Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change

Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change
Marina Tabassum, center, speaks to Arab News at her office in Dhaka on May 2, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 23 May 2024
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Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change

Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change
  • Marina Tabassum is among Time’s most influential people of 2024
  • Her mosque in Dhaka received the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture

DHAKA: With structures that “breathe” and are designed in tune with Bangladesh’s history and environment, Marina Tabassum’s work focuses on the local community and resilience in the country where every year millions of people lose their homes and livelihoods to climate change.

The award-winning founder of Marina Tabassum Architects came to the international spotlight after winning the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, which she designed, built and fundraised.

An architect and educator, she is also the recipient of the prestigious 2021 Soane Medal for Architecture, the 2021 Gold Medal by the French Academy of Architecture, the 2021 Arnold W. Bruner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters 2021, and the Lisbon Millennium Lifetime Achievement Award, which she received in 2022.

In 2024, she was featured on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list for developing a “practice and a way of being that prioritizes local cultures and values, as well as the perils faced by our shared planet.”

One of the drivers of Tabassum’s work is a sense of responsibility.

“There is enormous disparity in our human condition in Bangladesh and I feel like it’s not just my responsibility, (but) it’s for everybody to take that, their own share of the responsibility, and to do something about it,” she told Arab News at her practice in Dhaka.

“And I am of a breed who has the knowledge, has the capacity, all the different things that are required to take the responsibility to reduce these differences.”

Throughout her nearly three-decade career, she has designed some of Bangladesh’s most famous structures, which, besides the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, are the Museum of Independence in Dhaka — a project with Kashef Chowdhury — as well as housing adapted to the environment, including a modular mobile house for climate victims in the country’s south and north.

The Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, which is personally very close to Tabassum, was built on land donated by her grandmother and with a modest budget raised through community contributions.

“I was not just designing it, but also constructing it, fundraising it, so that became a very intensely involved project. I would say it is an important milestone for me and also it gave me a lot of international acclaim, which definitely helps in many ways,” she said.




The prayer hall of Marina Tabassum's Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka. (Aga Khan Trust for Culture)

The building’s porous brick walls keep it ventilated and cool while natural light enters it through a skylight. For Tabassum, one of the most important features in her work is that it “has to be able to breathe without artificial aids,” especially in her own subtropical country.

“It’s important for us to have our buildings as open as possible so that we can have natural ventilation, air can come and pass through the buildings. That’s what I call the breathing of a building,” she said.

“That’s an absolutely crucially important phenomenon that we should integrate in our architecture.”

Another crucial factor is having her architecture rooted, as much as possible, in the local context, including by sourcing material locally and working with local craftsmen.

Working with local communities and “trying to make ourselves available to their service,” is the main focus of her projects now — inspired also by her parents and teachers.

“Till date, my father, who is 87 years of age, is still working as a doctor, giving treatment to people who cannot afford cancer therapy. I think that’s embedded in us, to some extent, to have that value of giving,” she said.

As an architect, she has been inspired by many different people — her professors at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and Muzharul Islam, an architect and urban planner who is considered the grand master of modernism in South Asia.

“There’s a lot that I learned from him,” Tabassum said. “He always talked about how we have a small country and a huge population, how the entire country needs to be planned in a proper manner in terms of land use, in terms of housing, food production, and all the other things that a country requires, and every single space should be properly planned and designed — which we are still yet to do.”

In 2020, she established a new non-profit branch of her practice — the Foundation for Architecture Community Equity — dedicated to providing a home and humane living environment to Bangladesh’s low-income, landless, or climate-affected communities.

One of its flagship initiatives is Khudi Bari, which translates to “little house” in Bengali. Under the project, over 50 such bamboo-frame houses have already been built for the coastal communities where seawater regularly claims the land, and for flood-prone communities in the north, where swelling rivers cause catastrophic flooding during the monsoon season.




Marina Tabassum, center, and her colleagues from the Foundation for Architecture and Community Equity stand next to the frame of a house for low-income Bangladeshi communities affected by climate change. (FACE)

The cheap and light houses are made from materials that are widely available in the regions and are designed to be easily dismantled and moved when needed.

“Architecture is not a product, architecture has expanded and has always had that expanded idea of creating a proper environment, a good environment. And in order to create a good environment, you cannot just focus on a building, but you have to create, starting from planning to landscape to building (according) to people’s living conditions, economics,” Tabassum said.

“It’s about changing the mindset in many ways … The changes I would like to see (are) more about rootedness, more about sourcing locally, building responsibly, including people.”


‘Alarm bells ringing’: Dembele calls on France stars to vote in key elections

‘Alarm bells ringing’: Dembele calls on France stars to vote in key elections
Updated 9 sec ago
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‘Alarm bells ringing’: Dembele calls on France stars to vote in key elections

‘Alarm bells ringing’: Dembele calls on France stars to vote in key elections
  • Ousmane Dembele: ‘We need to mobilize to get out and vote’
  • FFF planning player proxy vote if still involved in Euro 2024
PADERBORN, Germany: France star Ousmane Dembele admitted on Thursday the political situation in the country had “set alarm bells ringing” and said he and his teammates intended to vote in upcoming legislative elections even if they are still involved at Euro 2024 in Germany.
“We need to mobilize to get out and vote,” Dembele told reporters at the French team’s training base in western Germany where they are preparing for their opening European Championship game against Austria on Monday.
“I think the situation in France has set alarm bells ringing. Everyone needs to rally round and come together to vote.”
President Emmanuel Macron has called elections for the lower house National Assembly with the first round set for June 30 and the second round on July 7.
He announced the snap poll last Sunday in response to the results of the EU elections, in which far-right parties — including the top-scoring National Rally (RN) — managed to take almost 40 percent of the vote in France.
“I was watching the news not long ago and I saw that one in every two people in France doesn’t vote, so everyone needs to vote in the legislative elections,” added Dembele, the former Barcelona winger now playing back in France for Paris Saint-Germain.
The French squad will still be in Germany at the time of the election, provided they make it beyond the group stage.
The first round of the election is set to take place the same weekend as the last 16 of Euro 2024, while the second round comes just after the quarter-finals.
However, Dembele said the French Football Federation was planning to help players set up a proxy vote if they remained in Germany at the time.

Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi

Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi
Updated 13 June 2024
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Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi

Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi
  • Pope Francis is the first pope to participate in G7 discussions
  • Pope will have a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will meet with the leaders of the United States, Ukraine, France and India, among others, on the sidelines of the Group of 7 (G7) summit in Italy, the Vatican said on Thursday.

Francis, who in January warned against the “perverse” dangers of artificial intelligence, is due to take part in leaders’ talks on the new technology on Friday.

He is the first pope to participate in G7 discussions.

Issuing a program for his one-day appearance, the Vatican said Francis would have a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden, a fellow Catholic.

The Vatican said he would also have one-on-one meetings with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, France’s Emmanuel Macron, India’s Narendra Modi, Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Turkiye’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kenya’s William Ruto,

Algeria’s Abdelmadjid Tebboune, and the head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva.

Francis and Biden met at the Vatican in 2021 and the president said the pope told him he was a “good Catholic” who can receive communion even as conservative US bishops wanted to deny it because of Biden’s support for abortion rights.

The two men also spoke in October last year about the crisis in the Middle East after Hamas’ attack on Israel.

Biden has spoken movingly of his respect for the pope, praising his empathy and calling him a “decent man.” They stay in touch, Biden has said.


Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti

Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti
Updated 13 June 2024
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Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti

Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti
  • Pro-Palestinian demonstrators barricaded the multistory Student Services Building
  • The university posted a “protest action alert” on its website

LOS ANGELES: A takeover of a building at California State University, Los Angeles, by demonstrators protesting Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, leaving the facility trashed and covered with graffiti, TV news reports showed.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators barricaded the multistory Student Services Building on Wednesday and workers inside were told to shelter in place, but it was empty by Thursday morning, said university spokesperson Erik Frost Hollins.
“What I can tell you, at the moment, is that the building is clear of employees and protesters and the building is secure,” said Frost Hollins, who did not immediately offer details on what occurred overnight.
The university posted a “protest action alert” on its website announcing that all main campus classes and operations would be remote until further notice and asking people to stay away.
Images from the scene showed graffiti on the building, furniture blocking doorways and overturned golf carts, picnic tables and umbrellas barricading the plaza out front.
The CSULA Gaza Solidarity Encampment, a group that has camped near the campus gym for about 40 days, sent an email indicating that members were staging a sit-in in the building, Hollins said.


Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin

Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin
Updated 13 June 2024
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Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin

Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin
  • “What I see is a slowing of the Russians’ advance and a stabilizing of that particular piece of the front,” said Austin

BRUSSELS: Russia’s advance in the Kharkiv area is slowing and the frontline is stabilizing after some allies lifted restrictions on Kyiv’s use of donated weapons on Russian territory, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday.
“What I see is a slowing of the Russians’ advance and a stabilizing of that particular piece of the front. Now, I think we’ll see incremental gains — and we’ll see puts and takes — going forward,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
“But again, a couple of weeks ago, there was concern that we would see a significant breakthrough on the part of the Russians. I don’t think we’ll see that going forward.”


Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns

Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns
Updated 13 June 2024
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Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns

Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns
  • The UN has prepared a contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies, said Mohamed Yahya
  • The weather forecasters in Pakistan are projecting above-normal rainfall in the coming weeks

ISLAMABAD: An estimated 200,000 people in Pakistan could be affected by the upcoming monsoon season, which is expected to bring heavier rains than usual, a top UN official warned on Thursday.
The United Nations, with help from local authorities, has prepared a contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies, said Mohamed Yahya, the newly appointed Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan.
Yahya told journalists in Islamabad that the weather forecasters in Pakistan are projecting above-normal rainfall in the coming weeks. However, the rains would not be as heavy as in 2022 when devastating floods killed 1,739 people, destroyed 2 million homes, and covered as much as one-third of the country at one point.
Pakistan is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change, in part because of its immense northern glaciers, which are now melting as air temperatures rise. Warmer air can also hold more moisture, intensifying the rains of the monsoon.
Until recently, public opinion and even some government officials took little account of the possible negative impact from climate change on daily life. Pakistan’s weather patterns have changed in recent years, forcing cities to strengthen their infrastructure and farmers to adapt their practices.
The 2022 floods caused more than $30 billion in damage to Pakistan’s already cash-strapped economy.
Analysts and government officials say Pakistan in recent years failed to achieve goals for economic growth because of man-made disasters, which have repeatedly hit the country in the form of droughts, heatwaves and heavy rains, which badly damaged the road network, bridges, power system and other infrastructure.
Pakistan says despite contributing less than 1 percent to carbon emissions worldwide, it is bearing the brunt of global climate disasters. This year, Pakistan recorded its wettest April since 1961, with more than double the usual monthly rainfall.
Yahya said he was in contact with officials at Pakistan’s ministry of climate change, who were preparing their contingency own plans for monsoon season, which in Pakistan runs from July to October.
Earlier this week, weather forecasters in Pakistan urged people to stay indoors as the third heatwave in a month began. A recent study by the United Nations children’s agency said that Pakistan could avert 175,000 deaths by 2030 by developing resilient energy systems to power its health facilities.
On Thursday, temperatures in various parts of Pakistan soared as high as 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), forcing many people to stay indoors. Authorities are asking people to hydrate and avoid unnecessary travel.