Bangladesh hospital by Urbana wins RIBA International Prize 2021

Bangladesh hospital by Urbana wins RIBA International Prize 2021

Friendship Hospital in Bangladesh by Kashef Chowdhury/Urbana scoops the RIBA International Prize 2021

Kashef Chowdhury/Urbana’s Friendship Hospital in Bangladesh has scooped the prestigious RIBA International Prize 2021. The institute’s award casts its net wide, celebrating outstanding, international works that ‘demonstrate design excellence and social impact’. The winning project, led by NGO Friendship, does just that. Not only does it provide functional and considered architectural space for important health services to the local communities of Satkhira in southern Bangladesh, but it also employs sustainable architecture to do so. 

The award’s jury praised the design and its architects on the principles of care and humanity that sit at its very heart. Jury chair Odile Decq said: ‘Friendship Hospital embodies an architecture of humanity and protection that reflects the Friendship NGO’s philanthropic mission to provide dignity and hope to communities through social innovation. Kashef Chowdhury/Urbana has achieved a building designed with a human touch which is deftly integrated with its surroundings and celebrates local, and traditional crafted materials. The hospital is relevant to critical global challenges, such as unequal access to healthcare and the crushing impact of climate breakdown on vulnerable communities. It is a demonstration of how beautiful architecture can be achieved through good design when working with a relatively modest budget and with difficult contextual constraints. This hospital is a celebration of a building dedicated to humans.’

RIBA International Prize 2021 winner

aerial showing Friendship Hospital in Bangladesh by Kashef Chowdhury/Urbana, winner of RIBA International Prize 2021

The NGO, a long term client of Urbana, approached the principal, Kashef Chowdhury, in 2005 for a hospital design. ‘The budget was so limited when we began the project that Runa Khan, the founder and executive director of Friendship, said to me: “There is no money. You can’t have fun,”’ Chowdhury recalls. Nonetheless, the result is poised, fit for its context and socially responsible. ‘[It is] a calming, quiet place which would aid in healing minds and bodies,’ the architect adds. 

The site is on former agricultural land, where rising sea levels meant that it had slowly moved away from its former use and had been converted into shrimp fisheries. It is this water element that becomes a central theme to the new design, represented by a canal that runs across the hospital campus. Apart from its striking visual appearance and the symbolic and physical connection it provides to the land and its history, the water also acts as a separator between the inpatient and outpatient units of the hospital, helping with volume arrangement and wayfinding. Meanwhile, a clever water collecting and controlling system means that fresh rainwater and seawater don’t mix, while water is also used to naturally cool down the site.

Urbana had worked with Friendship to convert the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior II into a hospital boat in the past – so the typology was not new to the Bangladeshi architecture studio. Here, Chowdhury and the Urbana team responded with a sober, graceful design made using a limited palette of all-local materials: handmade bricks, mahogany and polished concrete terrazzo flooring. A series of buildings and courtyards are interspersed, providing ventilation and places for visitors to sit, rest and gather; there is a selection of spaces that are open and public, and others that are more private and secluded. Covered colonnades ensure shade and aid natural cooling.

canal zigzagging through the Friendship Hospital in Bangladesh by Kashef Chowdhury/Urbana, winner of RIBA International Prize 2021

‘It started life as a hospital, and grew to be a space for the resting of minds and the calming of souls,’ says Chowdhury. ‘[I was inspired by] the twin urgencies to build well for the care of humanity and to respond to the changing climatic conditions affecting the area, namely rising sea levels.’

The RIBA International Prize 2021 offers visibility and recognition to valuable, necessary work and showcases architecture at its best. As to what this award means for Urbana? ‘That a project from a remote fringe area should meet such interest at the centre of architectural discourse shows there is inspiration for all who seek to rise with urgency to the care for humanity and the care for our natural environment on a planetary scale,’ Chowdhury says. Practical, in tune with its environment and crucial to its community, the hospital is ‘built for longevity’, says the RIBA.

As part of the International Prize announcements – which see RIBA honour young talent in the field alongside new work by established architects – Iran’s Hooba Design Group was named as the RIBA International Emerging Architect 2021 for the studio’s Kohan Ceram central office building in Tehran. §

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