Marina Tabassum receives 2021 Soane Medal

Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum scoops the 2021 Soane Medal, as announced today in London

Bait ur Rouf Mosque Faidabad, Uttara, Dhaka
Bait Ur Rouf Mosque Faidabad, Uttara, Dhaka.
(Image credit: Sandro Di Carlo Darsa)

The 2021 Soane Medal has been announced today, naming Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum this year's winner. The prestigious architecture award, presented annually by Sir John Soane's Museum in London, celebrates a leading architect's career and body of work so far – previous winners are Rafael Moneo, Denise Scott Brown and Kenneth Frampton. The 2021 award represents its fourth iteration, and it will be, as always, accompanied by the Soane Medal Lecture, which will be given tonight, 16 November 2021, by Tabassum at the museum’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields home. 

Born and based in Dhaka, Tabassum has been prolific in her country since the mid-1990s, when she set up her eponymous practice there. She talks about ‘the architecture of relevance’, a topic she discussed with us more this summer, when invited by Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, who nominated her among her chosen ‘five creative leaders of the future' in our celebratory 25th anniversary October 2021 issue of Wallpaper*. 

Marina Tabassum: 2021 Soane Medal winner

portrait of architect Marina Tabassum

Marina Tabassum.

(Image credit: Sounak Das)

Creating work that feels in tune with its context – in environmental ways, but also socially – is crucial in the Bangladeshi architect’s approach. Critical examples include the mesmerising minimalist architecture of the 2012 Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka; and ongoing work at Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, in south-east Bangladesh. She considers the design for Dhaka's Independence Monument and Liberation War Museum as her breakthrough work. 

‘I consciously moved away from real estate – and profit-driven work – in my practice,' says Tabassum. ‘We are a local, very “Dhaka” practice. There is so much to do in Bangladesh.' 

Khudi Bari. Modular mobile house for the Climate Victims of Bangladesh Hands-on-built project 2020

Khudi Bari, a modular mobile house for the Climate Victims of Bangladesh.

(Image credit: Asif Salman)

The studio also does a lot of self-initiated research. It may be small – just ten people strong at the moment – but the architect hopes to keep it that way, focusing on work that feels meaningful to its community, such as Tabassum’s research work on coastal areas of Bangladesh, for which she raised funding, and which is now becoming a series of modular homes on coastal sites. And while she doesn't take part in many big, international competitions, Tabassum is open to opportunities and what the future might bring. ‘I take the opportunities that come my way and follow my instinct,' she says. 

Independence Monument and Liberation War Museum Suhrawardi Uddyan, Dhaka

Independence Monument and Liberation War Museum, Suhrawardi Uddyan, Dhaka.

(Image credit: Maruf Raihan)

Back in London, the architect is preparing for her evening lecture, which promises to be a bit ‘autobiographical', discussing her journey in life and architecture to date. 

‘I am honoured to have been chosen to receive this recognition from such a distinguished institution as the Sir John Soane's Museum,’ Tabassum says. ‘Winning the Soane Medal means a great deal to me. My current work is focused on the twin crises of Bangladesh: the plight of refugees, and the heightened threat to our population of flooding, exacerbated by global warming. Both factors have led me to focus on prototyping low-impact, mobile housing that can be delivered at the lowest cost possible for those in need. Our goal is to make it an open source knowledge that can help people build their own houses, with the help of a manual with detailed instructions.'

Resilient Landscape, Rohingya Refugee Camps, Ukhiya

Resilient Landscape, Rohingya Refugee Camps, Ukhiya.

(Image credit: F. M. Faruque Abdullah Shawon)

Bait ur Rouf Mosque Faidabad, Uttara, Dhaka

Bait ur Rouf Mosque, Faidabad, Uttara, Dhaka.

(Image credit: Sandro Di Carlo Darsa)


Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).