From a mosque that breathes to innovative bamboo houses, Marina Tabassum has won the prestigious Soane medal for her humanitarian buildings
Offering some relief … Marina Tabassum’s Khudi Bari, a modular mobile house for the climate victims of Bangladesh Photograph: Asif Salman
For the people of coastal Bangladesh, the monsoon can bring untold torment – and, occasionally, unexpected joy. Every year from June to October, in the Ganges delta region where the country’s three major rivers converge, the waterways swell and riverbanks burst, causing catastrophic flooding. The torrential rainfall is joined by heavy glacial runoff from the Himalayas, exacerbated in recent years by global heating. Homes and livelihoods are lost overnight. But the meltwater also brings cascades of sediment that, a few months later, leave unpredictable gifts – new strips of land, known as “chars”, rising from the riverbed.
“You can’t really call it land,” says Marina Tabassum, who has been awarded the Soane medal, the first architect from the global south to win the prestigious gong. “It is wetness. It belongs to the river. But for the landless, the chars offer some years of relief. They provide a place to fish, cultivate and settle with their families.”
Tabassum turned her attentions to the delta region last year when the pandemic struck and work in her Dhaka office, MTA, slowed down. It gave her time to pause and reflect, and reassess where the skills of an architect can make the most difference. The national lockdown had caused many to lose their jobs, increasing homelessness in the region, with countless delta-dwellers forced to live under makeshift tarpaulin shelters.