Last updated: 10 October 2017 From the section Muzharul Islam

For over five decades, Mazharul Islam was active in defining the scope and form of an architectural culture, taking on the enormous task of creating a modern yet Bengali paradigm for it. To him, modernism was more than an architectural language or aesthetic operation; it was an ethical and rational approach for addressing what he perceived as social inequities in the country. His Marxian principles combined with a Rabindrik ethos in creating a challenging, and often unattainable, mission for himself. His steadfast commitment to the modernist ideology stemmed from an optimistic, even utopian, vision for transforming society. Consequently, his commitment for establishing a strong design culture in Bangladesh was paralleled by an equally deep engagement with the political and ethical dimension of society. All of this was not an easy task to undertake in a place where architecture is pursued more as a commercial or theatrical enterprise than an instrument of social change or greater good.

Kazi Khaleed Ashraf,

Long term and comprehensive planning is needed to build a nation in a systematic manner. To improve the standard of living of the masses and to keep the environmental balance, this comprehensive physical master plan should include a long list of components, such as the cities, villages, ports, roads and highways, rivers and water-bodies, forests and lakes, mountains and hills, agricultural lands, flood and storms and many other things. Piecemeal solutions can bring temporary results – but in the long run it results into chaos. For this reason I always advocated for long term planning. For this one has to sacrifice narrow personal interest and take a brave people oriented stance. At present our political and social circumstance is not in a position to take such a standpoint. Therefore, government after government has shown reluctance toward comprehensive planning. Many individuals, due to their limitation of knowledge and moral strength, find it more comfortable to brand this comprehensive thinking as impractical. It is a question of vision, honesty and patriotism. Besides, for a long time our collective psyche has grown quite habituated to quick fix fragmented solutions. These all resulted in a situation where any idealistic thought is seen as utopian and unrealistic.

Muzharul Islam on the components necessary for successful implementation of architecture,

While I was still a student abroad, I had this deep belief that every country should have its own architectural character. The architecture of a place depends on its geography, climate and the manifestations of its own culture. The warm humid monsoon climate and the local construction materials and the methods were the primary issues around which I organized my architectural thoughts. The sun and rain, the play of shade and shadow and ventilation – these were the points to work on. While arriving at my solutions, my intention was not to take direct reference from tradition – rather it was more vital to allow a modernist logic work its own way.

Decoration was one thing to be avoided – and the theme was to keep the materials own character, make intelligent use of geometry, proportion and achieve overall simple efficiency. While keeping in tune with the contemporary aesthetic trends of the world, the goal was also to stay faithful to the country's culture and climate. Honest work done according to these lines of thoughts produced the Fine Arts Institute and the Public Library.

Muzharul Islam on the social, cultural and geographical conditions which need to be considered to come up with country-specific architecture

Awards galore

Honours bestowed upon this architectural giant:

  • President of Institute of Architects Pakistan (IAP) (1968 - 69)
  • Chairman of Advisory Panel on Building Construction. Housing Architecture and Physical Planning Fourth Five Year Plan, Pakistan (1970)
  • Member of Jury Board for the Selection of the Best Design of the Grand Mosque, Islamabad, Pakistan (1970)
  • Member of Institute of Architects Bangladesh (IAB) (1972 - 2012)
  • President of IAB (1972 - 75)
  • President of IAB (1976 - 1980)
  • Member of Master Jury of First Aga Khan Award, Geneva (1980)
  • Member of Jury Board for the Selection of the Best Design of the Monument at Savar (1980)
  • Member of Jury Board for the selection of the best design for the H.Q. Building of the lslamic Development Bank, Jeddah (1981)
  • Member of International Jury Board for the selection of the best design for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (1981)
  • Citation by the Indian Institute of Architects, West Bengal Chapter, as the "outstanding Architect from the South Asian countries for his devoted architectural works and dedication to generate Architectural awareness" (1989)
  • Awarded Gold Medal by IAB, the first of its kind (1993)
  • Member of Jury Board for the selection of the best design for Victory Monument at Suhrawardy Uddyan, Dhaka (1997)
  • Member of Board of Governors, National Museum, Dhaka (1999)
  • Received JK cement architect’s award (1999)
  • Awarded the Honorable Fellowship by American Institute of Architects at the National convention of the Institute at Dallas, Texas, USA (1999)
  • Awarded Swadhinata Purushkar (Independence Day Award) by Government of Bangladesh (1999)
  • Awarded the Grand Master Award at the South Asian Architecture Award Ceremony at Jaipur, India (1999)
  • His 80th birthday ceremony was publicly celebrated at the premises of his first project 'Fine Arts Institute Dhaka', organized by IAB (2003)

Message for the younger generation

This tiny nation of ours is actually a very beautiful place – with people who can generally be described as wonderful. The goal of the profession is to mediate between the aspirations of the people and the environmental context. In this respect the existing building codes are inadequate for achieving a good balance. The laws need to be overhauled to make them more environment-conscious as well as environment-friendly. Architecture as a whole is now being produced in a disorderly manner. It must be organized as a part of a greater master scheme of physical environment. Once this precondition is met, our architecture will, surely, acquire its own spirited and unique character.

Muzharul Islam’s concern for the physical organisation of Bangladesh

The artistic qualities are essence of architecture. The practical aspects of architecture are measurable – such as, the practical requirements, climatic judgments, the advantages and limitations of the site etc. – but the humanistic aspects are not measurable. This depends on the talent, sensitivity and creativity of the architect. Only some bookish knowledge is not a sufficient tool in this regard. One has to be creative. One has to love his own land, its people and its culture and think profoundly about these. The love of one’s own land is the eternal source of creative power, which in turn, makes a proper architect.

Muzharul Islam’s advice for the young and future generation of architects