Amphibious school in Bangladesh nabs Aga Khan Award for Architecture

The floating Arcadia Education Project confronts the challenge of rising water levels, while making use of local, sustainable materials and techniques

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

In For Land and Water, an article in Clove 01, we explored the new energy in the architecture scene of Bangladesh, focusing on projects such as Marina Tabassum’s Bait ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, recipient of the 2018 Jameel Prize, and the Friendship Centre in Gaibandha by Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury/URBANA, recipient of the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Our writer explored the marriage of vernacular and modernist design traditions that have made these recent designs particularly suitable for the local context.

Now, another project in Bangladesh – the Arcadia Education Project in South Kanarchor – has scooped a prize in the latest round of Aga Khan awards, which seek to celebrate building concepts in societies across the world in which Muslims have a significant presence.

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

The winning project is a riverside school for underprivileged children, whose design faces up to the challenge of rising sea levels and makes use of bamboo, a local material and one that’s increasingly being hailed as a sustainable solution for future architecture. Located on a site that is submerged in three metres of monsoon water for a third of the year, it is designed to either float or sit above the ground, depending on the season, rather than being raised on stilts.

Razia Alam, the former UK-based teacher who established the school, worked with architecture firm Saif Ul Haque Sthapati and engineer Sadat Hossain, to create three multi-purpose classrooms, an office, an open platform and a bathroom with septic structures. Three types of bamboo were sourced from surrounding villages, then floated to the site along the river. The structure is kept afloat by 30-gallon steel drums encased within bamboo frames and bow-arched bamboo roofs create column-free spaces inside.

The school is anchored to the site during monsoon season, and while the bamboo is naturally waterproof, the remaining materials were waterproofed with liquid from boiled local gaab fruit. Most of the joints use a rope-tie technique, rather than steel wire, which would corrode, and construction was mostly carried out using hand tools.

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

© Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Sandro di Carlo Darsa (photographer)

Alongside the Arcadia Education Project, buildings in Bahrain, Palestine, Russian Federation, Senegal and the United Arab Emirates were also honoured in the latest iteration of the biennial architecture awards.