed, Professor and Chairperson, Department of Architecture, Brac University talks to Moyukh Mahtab of The Daily Star about the idea behind the project, making university students learn from hands-on experience and the need for a developmental approach that is sensitive to the environment, while the designers highlight the core ideas they tried to portray through their designs.
Why a museum of rivers and canals—what is the idea behind this project?
Adnan Morshed: This is a third-year level design studio in which Brac Architecture students were expected to handle a complex design challenge. My co-instructor and I thought that instead of a standard classroom-based design exercise, we would rather challenge the students to consider a national priority: environmental protection. Bangladesh is a country of rivers and canals, the lifelines of the country's geography and economy. In many ways, they are the shapers of our national character and culture. Yet, in the name of development, rivers and canals have been encroached upon and filled up in the past two decades or so. This is an existential challenge. How do we make young students aware of this ecological disaster?
Most of the displayed projects tried to emphasis on a balance between development and the environment—are the next generation of architects and urban planners more sensitive to this issue?
One of our avowed goals in this design exercise was not to disturb the river ecology by creating a large building footprint. Sometimes we overbuild and overdevelop, believing that that is progress. We are often driven by image-making and a false sense of gentrification. We crave for icons. But icons may not serve the people. Icons may irreparably hurt the environment, as well as local economies. Sometimes we need to challenge the conventional wisdom. Students were encouraged to think of a museum complex that would be an attractive and effective public place for experiencing the riverfront, while not alienating the people whose lives depend on rivers and canals. Through their research and design practice, the next generation of architects and planners must propagate the message that environmental stewardship should be a guiding policy framework for development in this deltaic country. Without a vigorous public awareness of the country's fragile land-water geography, development would be misguided. I am hopeful that the next generation of design practitioners would be much more sensitive about their responsibility toward the environment.