Legacy II

What others say about him...

When i see him in person and try to connect to what I had heard from Louis I. Kahn, there is a big difference between the two because the image that one has is of a wonderful, powerful person who can realise his goals. A strong man. And what I saw in him was the most sensitive, almost fragile person. Very, very gentle. A noble man.

Architect B. V. Doshi

Muzharul Islam's secular politics, intertwined with his sense of architectural grandeur, went into an articulate reassertion of the splendour of Bangladesh's societal historicity. That is his legacy. And that is how he will be remembered.

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Muzharul Islam's contributions were concrete and symbolic of the heritage of this country. More importantly, he sought to combine the global with national tradition, a task he did to his and our immense satisfaction. Proof of the imagination working in him and then going out to give itself a tangible form is to be had in the numerous structures, in terms of academia and fine arts, he has left behind. In essence, Islam was truly a pioneer in reshaping the nation's artistic ethos. That said, there was the fundamentally patriotic in him, a trait he demonstrated so intensely through his involvement in the War of Liberation in 1971. It was always the country that mattered to him, not through a commonplace mouthing of meaningless nationalism but through a core belief in the responsibility of the state to ensure the welfare of all citizens. The base of that welfare could only be an assurance of equality for all.

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Like most of us, Muzharul Islam had feet of clay, but unlike most of us, he lived a noble life straining to be the best he could be. He came into my life when I was most vulnerable to his unique brand of nobility and after decades of prolonged - mostly furious - debate about competing ideologies, he changed my life. Muz had that effect on others as well, but I felt it uniquely because he loved his countrymen more than any of the rest of us seemed to be capable of loving ours. He was a man of the people in every imaginable way, notably at times when such a posture didn't do him a lot of personal good.

We came from diametrically opposed socio-economic backgrounds, but over time, we bonded. Ara, Rafique, Tanna and Dalia came to be family and I share their grief in this most difficult time for them. Mr. Islam never sought respect, but it came naturally and inevitably. His ties to the most humble Bengali were unbreakable and his efforts to improve their lot in this life were heroic. He fought in unique ways for the freedom of his country and will be thusly honoured.

We all have lost a most moral man; one who spent his life struggling to better the lives of others. For we the living - his wife and children, and yes, even I - are left to make the most of our lives as we try to seek the nobility that is Muzharul Islam's legacy of trying to be the best one can be for the sake of ourselves; and by so doing for others less fortunate than we.

Mr. Islam has gone to a far better place and we wish him well as he continues on his noble journey.

American architect Stanley Tigerman

Muzharul Islam was a philosopher, mentor and a great architect. Although with endless effort for three decades he bestowed greatness to the contemporary architecture of Bangladesh, he was almost jobless for the last three decades of his life. Muzharul Islam was a lonely tragic hero, pursuing a lonely quest. He was immortal long before his death, most of us realise it now long after his death.

Muzharul Islam was born on 25 December 1923 and died on 15 July 2012. I express with humility my respect to this noble man on his 90th birthday.

Shamsul Wares (2013),

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Legacy

"Tini" documentary

In 2005 architect and noted filmmaker Enamul Karim Nirjhar created a documentary titled “Tini” (Him) on the life and works of Muzharul Islam. The documentary featured vast range of his work including Nipa Bhaban at the Dhaka University campus, Jibon Bima Corporation Building, Jaipurhat Limestone and Cement Project, National Archives and Library, Jahangirnagar University, Chittagong University and Charukala Building. The film also included comments on Muzharul Islam's designs by noted Bangladeshi and internationally reputed architects.

The 46-minute long documentary was produced Institute of Architects Bangladesh (IAB) and was screened at the Shaheed Zia Milnaiton in Bangladesh Jatiyo Jadughar (Shaheed Zia Auditorium in National Museum) on 10 August 2005. Amongst the special guests who attended the event, Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed, acclaimed artist Qayyum Chowdhury, and president of IAB Mobassher Hossain delivered speeches to the large audience.

I still remember those days when Dhaka was in the process of urbanisation and the buildings in old Dhaka looked pretty much the same. I was mesmerised when I saw the Charukala (Fine Arts Institute) Building. It looked nothing like the other buildings of its time. Mazharul Islam's work has never ceased to amaze me. I still remember being obsessed with the ramp at the public library as it was the first one I've seen.

Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed

We were fortunate that Mazharul Islam designed the building of Charukala. Not only artists, any one with an aesthetic sense would agree that the building is unique in its composition.

Qayyum Chowdhury

‘Tini’ was released on the occasion of Muzharul Islam’s 82nd birthday.

Previewed in Seoul, South Korea

In 2006 'Tini' represented Bangladesh at the non-competitive 'Five Nations Fair' held in Seoul, South Korea. The fair showcases documentaries from five Asian countries: Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Philippines and Taiwan. Around 100 creative and innovative documentaries were shown for 15 hours a day on South Korea’s public television EBS-TV during the festival week. The theme of 2006’s festival was "Prospering Asia, Reconciliation and Coexistence".

Besides broadcast on EBS-TV during the festival and screened at EBS' 'Space Art Hall', there was a special day to present Bangladeshi culture in the festival.

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"Muzharul Islam, Architect" book

In 2012 the "Muzharul Islam, Architect" book was published by Brac University Press on the major projects of Bangladesh’s first modern architect.

The 188 page book consists of colour photographs, reproductions of the original drawings and a commentary on each of the architect's important projects covering four decades. The book also contains a translation of the public lecture delivered by Muzharul Islam at BRAC University.

The book is edited by Fuad H. Mallick and Zainab Faruqui Ali, professors at the Department of Architecture at Brac University. The foreword is by Stanley Tigerman.

  • Fuad Hassan Mallick (Born ) Professor and chair of the Department of Architecture and Director, Post Graduate Programs in Disaster Management at BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Graduated in architecture from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka, has an MPhil from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK and a PhD from the Architectural Association, London. Teaching, researching and practicing architecture in Bangladesh and abroad since 1983.
  • Zainab Faruqui Ali (Born ) Professor of Architecture and Director Student Affairs at BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Graduated in architecture from the University of Illinois, Chicago and has a PhD from the Architectural Association, London. Practicing, teaching and researching architecture in Bangladesh and abroad since 1982.

Muzharul Islam is the single most dominant influence on modern architecture in Bangladesh. Fifty eight years since he started his practice the influence continues. Other than the odd article here and there and references to his projects in others, there has been no major publication of his works.

Muzharul Islam gave the first public lecture on his work at BRAC University in May 2002 at the age of 78, when he had almost stopped designing. It was soon after his lecture that a book on his work was conceived. This was not an easy task since nowhere was his work documented. The history of the projects was related mostly by him and some information could be gathered from the people who had worked with him. Fortunately the drawings of the projects were stored in his office, but quite a lot were missing. This is a well-deserved homage to Bangladesh's master architect. While it may lack the quality expected of the quality of work it displays, there has been no shortage of dedication and care. This book is a gift to Muzharul Islam from all the architects of Bangladesh.

Distributors University Press Limited (UPL)

Muzharul Islam, Architect, edited by Zainab F. Ali and Fuad H. Mallick, both professors in the Department of Architecture at Brac University and published by Brac University Press, is a welcome contribution to the meager literature on modern architecture in Bangladesh. Produced beautifully, the book itself is a fine commentary on the current state of the Bangladeshi publishing industry. It presents 14 selected buildings, constructed between 1953 and 1984. Each building is introduced with a pithy experiential description and complemented by wonderfully reproduced photographs and original architectural drawings.

A number of buildings deserve special mention for their photographic representation: Institute of Fine Arts (1953), Dhaka University Library (1953), Chittagong University (1965), Jahangirnagar University (1967), Joypurhat Limestone Mining and Cement Works Project (1974), and National Archives and Library (1976). These buildings collectively represent Islam's poignant aesthetic sensibilities, his site consciousness and love for local materials, and, most important, his introspective interpretation of the cultural context in which his buildings are situated.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book, however, is the inclusion of some of Muzharul Islam's academic works at Yale University from which he received a master's degree in 1961. These rarely seen student projects offer a glimpse into how South Asian architects were influenced by the Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier's then-recently completed buildings in Chandigarh, the capital of the northern Indian state of Punjab. A rare essay by the maestro himself (transcript of a verbal presentation that Islam made at Brac University in 2002) shines a spotlight on Islam's committed advocacy for an architectural education that is grounded both in the humanist ethos of Bengal and Bauhaus-type collaboration that would inspire the architect, in Islam's words, “to interact with other creative subjects such as literature, music, dance, painting, sculpture, cinema, theatre, etc".

In his foreword, Stanley Tigerman reminisces about his lifelong friendship and collaborative practice with Muzharul Islam, presenting clues to how his iconoclastic friend remained underappreciated in Bangladesh, presumably, as a result of an engineering-dominated architectural education system. The University of Hawaii professor Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, who has researched Islam's architectural work, contributes an essay situating the architect's work in its broader sociocultural context. It is a richly ambivalent and lyrical exploration of Islam's social-reformer persona that straddles the ethical responsibility to find what constitutes the basics of a culture and an unrelenting rejection of all fixed definitions of nationhood and cultural chauvinism. This is why, Ashraf reasons, Islam's architecture yearns to return, in a Rabindrik vein, to its Bengali home, while at the same time denying that there remains an unchanging and unchangeable home to return to. Thus, for Islam, a conflicted protagonist of modernity, the architecture of Bengal is simultaneously local and global. The Institute of Fine Arts, then, could be seen as a concomitant architectural attempt to contemplate what is Bengali in place-making and what makes a building an existential experience that knows no cultural boundary, in the same way Tagore's narration of a local experience “would make a W. B. Yeats quiver on a London omnibus, or a Victoria Ocampo weep in distant Argentina".

The editors, Ali and Mallick, have done a commendable job in Muzharul Islam, Architect. Not only is the book likely to jumpstart serious scholarship on the pioneering work of Muzharul Islam and, more broadly, modern architecture in Bangladesh, it also reminds us that an archival culture to preserve the architectural drawings and historic photographs of heritage buildings must be a cultural policy priority.

The book, however, is not without problems. The building descriptions, even though they provide useful historical tidbits, do not forcefully attempt to analyze and historicize Islam's buildings. How and why does the Institute of Fine Arts seem to have a universal appeal? Muzharul Islam designed the Institute immediately after returning from the USA where he received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Oregon in 1952. What kind of intellectual influence did he bring with him from abroad? The entrance of the Fine Arts building, lifted over pilotis, is reminiscent of Le Corbusier's Parisian masterpiece Villa Savoye (1929), as much as it recalls the open pavilions of Mughal architecture. One important question that remains unanswered is how did Muzharul Islam evolve in his aesthetic worldview? The formal transparency and free-plan approach of his earlier work were steadily replaced by his later work's formal solidity and a kind of Bengali Romanesque, as exemplified by the National Archives and Library.

Sometimes the building descriptions employ flippant remarks; such as, in the case of Jahangirnagar University, “The façade has strong angularity and therefore very modern.” The book, overall, needs the hawkish eyes of a proofreader. It is sometimes “Jahangirnagar” and sometimes “Jahangir Nagar.” Typos remain here and there. A timeline of Muzharul Islam's career at the beginning would have been useful for both the architectural and general readership. In addition to the main description at the beginning of each building, brief notes on each drawing and photograph would have facilitated a better understanding of the projects. The plans of the buildings are almost always without the customary north sign that helps readers to understand the orientation of the building.

These remediable problems should, however, not overshadow the enormity of the book's contribution to the design culture of Bangladesh. The book will certainly familiarize Muzharul Islam not just as a pivotal figure of Bangladeshi architecture, but also as an icon of transnational modern architecture whose work deserves to be included in canonical history books of world architecture, such as those by Spiro Kostof, Kenneth Frampton, and William Curtis. Some of the stock concerns of contemporary architectural practiceranging from the pursuit of what the Norwegian architectural theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz has called genius loci or the spirit of place to the energy efficiency of climate-adaptive sustainable buildingshave already been presciently examined in Muzharul Islam's work during the middle of the 20th century. Perhaps, the global availability of Muzharul Islam, Architect on Amazon.com (locally distributed by the University Press Limited) is a sign that the octogenarian architect is now ready for a global audience.

Adnan Morshed, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Planning,, Catholic University of America (Washington DC, USA)

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Passing & burial

Deteriorating health

Yesterday was your Happy 85th. We, Rafique, Tanna and Dalia, your children, as well as Nazia, are so proud of you. We are proud because you have given us a great life, more than we could ask for. We are proud of you, because you have taught us the best things in life. You have always wanted us to be honest, compassionate, selfless, truthful and most importantly, conscious, both socially and politically.

We feel proud when we look at your creations like the (then) Public Library, the Art College and the NIPA building in the University area as well as the National Archive in Agargaon. Even when we step out of the city, we can see your beautiful complex, of the Jahangir Nagar University, in Savar.

There is no doubt that the city of Chittagong is also proud to have a whole University Complex to their credit.

We, as your children, remember, how you would come back home from work and make us laugh with your jokes. We would be astonished to hear you yelling at someone who discredited our country. We especially enjoyed the new words that you invented when you wanted to express something, as well as the hilarious verses you created.

You and Amma always welcomed any guest at anytime of the day and there was always enough food to provide for them.

Funnily enough, you were the softer of the two, whereas, Amma would make us adhere to the rules of the house. But no doubt, you liked the discipline at home.

The days of our lives have passed ever so swiftly and we have all reached our prime. And Abba, you have become so detached with life.

Remember, when we would joke and state that you look so much like our National Poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam. You would instantly respond, that, he gave you “Ha te khori” when you were 2 years old and so he was your idol and mentor.

But, Abba, is this why you have become so silent and aloof? Is this why you don't want to participate in any activities relating to your profession and politics?

It is really heart-rending and over-whelming to see you like this.

Your grand-children, Ramit, Tanuja, Silma, Diran,Tusheet and Ayaan, all want to see you in your previous form. You are a source of inspiration and resourcefulness for them.

We all, including Nazia, Rahi and Azad, pray that you maintain your present health condition and be with us for many more years to come!!!

We believe you had a great 85th birthday, Dear Abba, on the 25th of December and remember we all love you more than anything in this world!!!

Daughter Dalia Nausheen’s emotional plea to dad to recover (24 December 2008)

On 29 March 2012 Muzharul Islam was sent to Bangkok Hospital in Thailand for better treatment after his physical condition deteriorated critically due to old-age complications. The master architect had been receiving treatment at a Dhaka hospital for 50 days prior to being sent abroad.

Die around midnight

Muzharul Islam returned to Bangladesh and was admitted to the United Hospital in Dhaka’s Gulshan area. Sadly, on 15 July 2012 the 88-year-old passed away. He breathed his last early morning around 12.06 am.

His body was taken to Bakultala at the Fine Arts Institute of Dhaka University (DU) from the hospital around 12:00 noon where friends, colleagues and well-wishers paid him their last tributes.

The once indomitable architect Mazharul Islam passed away quietly around midnight of 14 July 2012, ending a life-time of pioneering and establishing modern architecture in Bangladesh. As the body of the architect was taken to the Art College, friends, former disciples, admirers, even one time detractors, and quite a few people who know little about this legendary man gathered there to say goodbye to the last modernist.

The final journey of Mazharul Islam took him to his first designed building, the Art College, with which he began an astonishing career that bridged the art of building with the project of nation-building, and the ethos of modernity with the spirit of place. Those who knew him remarked that the passing away of Mazharul Islam marked the end of an epoch. He himself defined that epoch. He summarised modern architectural culture in Bangladesh, from its tentative beginning in the 1950s to its proliferation at the present moment. The life and work remained for a long time as a barometer of contemporary dynamic as it negotiated modernisation, westernisation, tradition, and nation-building.

Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, architect, urbanist, writer, and Professor at the University of Hawaii

Prime Minister and other notaries pay their respect

His first namaz-e-janaza was held after Zuhr prayers at DU Central Mosque where he was accorded a guard of honour by a police contingent. The body was then taken to his house at Gulshan Circle 2 around 2:30pm where a whole host of prominent people came to pay their condolences. Amongst these were Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, architects Mobasher Hossain, Iqbal Habib, Hamiduzzaman Khan, journalist and cultural personality Kamal Lohani, the agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury, and the state minister for Liberation War Affairs Tajul Islam Taj and others.

Various cultural organisatioins and clubs, including the Dhaka Club and Chhayanaut, also paid their tribute to the late architect.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went to his house at Gulshan about 4:00pm and paid her homage to the deceased. Hasina conveyed her sympathy to the members of the bereaved family and prayed for the salvation of the departed soul.

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Buried at Martyred Intellectuals' Graveyard in Mirpur area after public mourning

The second namaz-e-janaza was held at Azad Mosque in Gulshan after Asr prayer. Amongst the funeral prayers attendee was planning minister A. K. Khandaker. The coffin was then taken to the Central Shaheed Minar for public viewing where several thousand people turned up to pay their homage to the legendary architect and urban planner.

People from all walks of life as well as different organisations expressed deep shock at his death and prayed for the departed soul.

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Muzharul Islam was finally buried around 8:00pm at Martyred Intellectuals' Graveyard in Mirpur area of the capital. He left behind his wife, two sons, one daughter and a host of relatives and admirers to mourn his death.

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Philosophy

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

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