Exploring Palash’s critical context of architecture
In 1947, with the end of colonial rule and the partition of India, there was a general enthusiasm amongst the people of this region to rebuild their respective countries. In the field of architecture, during fifties and sixties (in the then East Pakistan) Muzharul Islam almost single handedly, not only reconciled with the cultural wounds caused by the colonizers but was also able to establish a strong foundation for a liberal, progressive and modernist architecture. After the liberation war was won and Bangladesh was born in 1971, there was a decade long pause for all physical development. Meanwhile during eighties, nineties and onward, due to the development of a new economy, commercialism and a new consumerist society, major building activity shifted from the public to the private enterprises. Cheap buildings began to be built by the developers for profit and archaic buildings by the nuveau riches displaying their wealth unsubtly. As a result in the overall spectrum of the new architecture, the idealist fervour, formal vigour, cultural sensitivity and material expressiveness once orchestrated by Muzharul Islam with a humanist vision gradually became lost.
In this "build more" situation, where quantity flourished at the cost of quality, buildings began to be erected in every corner of Dhaka city making it highly dense, congested and ugly. But within this unholy euphoria, there has been rebels, a few architects, young and old, who continued to provide resistance against this matter of fact bulk production of the building industry in order to express their social and aesthetic concern as well as their passion and creativity with considerable success.
In the early years of the new millennium, there came three new tall buildings designed by Mustapha Khalid Palash that changed the skyline of Dhaka with some sense and sensibility. Peoples Insurance, a 20-storey circular building in Motijheel, Dhaka completed in 2003 is stacked with floor plates having circular ribbon windows of varied widths, in order to achieve not only a pleasing exterior form but also to negotiate with the sun. When eight-storey Basundhara City, a shopping complex with a 20-storey office tower on a 4.60 acre plot at Panthapath, Dhaka designed by Palash was completed one year later, it immediately became a landmark of the city with a grand civic presence. The enormous street fa�ade of the building complex was broken down in order to scale down, into a few blocks with preceding and receding planes and lines incorporating the play of light and shade. In the absence of any decorative element, great importance was laid to proportion. This centrally air-conditioned complex with lavish circulation space, atrium loft and ample day light, although lacks adequate landscape has not only turned it into a pleasant place for eating, shopping and entertainment but also into a civic space for the mass people. During the same time when geometrically organized slick and smart UTC, an office tower adjacent to the Basundhara City with an impressive and inviting flight of steps connecting the street was completed, in no time, Palash became the most coveted architect of the city.
After these three buildings (Peoples Insurance, Basundhara and UTC), architect Palash did not have to look backward. In the case of 27-storey Westin Hotel in Gulshan, completed in 2009, Palash worked within a strong geometric order on a relatively very tight site. While in the case of 9-storey Grameen Phone building in Basundhara, Dhaka, completed one year later in 2010, Palash disciplined the U-shaped building in order to create an introvert court facing the street and a number of open to sky terraces at various levels. A circular water body within the court area with water centripetally moving towards the centre has created a unique ambiance for this energy conscious, high-tech building. Today Palash, a house hold name, is the most prolific architect of the country producing corporate offices, five star hotels, housing complexes, and shopping malls and bit by bit civilizing the urban context of our cities.
The writer is an eminent architect and art critic.