During 1971 most of the foreigners returned to their country prior to the onslaught of Pakistan Army attack. Amongst these were Louis Kahn and Stanley Tigerman. Tigerman had in fact resigned from his assignment designing the polytechnic institutes with Muzharul Islam – much to the annoyance of the World Bank - and only returned to the project after peace was restored in Bangladesh.
I couldn't work for despots. The World Bank was furious (with me). Furious. The World Bank said, "Forget it. He [Stanley Tigerman] turned this into a political thing. He's gone". They [the Bengali Government] said, "No, no you don't understand. We want him back". And they won, and I came back and I finished the project.
All these huge things that were going on in the late sixties in America alone were wild. They were wild...In the late sixties, I started getting involved in Bangladesh, which carried through to 1971...In the sixties, I was also opening up these clinics, forensic clinics in black neighborhoods...It seemed to mean something to be involved. After all, I had been in the navy much earlier, in the Korean War...This argumentative attitude, I realize, stands outside the mainstream zeitgeist theory of architecture...And even then, which is interesting, [it was] about morality and ethics, that's what Archeworks is all about...None of these thoughts make me heroic...It's just that I was aware of it. I was conscious of a lot of forces outside, and somehow I allowed them to impact on me, or get myself involved...because I've always believed, without stating it, that the morality of this implies that an architect molds his epoch, rather than reflects it, right?
Independence brings in the greatest opportunity for a nation to express its thoughts, talent and energy. By enhancing the characters of the collective mind, it creates the utmost possibility to consolidate society economy and culture. Independence has no alternative. The liberation war of 1971 has created such a great opportunity and possibility. It provided the necessary prerequisite to make a unique contemporary architecture, which would be able to speak truly of its own land, nature and climate. Now, we the architects, can construct the right and distinct kind of architecture for an independent people.
In 1957 the Institute of Architects, Pakistan (IAP) was established by a small group of architects who had been trained in the west and either worked for the government or were in practice. Over a decade later, in 1968, IAP was formally registered under the Societies Act, and subsequently registered in 1968 under the Companies Ordinance, with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and formed as a limited company. That same year Muzharul Islam was selected as President of IAP. He remained as President till next year.
Besides being the most gifted architect of the country Islam has always been a strong social activist and has tried not only to shape the city but also address how physical planning can be used to provide a better environment for all walks of life. He has constantly fought against policies that would have lead to social discrimination and would have been detrimental to our physical environment. It is because of his foresight and efforts that the Physical Planning ministry was created in Pakistan.
On 25 February 1972, few weeks after Bangladesh had gained victory over Pakistan in the Liberation War, Muzharul Islam created the Institute of Architects, Bangladesh (IAB) in Dhaka. IAB was formed as a professional institution to safe guard, promote and develop the profession of architecture in Bangladesh.
The members of the Institute of Architects are morally bound to practice the profession according to rules, regulation and ethics established by the IAB. It has the mandate of its members to represent them as the supreme authority to deal with any matter related to the profession of architecture in Bangldesh.
The Institute is run by a 11-member Executive Committee that the members elect for a two years term. Muzharul Islam was appointed as the first President of IAB and served in this post until 1975. He was selected again in 1976 and remained president till 1980.
I was also the president of the Pakistan Institute of Architects at one time. I always wanted the Bangladeshi architects to carry out their professional duties, under the guidance of the institute, in a controlled and organized manner. The profession should not be seen as only a commercial venture to meet financial ends – rather, the architects should be encouraged to see it as a mission for the good of the nation through enhancing its culture. The institute can contribute significantly to the improvement of the environment and subsequently of the society by guiding the government through suitable legislations, which ensures the orderly growth of the profession and architectural education. Keeping these in mind, I initiated many steps from the platform of the institute. However, in most cases it was not a success story.
On 6 March 1994 Muzharul Islam was awarded the Institute of Architecture Bangladesh’s Gold Medal – the highest award that IAB bestows upon an individual – in recognition of his great contribution to the development of architecture in the country. Muzharul Islam became the first person to be awarded this prestigious honour.
The Gold Medal is a great honour and represents a recognition of his distinguished works of architecture and his pioneering contribution towards the evolution and development of contemporary architecture in Bangladesh. The Medal also recognises his life time passion for enriching our architecture.
In 1983 Muzharul Islam founded the ‘Chetana Sthapatya Unnoyan Society’ (Chetana Architectural Research Society) along with few other key architects including Jalal Ahmad (from Sylhet) and Raziul Ahsan with a view to conducting ground-breaking research on architectural history of the region.
Since its foundation, the research group has become an invaluable tool and reference for passionate and young architects of the country. Chetana’s endeavours has culminated in the publication of a huge book titled "Pundranagar to Sher-e-Bangla Nagar: Architecture of Bangladesh". The book was published in 1997 and authored by architects Raziul Ahsan, Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, and Saif-ul Haque.
In the late 1960s, with the commission of two university projects, involving large-scale organization, began his later phase. While the pervading order, as in Jahangirnagar University and the housing for Jaipurhat Limestone Factory, is an a priori geometry, the concern is to generate an "urban" order by the formation of communal spatial enclosures, streets and continuous facades. The individual buildings are of exposed brickwork, where spaces and voids seem to be carved out of masonry solids, which, despite their often-curious geometrical purity and unlike the skeletal nature of his earlier projects, from a more earth-hugging ambience.
It was in the National Library at Dhaka (1979-84) that "distortion" of the idealized form itself becomes the generator of architecture; the ultimate artifact acknowledges more explicitly the conditions of the "place," the context and the contradictions. The building, by its geometry, solidity and spatial order, makes a convincing dialogue with the neighbouring ensemble by Kahn, which has by now formed an important context or fabric in the north of Dhaka. While geometric abstraction and a consummate skill for physiognomic articulation provide continuity in all his work, the urbanity of National Library is a world removed from the Public Library of 1955.
During the period of 1980-84, Islam was engaged with two government projects, Jaipurhat Limestone and Cement Project, and National Library at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Dhaka. In these projects Islam’s architecture is thoughtful, elemental, primitive but devoid of gesture. His buildings are urbane, heavy and violent. Their violence is latent and potential. Their body is platonic, abstractly geometric in the essential shapes of square, triangle and rhombus, translated into matter, as if silent protector of the purity. His buildings are serious business aspiring to the ideal.
He rejected Mughal, colonial and other traditional models in architecture in order to develop the nature and form of an appropriate modern architecture against the prevailing socio-economic, cultural and physical context of Bangladesh. Although Muzharul Islam adopted the western ideals and thoughts in his works, due to his extraordinary sensitivity, creative power and his deep understanding of society, culture, economy and particularly the sub-tropical, geo-climatic conditions of Bangladesh, he was able to build an authentic foundation of modern architecture on which the future generations of architects of Bangladesh were to build.
It is Muzharul Islam's work, which, in addition to Kahn's capital buildings, has dominated the early architectural scene in Bangladesh. His practice has been discontinuous in time, with periods of greater or lesser intensity of production, but it has always been multisided from the late 1950s and onwards. Muzharul Islam created the nascent architectural culture of Bangladesh, carrying out a struggle against government bureaucracy, against political domination by engineers, and against academic sterility.
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