As you walk along the roads of Agargaon in the capital city, the first thing you notice are the broad, smooth roads. A line of cars were parked outside the big government offices. I could feel the sedulity in the air. The fast-paced cars honking their way through told me how busy the area is.
Institute of Architects Bangladesh (IAB) stands here, right in front of the Election Commission Secretariat. But as I entered the institute premise, somehow, all the hullabaloo disappeared and I found myself in front of a two-storied elongated structure, standing with all its 'modesty'.
Yes, I would use the word 'modest' to describe it.
The institute building, having prominent industrial design elements all around, does not quite flaunt itself with bright colours or flamboyant structures. Rather, its open entrance, a void space joining the two parts of the institute, the mezzanine floor - all cohere with the surrounding without being flashy.
While talking about the concept behind this design, IAB's Principal Architect, Ehsan Khan said, "The idea of the IAB Centre is to be a shelter for architects. Our thought was to create a physical shelter for our members, which would protect architects' interests and practices. It is like an umbrella or a tree consisting of one light roof, which can accommodate various activities of architects."
According to Sumon Podder, executive manager of IAB, more than 3,000 architects across the country, who at least have a Bachelor's degree in architecture, and current students of architecture from accredited universities, are members of the centre, as of now. IAB organises membership exams for architects every month.
The designers of the project titled 'IAB Centre' were Architects Ehsan khan, Ishtiaque Zahir, Iqbal Habib, Bhuiyan A R M Tareque, Jubair Hasan, and Mohammed Shabab Habib Khan, during different phases of its design and construction.
The 1,937 square metre building stands on a 3,852 square metre (just more than 1.5 bigha) area. The project's construction began in 2009 and the institute was ready for use by 2016.
In 2021, the design received the ARCASIA award, one of the most prominent awards in the architecture field.
The history of the IAB centre
Just after the Liberation War, IAB was established on February 25, 1972, in Dhaka, by the then IAB President Architect Muzharul Islam. In the beginning, the institution operated from a small rented place.
As the architects' community expanded throughout the country and the number of architects and activities grew, the need for an institutional building to meet the present and future demands grew stronger. Thus, the government provided a plot for the institution.
The design of the IAB Centre was selected through a design competition held among the members of the institution. Besides the IAB central office in Dhaka, currently, it has a centre in Chittagong and two other centres in Khulna and Sylhet.
The design's main features
As Architect Ehsan Khan said, initially, the structure was intended to be semi-permanent, which means the building could be dismantled on demand, with the plans for constructing a larger institutional building in the future.
According to the plan, the building is divided into two blocks - an administration block including library, office, meeting rooms and kitchen, and a block with a multipurpose hall and seminar room facilities on the mezzanine level.
These two blocks are placed on the plot's south side, leaving the maximum amount of open space to the north. The large space is then divided into a paved pathway as an entry courtyard and a huge front courtyard for outdoor activities.
The two blocks are compact and covered by a single super-roof, which finally creates the overall form of the institution building.
Semi-permanent design patterns
The shelter's main structure is made of steel - with large columns and branches. The overhang metal roof is insulated with two layers of insulation underneath, which keeps the space cool. These metal structures, along with the metal roof, can be dismantled if needed.
Two functional blocks are placed under the metal roof sheet. These blocks are created with exposed hand-made traditional brick walls with operable wood and glass panels. The walls are deliberately separated from the main steel structure so that it is easier to dismantle.
Openness is the star of the design
As soon as I entered through the main gate at the north, I was not obstructed by any other boundary or establishment.
The entry courtyard contains a drop-off with parking and a walkway that leads directly to the administrative block. There is an open-to-sky bridge beside the walkway and underneath, a small water body curated with aquatic plants and colourful fish. The bridge diagonally leads to the double-height open courtyard in the middle.
The open court works as a lounge; people can gather and interact at various events. This lounge also connects the admin block and multipurpose block. It works as a semi-outdoor space with a food corner and a buffer area between the open courtyard at the front and the building interior.
The open courtyard is designed in such a way that it acts as an extension of the multipurpose area. For larger events, both the multipurpose hall and outdoor courtyard can function as one large area. This courtyard is also used for various outdoor activities and games, while conferences, seminars, lectures, cultural events, celebrations, exhibitions and indoor games are held inside the multipurpose hall.
Rustic look with earthy tones all around
The building materials are all raw and exposed, pertaining to their natural colours and textures. The material's purity elevates the overall building experience and also complements its simple formal expression. This is one of the reasons I used the word 'modest' to describe the structure.
The super-roof, covering the admin and multipurpose hall, is supported by steel columns, which work as the building's main shelter. The steel columns have thin arms like tree branches. This secondary ceiling is designed in a way that follows the wind movement and allows maximum view.
Additionally, wooden doors and windows with the integration of glasses are used to complement the exposed building materials.