Responsive and Participatory Architecture wins Aga Khan Award

The winners of the 2022 Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) were announced on September 22, 2022.  This year, the AKAA has announced six award winners, who will share the $1 million award, one of the largest in architecture, where each project shows promise for communities, innovation and care for the environment.

This year, the 2022 Aga Khan Award for Architecture Master Jury wanted their collective message to reflect the extraordinary times we are living in (from Covid and climate change to social polarisation, poverty, inequality and conflict).

And SCALE loved the message that the AKAA jury spread to the world through their selection process: “We sought to identify exemplary and transformative practices that address these particular challenges (of Covid times), albeit with full awareness of the fact that we were tasked with selecting architectural projects and not humanitarian programmes per se. We debated the complicated dialogical relationship between the two, affirming that the “architectural” and the “humanitarian” need not be mutually exclusive, but on the contrary, are intimately connected.”

A women-friendly space containing not only areas for counselling and life skills advice as standard in such structures, but also, for community-based protection activities, psychosocial support, breastfeeding, and a courtyard where women can chat and girls can play safely.

The Jury stressed on the importance of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture that is different and unique, with its focus on the difference architecture makes in the lives of people and local communities, especially women and children as both users and makers. “We worked with a renewed appreciation of the physicality of real spaces that bring people together – for open, free, public spaces that have a capacity to heal and restore a sense of dignity. We looked for quality, not only of the architectural space, but the quality of life and social relationships facilitated by architecture – the generosity and beauty that architecture can strive to make more accessible,” they said.

We bring the focus on one of the six projects that has warmed our heart with architecture that is responsive, selfless, and participatory, that takes its inspiration from the community who will be occupying the space without the architect leaving a stamp of their individuality rather making the space one for people and in a way also made by the people who will live in that space.

The Community Spaces in Rohingya Refugee Response by architects Rizvi Hassan, Khwaja Fatmi, Saad Ben Mostafa in Cox’s Bazar District is one of the recipients of the Award that we will be focusing on.

Since August 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya have fled genocide in their native Myanmar for Bangladesh and what have become the world’s largest refugee camps – outnumbering the local population. The more than 75% who are women or children are particularly vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and gender-based violence.

Display and Production Space

The programming, design and construction of these six spaces was a profoundly participatory process involving both refugees and locals. They comprise, first, a women-friendly space containing not only areas for counselling and life skills advice as standard in such structures, but also, for community-based protection activities, psychosocial support, breastfeeding, and a courtyard where women can chat and girls can play safely. On a similar model in another camp is a safe space for women and girls that caters to both refugees and locals. The third space, a display and production centre, offers a livelihood generation platform for Rohingya women to craft products that showcase their culture and sell them to visitors. Finally, there are three community centres: one unusually with an upper storey, necessary here due to limited ground space; another, serving a Hindu Rohingya camp with particular domestic violence issues as well as the host community, separated into men’s and women’s buildings; and the last, focusing on socio-economic support for the host community, which is designed around the donated site’s pre-existing betel-nut trees, resisting the tendency towards deforestation.

Materials used vary from the locally available and traditional – bamboo, brick, betel-nut wood and thatch, relying on local and Rohingya craftsmen’s expertise – to conventional cement and corrugated metal. Each centre has unique features that tie it to its context: a gatehouse traditional to the region at the first women-friendly space; paintings by craftsmen and adolescent girls at the second; Burmese welcoming inscriptions and floor paintings, and an entrance inspired by those of Rohingya houses, at the display and production centre; local natural mats over steel window panels at the first community centre; and triangular wall perforations at the others, inspired by a feature used for ventilation in the region. Plantings use indigenous species that carry emotional and cultural significance within the Rohingya community.

The jury responded and appreciated the design saying, “The six temporary community spaces of the Rohingya Refugee Response programme provide a dignified, sensitive and ingenious response to emergency needs related to the major influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladeshi host communities, with particular attention to the safety of women and girls.”

Hindupara Integrated Community Center

The concept and design of the six spaces are the result of appropriate planning, solid partnerships and inclusive processes involving the diverse refugee and host communities, such as defining spatial and functional needs. The project’s implementation succeeded in adapting to various constraints (physical, social, regulatory, budgetary, climatic and environmental) and harsh working conditions, and harnessing the skills of workers and artists – women and men from refugee and host communities – for both construction and decoration, drawing from a variety of Rohingya and Bangladeshi construction techniques, spatial and architectural features, ways of life and aesthetic references.

Woman Friendly Space

The architecture’s ingenious use of locally available materials, dismantlable and reusable, while abiding by restrictive building requirements, showcases the project designers’ and managers’ creative adaptability, despite the very limited time span at their disposal.

“In a world of growing refugee crises, the project’s approach, concept and design provide a successful and transferable model that could inspire a change of mindset in response to refugees’ and host communities’ needs in Bangladesh and elsewhere. This is already occurring in the Teknaf refugee camp where several organisations opted for design choices and approaches inspired by these six community centres,” noted the Jury.

Safe Camp for Girls and Women

Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh

Architect: Rizvi Hassan, Khwaja Fatmi, Saad Ben Mostafa

Client: BRAC, Dhaka, Bangladesh

ActionAid, Dhaka, Bangladesh