_The Friendship Center_
The Friendship Center, near the town of Gaibandha, in the north of Bangladesh, is reminiscent of subterranean ruins. The centre functions as a training facility for an NGO which works with local people, some of the poorest in the country with very few opportunities.
Conceived by the Dhaka-based architect Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury not as a building but as collection of pavilions, open courts, pools and walkways, the buildings house offices, a library, meeting rooms and pavilions, a prayer space, and a tearoom. A separate area contains dormitories and spaces for private functions. The laundry and drying shed is located on the other side of the pond. There is no air-conditioning in the complex; fractured and pavilion-like building volumes allow for natural ventilation and cooling, also facilitated by courtyards and pools, and earth-covered green roofs.
“The low lying land, which is located in rural Gaibandha where agriculture is predominant, is under threat of flooding if the embankment encircling the town and peripheries break. An extensive program with a very limited fund meant that raising the structures above flood level (a height of eight feet) was not an option: nearly the entire available fund would be lost below grade. Being in an earthquake zone and the low bearing capacity of the silty soil added further complications. The … design relies on a surrounding embankment for flood protection while building directly on existing soil, in load bearing masonry. Rainwater and surface run-off are collected in internal pools and the excess is pumped to an excavated pond, also to be used for fishery. The design relies on natural ventilation and cooling, being facilitated by courtyards and pools and the earth covering on roofs. An extensive network of septic tanks and soak wells ensure the sewage does not mix with flood water . . . As in construction, so in conception – the complex of the centre rise and exist as echo of ruins, alive with the memory of the remains of Mahasthan (3rd century BC), some sixty kilometers away. Constructed and finished primarily of one material – local hand- made bricks – the spaces arc woven out of pavilions, courtyards, pools and greens; corridors and shadows. Simplicity is the intent, monastic is the feel. The centre serves and brings together some of the poorest of poor in the country and -by extension – in the world, yet in the extreme limitation of means was a search for the luxury of light and shadows of the economy and generosity of small spaces; of the joy of movement and discovery in the bare and the essential.” (URBANA)
The complex is predominantly constructed using local hand-made bricks. The choice not only references local tradition and history, but was also borne out of economic constraints and the wish to utilise local manufacture. Reinforced concrete elements are utilised where necessary to due to its location in this earthquake prone region. All surfaces are left unplastered and unpainted in order to minimise maintenance costs.
Architects: Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury/URBANA Area: 2,897 sqm Year: 2011