Architecture & Design

In Bangladesh, Reimagining What a Mosque Might Be

May 9, 2019 – T Magazine

THE AMBER DENIM mosque sits at the back of a factory compound deep in the industrial sprawl north of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s frenetic capital (population: more than 18 million). Its walls are a Tetris grid of concrete blocks that recess in tiers toward open centers, like molds for tiny Aztec pyramids. Pipes left over from a plumbing job serve as pillars. Steel struts branch upward toward the 18-foot roof like the skeletons of umbrellas open against a monsoon. On a hot spring morning, the punishing deltaic sun bounces off the shallow moat that surrounds the structure, drifting over the concrete.

The mosque, completed in 2016, was the second project by the seven-year-old Dhaka firm Archeground to be built at the Amber Denim garment factory, which produces reams of fabric for the garment manufacturers that are the engine of Bangladesh’s new economy. A year earlier, the firm had constructed an open-air loom shed of bamboo, concrete and the same repurposed pipes that would be used in the prayer hall: It was an affordable prototype for humane industrial architecture in a nation plagued by deplorable, sometimes fatal working conditions. The loom shed originally contained a small prayer hall at its western end, but the weavers complained that the clacking from the looms disrupted their prayers, and so Jubair Hasan, 39, one of Archeground’s principals, approached the factory’s owner for another patch of land on which they could build a mosque. “We wanted to create a prayer space that would be connected to our climate,” Hasan says. “So there are no windows, no doors. Light comes in from all sides.” Since its completion, Hasan has encouraged the 1,500 employees who work, and in some cases live, on the compound to make their own adjustments by, say, fashioning bamboo curtains to block cold morning air in the winter. “Really, the people are making their own mosque,” he says.

Read more at the New York Times.

In Chile, Houses as Extreme as the Landscape

March 19, 2019 – T Magazine (Cover story)

AT THE EDGE of Concepción, a small city in southern Chile, a 60-foot tower stands on a hill, a stark concrete rectangle among eucalyptus and pine. Set at the end of a pockmarked road that threads between unassuming two-story homes, the tower looms over the wooded hillside. Square windows of various sizes puncture the walls like the black spaces in a crossword puzzle. All right angles and hard geometries, the building could be a silo or a sentry tower looking south toward the Bio Bio, the river that, for 300 years, marked the border between the Spanish colony and the territories of the unconquered Mapuche peoples to the south. Instead, it is the home and studio of Mauricio Pezo, 45, and Sofía von Ellrichshausen, 42, whose firm, Pezo von Ellrichshausen, is part of a group of innovative Chilean architectural practices that is establishing a regional aesthetic, one that alludes to Brutalism while also respecting the country’s peculiar topography.

Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s Casa Cien, so named because it’s 100 meters (328 feet) above sea level, relies on a limited floor plan, repeating the same square divided by an asymmetrical cross in the seven stories of bedrooms and office space in the tower, which are stacked like an interlocking vertical puzzle. Narrow spiral staircases made from hand-carved blocks of Chilean cypress connect the tower to the kitchen and living room in the podium. The couple cast the exterior in reinforced concrete, then manually chipped away the outer layer in a process that Pezo, who spent his childhood two hours outside Concepción, describes as “aesthetic demolition.”

Read more in the New York Times, and in Spanish here.

La Paz’s Culinary Renaissance

December 6, 2016 – Bloomberg Pursuits

Even in the context of a huge and under-appreciated continent, La Paz, Bolivia’s high-altitude administrative capital, is something of an obscurity. Most travelers barely pass through for a stopover en route to the jewel-like mineral lakes, fuming volcanoes, and the lunar salt flats at Uyuni. All that is about to change.

Ignore what you’ve heard about the city’s lack of obvious attractions. Forget about the protests that used to regularly shut down the colonial center. And cast away all your doubts about the food: notoriously bland mountains of meat and potatoes, washed down with tepid coke or a passable lager called Paceña.

Thanks to an unprecedented period of political stability and peace (courtesy of the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales), improved infrastructure, and a bonafide culinary revolution spearheaded by the co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, La Paz is ready for its moment in the spotlight. (more…)

Madhya Pradesh – India’s Wild Heart

August 16, 2016 – CN Traveller UK

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Madhya Pradesh, which roughly translates as ‘Heart Land’, is both superlative and peculiarly untouched. In the state’s eastern wilderness, peacocks wander wild through teak forests and tigers prowl through several of the country’s best wildlife sanctuaries. To the north, the 10th-century temples of Khajuraho, covered in ecstatic erotic sculpture, are reminders of India’s ancient artistic heritage and rich history of sexual diversity, so different from its conservative present moment. In the centre are grand mosques and holy rivers, millennia-old Buddhist monuments and Paleolithic cave paintings – so much of the subcontinent’s unimaginably long history compressed into a single, vastly under-appreciated region. (more…)

It’s a Big Box Grocery Store World

24 May 2016 – Food52

My first visit to a Fairway was in the fall of 2006 sometime during my orientation week at Columbia. Set in a giant warehouse under the 12th Avenue Viaduct, the Harlem Fairway felt urban and industrial and entirely unlike the big chain grocers—Giant, Safeway, later Wegman’s—of my ur-suburban childhood outside Baltimore. (more…)

Dhaka Decounstructed

30 January – The Hindu Weekend Magazine

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There’s no avoiding it: Dhaka is an ugly city. Its streets are constantly clogged, the glacial pace of its traffic set by an army of cycle-rickshaws half a million strong. Buildings rise from narrow plots, leaning wearily against one another. The first time I arrived was on one of the big steamers that carry passengers upriver from the south, where I’d been reporting for a week, and disgorges them onto the old city’s haggard, sagging jetties in the dark early hours of the morning. The chaos and noise and heat of the riverside pervade the city. Dhaka makes Mumbai look like Paris — until, that is, you look a bit closer. (more…)

A Brief History of Bandra

January 8 – The City Story

I first moved to Bandra about three and a half years ago. I’d spent the previous six months in a fancy flat in a gated highrise in a part of Lalbaug they called Parel principally for the sake of real estate developers and the clients they hoped to attract. It was a nice enough place and I hated it: the marble lobbies and having to give my apartment number every time I came in and the children who seemed to multiply by the week so that the pool, meant to be one of the building’s main selling points, seemed always to be overflowing with them. (more…)

The Wealth of Nations

December 2015 – The Caravan

ABOUT 45 MINUTES NORTH of Ahmedabad, having passed under a sign that announces your impending arrival in “GREEN CLEAN GANDHINAGAR” and another advertising Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, you may or may not notice a small placard with the word “GIFT” printed over an arrow pointing east. Follow that arrow down a dusty access road, past a rusted-out advertisement for an amusement park called Gujarat Funworld, which looks decidedly un-fun. Within 15 minutes, you’ll reach Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, or GIFT—a place, a video on its website proudly proclaims, “where wealth breeds wealth.” (more…)

Grassroots Architecture at the Maheshwar Handloom School

January 2015–Architectural Digest India

Australian architect and designer Sian Pascale first arrived in Maheshwar in July 2012 with a commission to convert a disused bus shelter into a handloom school for young weavers. Pascale had only recently relocated from her native Melbourne to Mumbai, where, through a series of off-hand introductions, she met Sally Holkar, the American woman who had spent the last 40 years revitalizing Maheshwar’s rich handloom traditions. “I met Sally at the Bombay Gym expecting to design a handbag or something for [Holkar’s NGO] WomenWeave,” Sian remembers. “I walked out with my first solo architectural project.” (more…)

The Modernist of Dhaka

Museum DhakaSeptember-October 2014 – Architectural Digest India

From the flat, straight country road that heads from the northern Bangladeshi town of Gaibandha to the banks of the Jamuna River, the Friendship Centre looks like little more than a mound of grass and a volume of red brick looking over the low-lying rice paddies across the way. Standing atop that mound (really a 10-foot embankment), you’ll have an entirely different view: a series of red brick pavilions and courtyards capped with flat, grassy rooftops that, from here, looks subterranean, figuratively unearthed.

“Buddhist monasteries are all around this place from the seventh, eighth, ninth centuries—all in brick, all in ruins,” says the Kashef Chowdhury, the Dhaka-based architect whose firm, Urbana, designed and built the two-acre project for a miniscule budget of just tk.4 crores. Those monasteries are a clear point of reference for the Centre, built as a training facility for an NGO called Friendship back in 2010, but the impulse to dig, to excavate a contemporary architecture from the earth, is as essential to Bangladesh’s rich modernist history as the invention of Chandigarh has been to India’s.  (more…)