The Arcadia Education Project Is an Interesting Example of How It Can Be Possible to Build in a Delicate, Fragile Environment Such as a River Floodplain
The Arcadia Education Project Is an Interesting Example of How It Can Be Possible to Build in a Delicate, Fragile Environment Such
The Arcadia Education Project by architect Saif Ul Haque of Dhaka and his team is an interesting example of how it can be possible to building in a delicate, fragile environment such as a river floodplain. The site is in South Kanarchor, Bangladesh, by the Dhaleshwari River: an area subject to heavy monsoon flooding. Rather than disrupting the ecosystem with constructions such as embankments or tall stilts, solutions which would have made the school appear isolated high above its surroundings in the dry season, the architects resorted to traditional local building techniques and materials, used in innovative ways to create an “amphibious structure” that adapts to its surroundings. The jury of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture included the project in the list of six winners of a prize of 1 million dollars in 2019.
The structure designed by architect Saif Ul Haque does not disrupt the delicate river ecosystem, but adapts to the situation of its natural environment, which is flooded for about one third of the year: floating on water or sitting firmly on the ground, depending on the season, the building permits uninterrupted use of the school throughout the year. The building is composed of three main multipurpose spaces (classrooms, an office, an open-topped platform, and a toilet/bathroom structure), connected by a single corridor. The structure is built out of three different types of bamboo, a material chosen for its wide availability locally and durability as well as the lightness that makes it easy to transport. The bamboo was treated in different ways for different uses; the material used to make the anchorage poles and the roof, for example, was chemically treated to prevent rot, while other elements were merely waterproofed, using traditional local techniques. The judges of the Aga Khan Award appreciated architect Saif Ul Haque’s ability to think outside the box, using local technologies while coming up with a solution which could be adapted for use in other parts of the world, in response to rising sea levels. The apparent simplicity of the project conceals innovative solutions that solved complex problems such as buoyancy, anchorage against the current of the river, and waste management. Finally, the judges appreciated the virtuous synergy created among the key players in the project, the architect, the client and the builder, as well as its its great social value, promoting cultural and socio-economic development in rural areas and among particularly vulnerable members of the community.
Arcadia Education Project
Address: South Kanarchor, Hazratpur, Keranigonj, Beside Alipur Bridge
Name: Nafisur Rahman
After four decades of teaching in United Kingdom, Razia Alam returned to her home country of Bangladesh where she established a
school for underprivileged children, using her pension funds.
When the lease on the existing premises of this school expired, its founder sought out a site on which to build. The budget restricted her
choice to areas not well suited for development. Wanting the school to be near water, she purchased a riverside plot which, it turned out,
is submerged in up to 3m of monsoon water for a third of the year.
Rather than disrupting the ecosystem to create a stabilised mound for building on, or erecting a structure on stilts that would have been too
high in the dry season, her chosen architect – a lifelong acquaintance – devised the solution of an amphibious structure, anchored to the
site, that could sit on the ground or float on the water, depending on the seasonal conditions.
The building footprint was levelled using retaining walls of sandbags with sand, earth and local brick infill, and used tyres fixed atop for
cushioning. Bamboo posts sunk 2m into the ground serve as anchoring points for the school’s various independent but interconnected
rectangular structures: three multipurpose spaces used mainly as classrooms; office; open-topped platform; toilet/bathroom structure;
septic tank and water tank structures; and a single corridor offering access to all spaces. Built of three types of bamboo, they are kept
afloat by substructures of used 30-gallon steel drums within bamboo frames.
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