This building in Kasba of Brahmanbaria has a story that revolves around two generations of a family. Md Shafiqul Islam was a student of Jamsherpur High School in 1961. Later in life, he worked at the Unicef and Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development. He got the President Award for his rural development work in 1975.
He never forgot his responsibilities towards his community and the school he had studied in. After retiring from Unicef, he developed a trust with the money he received and dedicated it for education of unprivileged students of his village in Brahmanbaria.
Later in 2015, he decided to develop a school hostel for students whose parents are poor. He donated a portion of his retirement money to build the dormitory for a small group of children willing to pass the secondary school certificate exams.
The group of students under the supervision of a devoted local school teacher Md Moniruzzaman used to stay and study in a dilapidated house.
It was on a 0.35-acre land donated by Mazharul Haque, another philanthropist and a former student of Jamsherpur High School.
But the school authorities were not capable enough to build a good hostel for students, and here comes our architect Dr Saiful Islam, son of Shafiqul, who wanted to incorporate a design that would be sustainable, low-cost and functional. Like his father, he did not take any money from the school authority or even the community. Saiful is an associate professor at the department of architecture at North South University.
This first phase of construction was meant to accommodate the following – four dorm rooms, a room for hostel superintendent, a common study hall, and common toilets. The next phase would add a dining hall and a kitchen. Moreover, the dormitory has to go beyond a standard physical structure.
Saiful said, "It was designed keeping in mind that its environment has to inspire children, especially those who lost interest in education. Therefore, the design was planned with three major goals in mind – i) to minimise construction cost, ii) to minimise utility and maintenance cost and iii) to showcase a cheerful but humble ambience of the dormitory where local children would reside, study and play under the supervision of a dedicated mentor.
The first goal was achieved by adopting an optimised combination of the following: brick walls topped with corrugated metal roof on metal/wood frames, hinged windows of 3mm glass panes on metal frames, doors made of thin metal sheet on wooden frames, and the rugged beauty of local bricks instead of plaster and paint on the majority of walls.
Speaking about the naked brick wall, Saiful said, "We wanted to have this on purpose. We wanted to convey a message to villagers that all those plasters and colours are not necessary to make a beautiful structure. It reduces cost and at the same time, it is so humble."
The second goal was achieved by adopting the following measures – i) maximisation of passive cooling through both cross ventilation and stack effects, and ii) maximisation of daylight by combining top lighting through light/ventilation chimney, diffused side light from north, and reflected side light from the corridor in south.
This allowed them to reduce electricity cost. Although students and the mentor, Moniruzzaman, say it is a bit chilly and windy during winter as the walls are open for cross ventilation, it is very cool during summer. Besides, the unfolding of the foldable doors next to North-Jali walls prevent the northerly winter wind to enter the dorm rooms.
Five students will be staying in a single room. Some of them will be studying and the rest will be sleeping. Therefore, in terms of daylight, each dorm room is divided in two segments – for study, the translucent chimney above study table allow top lighting without creating glare for the students lying on bed; for sleeping, the dark surrounding of brick wall, red cement-finish floor and bamboo made false ceiling help lower the light level to the adequate amount.
So, the natural light source is placed in a way so that from the ceiling, it flows with the white walls directly to the study table.
The third goal was achieved by careful planning of the site. Despite having little noise from the village road on the eastern border, the study hall was placed next to it. This allowed showcasing of the ambience of studying under a mentor which is crucial for the project objective.
Saiful said, "For village people, it is a beautiful view. Because I wanted them to realise how beautiful it is when young children study and have a journey towards a bright future. That will inspire them to send their children to school as well."
Dorm rooms are placed along the north border so that they have the following: i) cross-ventilation by the prevailing south-east wind, and ii) views towards ponds on both north and south parts of the site.
In the design, toilets are placed in the north-west corner to flush out foul air naturally by the prevailing wind. Shower facilities have been intentionally omitted so that traditional bathing in the pond is sustained and preserved for ecological reason.
Currently, the design is an L-shaped structure. But they have plans to incorporate a dining area and a large kitchen in the future. Students have to go to their homes once a day to bring food. But if there is a kitchen, it will be easier for them to study.
Saiful said, "The project has some significant impacts as it houses the future of our country. I think this kind of project should be implemented. I wanted to uphold its ideas and design to the world because it includes the community.
"It has the essence of connecting the people and the children to their roots and surroundings, providing them with the environment for education and building their psychology with the thought that you do not need much to do something good. All you need is good skills and the innovation to incorporate."