August 2, 2009

Rafiq Azam is the principal architect of Shattoto, an architecture firm based in Dhaka with a focus on “architecture for green living”. Formed in 1995, Shatotto intends to unearth the lost history and heritage of Bengal and recreate the missing link of its urban and rural culture. Shatotto also tries to bridge the gaps between architectural values and the current crisis of a responsible architecture, in order to generate conversation among people, communities and nature for a healthy society. Rafiq Azam graduated in 1989 from Bangladesh Engineering University (BUET), Dhaka. His many awards in both art and architectural work include: three-time recipient of World Architecture Community Award 2008-09, short listed in Leading European Architects Forum Award 09, Emerging Architect of the world by Urban Land USA 08, AR Emerging Award London 07, finalist for Aga Khan Awards for Architecture 04 and 07, Berger Award for Excellence 07, Kenneth F. Brown Asia Pacific Culture and Design Award USA 07, four- time recipient of South Asian Awards for Architecture. Azam is also a visiting faculty at Dept. of Architecture-The National University of Singapore, NED University Pakistan, North South University, University of Asia Pacific, Ahsanullah University of Science & Technology, and Brac University Dhaka. Azam has also lectured extensively around the world at numerous institutions and seminars.

cB:  Welcome Back! We are continuing our very interesting conversation with Rafiq Azam. 

There were times when you have done a project nearly for free so that your ideas would at least take physical form. For example, for the Khazedewan Apartments you hardly took any compensation – your only requirement to the landlord being that he cannot make any changes to the design. How difficult was it at the beginning of your career to convince clients to implement your revolutionary designs. Can you tell us more about this journey from being an unknown architect to being a well-known and award-winning architect.

RA:  Definitely it was very difficult at the onset. When I was thinking of a name for my practice in 1995, my wife, Dr. Afroza, proposed “SHATOTTO”- a Bangla word meaning “do something continuously”. So as our practice is named “SHATOTTO – architecture for green living” we are passionately, continuously, repetitively pursuing our ideas through the process of innovation. In the process the recognitions are one kind of inspiration but not the destiny of our perseverance. 

cB: And now that you are successfully established, is it much easier to get clients to experiment with your ideas? 

Basically we are (since architecture is team work) the dream sellers and executors. I think, dream for a “tiny small home full of peace” is not difficult to sell. Nowadays, things are becoming easer in one hand and difficult on the other. The expectation of the community from us, the trust, respect and responsibility on us makes it a huge job.

[top image: Glass facade in the living room of Karim Residence. bottom image: Water fountain at Karim Residence.]

cB:  Being  a big supporter of green living, what do you think is the future of sustainable architecture in Bangladesh? Particularly, in Dhaka where there are no proper plans and ugly buildings are mushrooming everywhere! 

RA: In every situation I don’t want to be a pessimist. Civilization is a continuous process of struggle and attainment.  Perhaps we are in the phase of struggle. It’s true that despite having all resources, unfortunately, lack of political will and policy have failed to produce any proper physical planning for Dhaka. And gradually Dhaka has become one of the most densely populated cities in the world characterized as an urban mayhem, fermented by unregulated development, unreliable infrastructure and lack of green space. Amongst all these, by working on individual buildings, an architect can play a key role in the society. I see architecture as a responsibility with its own dialects of conviction and comprehension. It has its own body and poetry, and has the power to transform the society into a healthy community.

cB:  If one looks at Dhaka’s new skyline and developments, you will think that the beauty has gone out of the Bangladeshi life. I sometimes long for the simplicity and practicality of traditional Bangladeshi village architecture. What is your take on traditional architecture: is it practical for modern times, and can it be revived and redefined for modern living?

RA:  The beauty of civilization is in its transformations. We cannot forget and ignore the Stone Age; we also cannot live in the Stone Age. The reason is due to “transformation” whether you want it or not. In fact, it is a journey linearly and critically. When we lost the connections with time and space, there was more of the possibility to “nowhere”. In the realm of urban society with its own complex dynamics, it is a challenge how we will intertwine the essence of the simplicity of our village in terms of time and space. 


[top image: Mizan Residence against the Dhaka skyline. bottom image: Sunlight through Mizan Residence.]

cB:  You like to work in Old Dhaka and neighborhoods that don’t get much attention. For example, you have a project in Basabo – can you tell us more about that project and how to design for areas such as Badda, Malibagh, Rajarbagh, Rampura, where the plots are much smaller and the roads are narrow, limiting accessibility. 

RA:  Despite getting almost nothing from the society during his time, Van Gogh said in a letter to Theo, “There is nothing more artistic than to love people”. My purpose for architecture is that it is for humanity. Due to professional limitations, I am afraid of being a “servant of the rich”. I want to be an architect of the general people. Currently, we are working on a couple of small projects in Gandaria, Kather Pool, Lalbagh, Nikunja and so on. To me, architecture is a complicated journey like a movie and, at the end of the day, it is a “frozen poem”. If you know how to do architecture, if you have the feelings, understanding and passion, place is not a hindrance rather a new experience with a new challenge.

cB:  You also paint and draw and have even won awards for painting. After architecture, what is your next passion?

RA:  I wanted to be a painter – just a painter and nothing else. Since the age of seven I have indulged myself, especially, by pouring green and light into my watercolor paintings. Eventually, green, light and water became inseparable in my life. But my parent’s desire of seeing me become an engineer put me into the Department of Architecture, Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET). Even then I was happy realizing that architecture had the scope to continue my painting journey. Even today, I consider myself an architect by CHANCE and a painter by CONVICTION.

[top image: Living room opens to a garden at Mizan Residence. bottom image: Glass Staircase at Mizan Residence.]

cB: On a rainy monsoon day, you can be seen reading what book and listening to which music?

RA:  Sometimes on a rainy monsoon day, I look at my empty roofless terrace blank; listen to the silence of the rain, lean breeze and moving leaves of the trees, musical mist of the water touching the chin unseen. . . .

Sometimes I read books; Rabindranath Tagore, Jibanananda Das, Heidegger or, listen to music; Rabindrasangeet, Ajay Chakraborty, Lalon and so on.

[top image: Celebrating Nature, watercolor by RAFIQ AZAM. bottom image: Torana, watercolor by RAFIQ AZAM.]

cB:  What was the most important experience of growing up in Bangladesh?

RA:  Growing up in Bangladesh was an exciting phenomenon. There are so many things to be mentioned – the colourful crowd, Boisakhi Mela, rickshaw, fuchka, art galleries, adda (chit-chat), Lalongeeti, sither-pitha (winter rice cakes), joister aam (seasonal mango), boat race, it is endless!

cB:  If you were given a choice to live in one of the homes that you have designed – which one would you choose and why?

RA:  I haven’t yet designed any house that is my favorite. I am waiting for that. I would like to say as Frank L. Wright said “my next project”. 

cB:  Thank you Rafiq Bhai for taking the time to talk to us today. We look forward to seeing more of your innovative architecture! 

[image: Roof-top at South Water Garden Apartments]

[image: all photographs are copyright of RAFIQ AZAM / SHATTOTO]

* To view more of RAFIQ AZAM’s architectural works, please visit here.

SHATOTTO architecture for green living
House 34, Road 9/A
Dhanmondi R/A, Dhaka – 1209
Bangladesh
Phone # + 88 – 02 – 811-9702

    

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2 Responses to “”

  1. Meherun Nesa Says:

    awesome architecture…. I simply just like it….

  2. Foysal Mahbub Says:

    sir,i need some pic of SA HOUSE..not interior..top view and exterior er pic..coz,um working on this project..


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