Ajo Idea Space, is named after the Bangla word 'Ajo' which translates to 'new'. It strives to be a welcoming haven where individuals can gather to explore fresh ideas and diverse cultures. Ajo Idea Space in Uttara has already earned its reputation for its innovative cuisine and laid-back ambience.
The new establishment in Gulshan, however, turns the meaning of the word 'Ajo' on its head, as, instead of building the place from scratch, it has found a home in a converted space that was once part of a different restaurant. What's more, it has been built almost entirely with repurposed material.
Khaled Mahmud, the visionary behind Ajo Idea Space, sought to create an environment that was distinctive and hospitable. Collaborating with GoAAT (Group of Architects and Thinkers), he conceptualised a design that mirrors what he likes to claim as the essence of the restaurant.
Architect Md Rabiul Islam, the project lead of GoAAT describes the place as, "an abandoned building surrounded by, yet disconnected from the lush green in the heart of Dhaka. The journey was a story of reintegration through dialogue between the two, in the spirit of sustainability."
He continues, "The whole process was an act of crafting an aperture (an open space) inside a dense forest canopy that allows gentle light to enter deep within its soul. The abandoned built-forms were meticulously integrated into the design."
The building combines concrete and brick elements, featuring expansive windows that flood the space with natural light. Inside, the décor showcases a rich tapestry of Asian artefacts and furnishings. The overall result is a harmonious blend of modern and traditional designs.
Nestled in Gulshan 2, Ajo Idea Space's entrance is through a charming courtyard that leads to the primary dining area. It is divided into two sections: a formal dining room and a more relaxed lounge. There's also an outdoor area surrounded by water.
With a focus on sustainable design, it contains 18 layers that have been brought to life through repurposed materials and innovative construction techniques. Ajo Idea Space utilises the power of repurposing.
Describing the concept, Rabiul said, "It was outside the formal approach to space-making. Lives of all forms were prioritised and spatially accommodated. The built form of Ajo represents a boat that embarks on a phenomenological journey, docking at the site for a few moments."
The restaurant is crafted almost entirely from reclaimed materials, including the repurposing of a swimming pool that is almost 60 years old, and furniture that is custom-made and repurposed.
"It was aimed at preserving the past and discarding the use of any new materials as much as possible," Rabiul explained. "All the façades were recycled and built with local materials. Repurposed metal and wood were picked from local sources to make architectural components."
The architectural brilliance lies in how every element, from reclaimed wood to redesigned furniture, seamlessly integrates with the restaurant's primary objective - to allow people to relax.
This is a place where repurposed materials not only reduce the environmental impact, but also push the idea that sustainability can be fashionable, by creating a visually pleasing atmosphere.
As Khaled Mahmud mentioned, the water around the windows is supposed to keep the indoor area two degrees cooler than outside. He also added that they're trying to decolonise the tea cup by taking away the handle from it and returning to clay tea cups that are native to this continent and also made by local potters.
Speaking about the challenges, Rabiul said, "the principal challenge of the project was to connect and establish a dialogue between the built form and the surrounding site."
"The project nurtured the essence of frugality in terms of design, material, usage, and waste. The ratio of design to natural space was carefully maintained. Material effects were curated to have an 'old' look, resembling a sense of belongingness to the site," he added.
Sustainability permeates every aspect of the restaurant. Ajo Idea Space sources a mere 2% to 3% of its food ingredients from abroad, the rest are sourced locally.
For example, fish is exclusively procured from Cox's Bazar. They're also trying to make it cost-effective.
The menu at Ajo Idea Space is a fusion of dishes from various Asian countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Japan.
Ajo Idea Space is more than just a place to enjoy a meal. It puts a new spin on restaurant dining by offering an immersive experience where guests can explore art and also connect with nature.
It transforms dining into an artful journey through the senses, echoing its dedication to the elements of air, water, and earth across all 18 layers of its meticulous design.