As a city growing in affluence, Dhaka seems to have adopted this trend of building everything anew. The old is often sacrificed to make way for the new.
But now, when it comes to preserving the old, there is some glimmer of hope. A resident in Dhanmondi has gone against the trend and invested in preserving their old family building and renovating their apartment, rather than building something new.
The project was undertaken by the architectural firm River & Rain. Principal Architect and Chairman of the company, Kazi Fida Islam conceptualised the idea, encouraged by the client's desire for "something different".
With an opportunity to experiment — a rare occurrence these days — Fida had the freedom to express his ideas.
Looking at this project, the first thing that might capture one's attention is the clever use of space. The architects have masterfully reconfigured the layout to maximise both living and entertainment areas.
A once-six-bedroom apartment has been thoughtfully reimagined into a more spacious three-bedroom layout. This strategic downsizing has allowed for an abundance of space.
With 2,800 sq ft of space and a dated layout, not to mention the plumbing and electric wiring, the project was challenging for the people at River & Rain — most of the layout needed to be redone.
The tenants were looking to downsize the bedrooms and maximise the living area. So, a few walls had to face the sledgehammer.
"The walls had to be strategically taken down so we did not do any structural damage to the main infrastructure," said Abdul Awyal, architect and managing director of River & Rain.
The flooring is where the classic meets modern. Marble floors, elegant and timeless, define the living areas. In a bold move to demarcate different zones, wooden flooring has been introduced. This subtle yet effective separation of spaces serves both functional and aesthetic purposes.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this renovation is the variations in ceiling height. While it may seem unconventional, it's a design choice that adds a layer of uniqueness to the apartment.
"On one side, the ceiling soars to an impressive 11 feet, creating a sense of grandeur. Conversely, the other side maintains a cosier nine-foot ceiling height. This juxtaposition creates a dynamic interior where each space has its character," the architects said. The height difference is also showcased through the use of marble and wood as floors.
The architects decided to embrace and showcase the building's history by exposing the original brickwork. Instead of concealing it beneath layers of paint or drywall, they chose to dust-proof the bricks and allow them to tell their own story. This exposed brickwork lends an industrial-chic vibe to the apartment, a nod to the ever-popular loft-style life.
"We repurposed some of the old bricks to implement some sustainable techniques in the reconstruction. The exposed brick wall was dust-proofed with silicone and waterproof materials to preserve its integrity," Fida said.
Art, in various forms, plays a significant role in this revamped space. The apartment serves as a canvas where art seamlessly integrates with the architecture. Captivating paintings and thought-provoking installations adorn the walls and niches, turning every corner into a gallery-like experience. The interplay between art and design elevates the apartment to a level of sophistication rarely seen.
The apartment renovation project began when the owner, with deep familial ties to the space, approached Awyal. Originally configured as a two-unit apartment with six bedrooms, the goal was to modernise and optimise the layout. This meant reducing the number of bedrooms to three to make room for expanded living spaces and the addition of a dry kitchen.
Awyal acted as the intermediary between the client and the lead architect, Fida. The client expressed a desire for something unique, pushing the boundaries of conventional design.
Fida enjoyed having the freedom to express himself, comparing it to "taking the shackles off". The design was inspired by his favourite architect and artist Le Corbusier, and he tried to incorporate his style into the renovation. He was certainly happy that the inhabitants liked his work.
River & Rain were inspired by the fact that their client had faith in them.
"They believed that River & Rain were going to design something different and hence gave us an abundance of freedom," the architects said.
Fida and Awyal both explained how the design had to be converted and presented in a way so that the contractors could understand how they should build it.
Since renovation is not a work-from-scratch situation and is not that regular in Bangladesh, it was really important for the contractors to understand what they were executing. They also mentioned the importance of 3D designs and how showing them to the clients helps get approval easily and fast. The 3D images also help the contractors to visualise the outcome of their execution.
The renovated apartment in Dhanmondi, Dhaka, is a masterclass in architectural ingenuity. It takes a step back in time to honour the building's origins and then catapults into the present with modern design sensibilities.
The fusion of classic marble and contemporary wood, the daring variation in ceiling heights, the exposed brickwork, and the artworks create a living space that is both visually arresting and functionally brilliant.
This is not merely an apartment; it's a work of art, a testament to the transformative power of architectural interior design.
This also showcases that renovation is an option, rather than demolition.