The accelerated pace of urban development is erasing the homegrown aesthetics; eradicating age-old heritages, placing the urban image in the dangerous path of commodification. Almost every big city is striving to build iconic buildings to make them look dazzling in postcards. Our beloved, Dhaka; a booming metropolis is also a victim of such trends. In this given context a question arises: if architecture is to provide part of these differentiators, why not turn to the city itself and one of its most specific features, its heritage, to provide the starting point?
Dhaka, a city build upon centuries of cultures and traditions; is a confluence of many architectural styles. From the Sena temples built by Ballal Sen, to the Mughal architecture of the Mughals, to the Indo-Saracenic style of the colonial era, to 20th-century steel and chrome of skyscrapers. Dhaka has a colonial core in the river port area, surrounded by progressively newer areas as one travels away from the Buriganga, punctuated with old temples, churches, and mosques.
The precious architectural gems of this city are in constant decay. The most alarming thing is that we are not even worried about the ongoing massacre of our architecture heritages. ‘Ruplal House’, a fine example of neoclassical architecture and craftsmanship of the 19th century are rotting silently in the years gone by. Today, the Ruplal House is occupied by local spice and vegetable merchants and a colony of unauthorized squatters. Ruplal house being one of the prime examples of negligence, we can easily understand what is happening with the lesser-known heritages spreading all over the Old Dhaka. Much has been penned down about the architectural heritage of Old Dhaka; much more is still left to be explored in depth. Time is eating away at the historic structures in Dhaka. Due to a lack of preservation efforts the buildings are slowly being worn down. Though initiatives to protect them have been announced, little has been done. Indeed, Old Dhaka’s architectural legacy, especially in the context of residences and small buildings, is not about one or a few individual structures. Rather, a street or even a group of streets, together, hold what we say is the charm of Puran Dhaka. Action is urgently needed to preserve these artistic architectural structures from further decay.
This practice is all but not limited to the old heritages of Dhaka. The modern architectural masterpieces are also facing impending doom. Recently the news of the potential demolition of TSC and Kamalapur Railway Station send shockwaves in the architecture community of Bangladesh. Two of the finest examples of tropical modernism of Southeast Asia will soon be a foregone conclusion if we don’t act now. For the sake of modernization and urban development; A false narrative has been created that historically substantial architectural pieces as such hinder our national progress. These architectural heritages are not mere buildings but are places of memory; these are what give Dhaka an identity and a sense of place. These are powerful drivers of citizenships. Kamalapur and TSC should be well-looked-after in sync with the new development plan. Architectural heritages are imperative to national narrative. These buildings tell stories of Dhaka. Now more than ever we need these stories to be told.
About the artist:
Asad Hossen is an architect, urbanist and graphic designer, currently working as an urban designer in a Shenzhen-based firm in China. He passed his B.Arch from BRAC University, Bangladesh, and completed his masters in Urban Design from the University of Hong Kong. From the beginning of his study in architecture, he has always been fascinated by architectural drawings and illustrations; constantly looking for inspirations from other artists. He tries to communicate as much as possible with his drawings. Drawings and illustrations are always therapeutic to him.
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