Today’s Solutions: April 21, 2024

This year, the recipient of the renowned Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) international prize for the world’s best building is a small brick hospital situated in rural Bangladesh.

The architect, director of Urbana Kashef Chowdhury, managed to create a functional yet elegant hospital that models climate-conscious design achieved with modest means and minimal resources. The hospital is situated in the waterlogged landscape of the Bengal in southwestern Bangladesh.

“There is water everywhere here,” says Chowdhury. “But it’s not always the useful kind.” Due to rising sea levels, the surrounding grain fields have been flooded and transformed into shrimp fisheries, while groundwater has become too saline to be useful in most cases.

Chowdhury decided to make water the centerpiece of the building by forming a canal that zigzags its way through the site and harvests every drop of rainwater that falls during the rainy season. Every roof and courtyard surface drains into the central canal, which leads to two storage tanks at either end of the site.

The canal also helps cool the surrounding courtyards during the hot summer season, provides a barrier between the inpatient and outpatient departments, and separates the two sides of the site across shared courtyards with no need for an imposing wall to indicate the divide.

The NGO Friendship commissioned Chowdhury to design the organization’s first “land hospital” since he has already helped convert several boats into floating hospitals for them in the past. The impressive hospital was completed within a small budget of under $2 million and will be a medical lifeline for thousands of people in the area.

The hospital campus feels like a village, with buildings set at angles around courtyards and framed with colonnades designed to help shade the wards inside. The deep outdoor corridors also shelter people from hard rains, ensure that the buildings are well ventilated without the need for air conditioning (except for in operating theatres and delivery rooms), and bounce natural light back inside to limit the use of artificial light.

It was important to Chowdhury that every ward has a beautiful view of a courtyard. “When somebody is ill or needs care,” he says, “one of the most important things is the mental aspect of it, not just the physical care. I think the kind of spaces you inhabit during treatment—with a view of water and trees, the sounds of birds, the feel of a breeze—goes a long way towards healing.”

According to Odile Decq, chair of the RIBA jury, the building “embodies an architecture of humanity and protection,” adding that it is “relevant to critical global challenges, such as unequal access to healthcare and the crushing impact of climate breakdown on vulnerable communities.”

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