When the Shah family were planning to build a leisure home, they wanted a location that would help the family of eight siblings and their kids sustain their bond.
Although the Shahs now reside in Dhaka and are engaged in different professions, they are originally an influential family from Gopalganj.
After several discussions with the Roofliners Studio of Architecture, the family decided to build their leisure home in their hometown, where their mother lives. However, they refused to destroy their old house and its surrounding structures.
"The siblings grew up there. Some of their weddings were held at the yard adjacent to that house. The memories they associate with the old structure are priceless and they wanted to keep them intact," said architect Rajib Ahmed.
So the next best option was to utilise the woods behind the old house. The family allotted a 603-square-metre plot for the new building.
"The Shahs wanted a place that would give them a sense of peace and harmony. They might not be going there frequently, but when they do, it will relieve them from the bustle of the city. Hence, they named it Nidrabilash," said Rajib.
Nidrabilash is a perfect example of modern architecture using rustic elements. The two-storey building includes eleven bedrooms and accommodates a generous amount of communal space in the form of living areas and a terrace.
Designed by architects Rajib Ahmed, Sarawat Iqbal Tesha, and Monon Bin Yunus, Nidrabilash is a leisure home of the Shah family.
The building does not incorporate any striking colours or catchy decor elements. It is adorned with earthy hues and natural materials, amidst lush greenery.
A blurry boundary between the exterior and interior
One of the goals of the project was to ensure the new building did not have a significant impact on the natural environment, and that it became a part of it as time progressed.
The primary structural components of the building are patterned brick walls, mosaic floors and wood. The use of steel can also be observed on windows and doors. Most of the materials were sourced locally.
The layout of the building is designed in a manner that creates a blurry boundary between the exterior and interior. Inside, scattered open spaces are arranged in ways that feel organic, stimulating a sense of openness. A small waterbody on the ground floor also inspires a sense of calm.
Most doors of the common areas are foldable, which makes the space look even bigger. The grills of the windows also slide open with the windows, giving you an uninterrupted view of the front yard and open fields.
The ground floor is deceiving from the outside. One can never imagine it has a waterbody, followed by a green court and a light well.
Daylight enters the building through the holes in perforated bricks. Nidrabilash also does not have a boundary wall surrounding it, which allows more sunlight to enter the structure. The entire building is made of bricks to take best advantage of the micro climatic condition.
"As opposed to concrete, brick was selected for the walls due to its explicitly unique characteristic of graceful ageing. The material itself creates a sort of soothing aura of craftsmanship and beautiful imperfection," said Rajib.
'It looked like a mess before everything came to life'
Nidrabilash was being constructed parallel to the timeline of the Padma Bridge construction. Gopalganj, being very close to the bridge's territory, suffered from the scarcity of raw materials in the local market.
"From rods to bricks to cement, the market had a shortage of everything due to the huge demand for the Padma bridge. As a result, we had to settle for a different brick from what we had originally intended to use," shared Rajib.
Unlike framed structures with R.C.C. (reinforced cement concrete) columns and beams, the architects opted for a load-bearing wall. The building transfers its load to the foundation through the walls instead of beams and columns.
The load-bearing design is not a conventional practice nowadays. These designs were used in traditional brick houses, at a time when concrete, cement and steel were expensive or difficult to come by.
"Since it is a big family, they needed many rooms. If we tried a framed structure, it would have turned out rigid, offering less flexibility and openness," said Rajib.
The client, villagers, and even the contractors working on this project, were unfamiliar with this particular construction design, and everyone doubted the end result.
"It looked like a mess before everything came to life. Everyone kept asking, 'What's going on?' We had to align them with our imagination and reassure them at every phase," he added.
A place to learn from
Starting in 2014, it took almost two years to complete the project at a cost of Tk2450 per sft. The distance of the project site from the capital also made things arduous.
"It was tough for us to visit the site every other week, it required an eight to ten hour journey. But we have learnt so much from this project nonetheless," said Monon Bin Yunus.
In 2018, the project won the IAB (Institute of Architects Bangladesh) design award for the thoughtful conceptualisation by the architects.
A picturesque site, Nidrabilash is visited by locals who marvel at its architectural design. With prior appointment, architecture students and designers also have permission to visit the place. At least one or two study tours are conducted here every year.
"Architecture is an influential art. Good architecture can positively impact human society. We took immense joy in designing Nidrabilash. Knowing that the next generation of Shahs will bond on the terrace while enjoying the scenic beauty of the village, gives us a sense of accomplishment," said Tesha.
"Nidrabilash is our dream vacation house. We resonate with this place profoundly. We often host parties here and spend quality time with our family and friends," added a member of the Shah family.