| Note Dr. Nizamuddin Ahmed's concerns


A breath of fresh air
Architect Dr. Nizamuddin Ahmed

Celebrated Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959) is often credited
with pioneering the integration of the inside of a house with the
outside, initiated in his prairie houses, the crucial swing from Greek
antecedents to oriental precursors in India, Persia, Japan and China. No
thanks to Western architecture historians, in their predisposed bid to
place Wright on the right podium, centuries-old preceding Eastern models
are unfortunately generally ignored in their accounts.

Our home-grown rural architecture is similarly gifted. But, so obsessed
have we been for the past hundred or so years with imitating the alien
that we have ignored the divine innate gift, that of taking into account
the outdoors. For a very long time we have been guilty of being absorbed
with the indoor while being a step-architect or step-user to the outdoor
or landscaping.

There have been a few major sustained landscaping projects in the
country. Those that come right away to mind are the Jatiya Smriti Soudha
(National Martyrs Memorial) at Savar and the War Memorial at Comilla.

The road from Zia International Airport to the Banani rail crossing has
for the past few months been the scene of one of the major works in
landscape architecture in the country. Although it is somewhat of a cliché

to claim every scheme in Bangladesh as a 'first', such public works of
linear landscaping have only been undertaken in a limited way at some
prestige institutions, industrial premises and cantonments. The
proximity of the project to Dhaka Cantonment is to the project's advantage.

While not being a project that actually integrates the inside and the
outside, the project enlarges our mind into demonstrating that the
outside is equally important.

The hitherto chaotic and hazardous area is being modified by 'organising
natural, cultivated, and constructed elements according to a
comprehensive, aesthetic plan'.

There are several welcome signs in the project, undertaken at the behest
of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, who it is assumed was prompted by
the need to offer international visitors a positive impression and a
befitting warm welcome on arrival.

The scheme is in line with many other international airports,
particularly those of the emerging economies and in developing
countries, where a nation tries to look its best at first impression.
Against expected criticisms that while much of the City is belching
under filth and reeling under traffic disorder, what good is a patch of
sunshine, the argument, though not totally defendable, that in the urban
house we usually optimise our living room and in the rural the baithak
khana may hold.

The transition from disorder to order, from unsightly to pleasant, from
apathy to belongingness is taking place. The differences between the
opposites are gradually becoming clear.

Bus bays have been integrated into the linear composition to allow
high-speed vehicles to move unhindered. Buses seemed be encouraged to
use the coves as stops, perhaps because of the overall order that has
been established by the architects.

The architect, Khan Md. Mahfuzul Huq (Jaglul) and his team from Interdec
Systems, have not disturbed the existing traffic pattern; rather several
measures have been put in place to ease the movement of fast-moving

Pedestrian ways have been fashioned to provide a sense of security to
users. Already people have taken it up not only as a means to move from
one place to another but some also as a treadmill to sweat it out.

Fresh greenery and flower beds, far end elevated to provide also the
vehicular passengers a view, separates the vehicular path from the
footpaths, much to the delight of the pedestrians. The linear tedium of
the site has been broken up by delightfully shaped aluminium vases and
ceramics, made in Bangladesh; the plantation within sprouting with life.
The hideous signboards have been done away with.

Undulations, fountains, flowerbeds, shrubbery, trees and grass,
sculptural elements, vases, shades and shadows and walkways exist in a
much-improved order, evoking a sense of pride among the Dhakaites.

Some trees had to be felled to implement the road network plan. If it
can be said, in compensation about seventy thousand plants are to be
planted along the project site before completion of works. Already many
medium-sized trees and plants suitable for such developments have been
placed in ground. All the trees and plants are indigenous or have
acquired the status of 'native' due to their long habitation in the
land; none have been imported for the project.

In establishing an overall plan, Landscape Architects have for long been
taking into account proportion and scale, and advantage of natural land
formations by using as much as possible the natural characteristics of
the site. In the Airport road project, it is evident that these design
principles have been attempted and the tools adopted, especially in
employing 'contrasts in the size, colour, and texture of plant material'.

At important nodes, for instance the entry into a city road from ZIA
Domestic and International Terminals, and from the VVIP Terminal, and at
the bend at the Zia Colony entry, larger scaled sculptural elements,
complete with flora and water components, in tune with the theme have
been placed, providing a somewhat refreshing change to the linear

Despite such interventions, all along there is an indication of not
trying to overdo.

Although the designers have tried to make use of variation in the
project, there are visible degrees of monotony at places, particularly
if you are walking or on a slow-moving vehicle. Perhaps the viewing
speed was considered from the point of only a vehicular traveller.

It is now most important in Bangladesh to set the right standards in all
spheres. In our rush to build, to cope with the rising demand for
liveable space, in unwittingly transforming architecture into a
commercial enterprise, as a profitable undertaking by non-architects,
rather than as a means to provide a better living environment, we have
ended up with setting the wrong standards; and that too in violation of
existing construction rules, minimal and meagre though they are.

There is perhaps nothing wrong with such business-related pursuits,
except that hunger for as much profit as possible has negated the
exterior. A series of houses now means interior spaces separated by
property walls. The garden-building relationship, Man's bond with
nature, the perfect ground for children to make the most of their
childhood, has been buried.

Let the project be a model, if not so much in landscape architecture,
but at any rate in transforming the attitude of the government, the
public, and most importantly the professionals. The project may go some
way in paving our way towards setting the right standards.

The rest is for your eyes to behold.

The author is Professor, Dept of Architecture, BUET, Dhaka and
Consultant to the Editor on Urban Issues