SOUTHEAST ASIA BUILDING09 Feb 2022
Bangladesh hospital wins RIBA International Prize 2021 for the world’s best new building
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London, UK – A remote community hospital, set in the water-laden landscape of the Bengal in south-west Bangladesh, designed by Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA, has won the RIBA International Prize 2021, architecture’s highest global accolade for design excellence and social impact.

The sustainable and low-cost hospital delivers essential healthcare services to the local communities of Satkhira in the southern region of Bangladesh, providing a medical lifeline for thousands of people in an area of the coast that was heavily affected by a major cyclone in 2007. Lauded for the care and humanity at the heart of its design, the building responds innovatively to the challenging environmental conditions of the Bengal, a fragile and dynamic environment, directly impacted, without protection, to rising sea levels.

Working with long-standing NGO client, Friendship, the hospital was commissioned as part of the organisation’s mission to strengthen and empower remote rural areas. Once surrounded by grain fields, the rising sea water has resulted in this agricultural land being converted into shrimp fisheries. Water is therefore central to the hospital’s design scheme; a canal cuts through the length of the site, separating the inpatients and outpatients. Rainwater from all areas of the complex is drained and stored in a newly built tank - an essential resource and tool to prevent water logging as the saline groundwater is unusable for most practical purposes and draining is needed from increasingly incessant rains. This water channel also helps with micro climatic cooling during the unbearably hot summers, avoiding the need for high energy consuming air-conditioning.

Reflecting the NGO’s commitment to lasting social change, Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA’s design creates an uplifting and inviting experience for visitors, patients and healthcare professionals and a peaceful environment consistent with health and healing. A series of intimate courtyards bring light and natural ventilation to the wards, providing spaces for patients and visitors to rest with viewpoints of the natural surroundings. Sensitive areas of the hospital are protected from direct tropical light through shielded corridors and double-layered arches. Built for longevity, the hospital campus is crafted in local brickwork chosen for its resilient qualities and low cost, with openings in the brickwork offering private shaded areas and natural cooling.

Odile Decq, Chair of the RIBA International Prize Grand Jury, 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 President Simon Allford said: “Friendship Hospital is an exemplar of thoughtful and creative design of a building of great importance and scale, built within a modest budget, and crafted with the local community and its natural surroundings in mind. Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA has created innovative, clear, refined, economical and delightful architecture with social impact - providing essential healthcare services in the rural area and addressing the increasing effects of the climate emergency. I am delighted that it is being celebrated as the International Prize 2021 winner.”

Kashef Chowdhury said: “In a sublimely important moment, RIBA and the jurors have identified a project from the global periphery to bring to the centre of architectural discourse and be the subject of one of the most important global awards. I am encouraged that this may inspire more of us to commit, not in spite of, but because of limitations of resources and means, to an architecture of care both for humanity and for nature, to rise collectively to the urgencies that we face today on a planetary scale. I am incredibly grateful to our client Friendship, and their founder Runa Khan for their unending support and understanding, and to the many architects, engineers and consultants who have been with us through the rigorous quarter century of our commitment to society, culture and our most beloved nature.”

Runa Khan, Founder and Executive Director of Friendship said: “Having worked with communities most impacted by climate change over the last 20 years, I have seen, time and time again, proof of my belief that ‘The poor cannot afford poor solutions’! Working with Kashef was a joy for us. Someone who could efficiently use local materials, ensure efficiency of the work we were to deliver and keep the spirit of Friendship alive, and not ever compromise on quality either for himself or for the spirit we wanted it to be. Truly for me he was the architect who could bring this – in his design, his care and delivery.

With the interplay of light, clay, air and water, Friendship Hospital Shyamnagar comes more alive in beauty with the purpose it serves. It brings new hope of a better tomorrow to some of the most climate impacted people on this planet.”

Friendship Hospital was selected as the winner of the RIBA International Prize 2021 from a selection of three outstanding shortlisted entries.

The winning project was judged by a distinguished Grand Jury chaired by world-renowned multidisciplinary French architect and urban planner, Odile Decq. The jury members are: Es Devlin CBE, acclaimed British artist and designer, Jeanne Gang, American architect and founder of Studio Gang with offices in the USA and Paris, Rossana Hu, architect and founding Partner of Neri&Hu based in Shanghai, China and Gustavo Utrabo, Brazilian architect and winner of the 2018 RIBA International Prize and named the 2018 International Emerging Architect.