There is something very rewarding and uplifting when, from difficult contexts, emerges a quiet, consistent, and even (spatially) rich architecture. This may be one of the first things one appreciates when looking at the work of Kashef Chowdhury in Bangladesh. In a diversity of programs he is able to develop a local understanding of the problem and available resources and a certain universal quality of the outcome. This quality may derive from the fact that the mass of the buildings (walls, floors, roofs, ceilings) seems to be built following common sense: conventional materials, reasonable building techniques, simple forms. At the same time there seems to be a confidence in classical architectural operations: instead of trying to be desperately contemporary, he uses a rather traditional sequence of courtyards, corridors, and rooms.
While working in one of the poorest countries in the world, achieving a “correct” architecture might already be considered a huge triumph. But Chowdhury goes beyond this in a very smart way. The intensity does not take place in the mass but in the voids: the open and intermediate spaces carry a dignity, a hierarchy, even a poetry that not only introduce a certain nobility to the space but also establish a very rich relationship with the landscape. The architecture of the voids not only responds efficiently to the environmental conditions but somehow uses nature (the rains, the sun, the sky) as a precious material. None of this is rocket science, and yet for some reason these simple operations seem to have been forgotten, even neglected by contemporary architecture. Kashef Chowdhury’s architecture reminds us of a lesson we were taught at the very beginning of our design courses, namely to model the mass and the void as if both were alternating their roles of being foreground and background. Here may lie a clue regarding how to operate in contexts of scarcity, as this simple rule is simultaneously a principle of economy and an inevitable fact.