Brick, Concrete and Dhaka

Proportion is a fundamental key to a pleasant architecture.

Not that it is easy to teach any architectural student, or even a young architect, to understand and become fluent with the effective proportions.

We are good in educating architectural student in several unnecessary aspects of architecture. But when we are to ‘teach’ one to embrace their design to the ‘right’ proportion, we still have very vague idea on how to train them as such.

The lesson I learned on my trip to Dhaka is critical to this answer. I noticed that most of the new buildings in Dhaka had been created with such a pleasant unified proportion. At first I surprised. There is no way to my limited knowledge to train so many architects to be fluent with the familiar proportion at this large quantity in a short period of time. This is magical, I think.

And then I notice the new material that has been used widely: off-formed exposed concrete. Exposed concrete structure is now used in large and small building everywhere in Dhaka.

At one time, architecture in this South Asia region has been in a big favour to brick, which is one significant building material that was made in modular form. In order to build nicely with brick, precise calculations shall be made to architectural dimensions of the architecture so the length and height of wall, column or floor, will be made to the measurement of the brick modular so it will not be ‘cut’ in partial.

So the good architect and builder has been very effective with this ‘modular’ architectural dimensions that control architecture. It is a part of their ‘game’ playing with the design of their works.

Now that modular idea has been moved to concrete, though the formwork system.

Formwork system price in Bangladesh has become reasonable only recently. Since then, this brutal ‘exposed’ effect of this construction technique has been well embraced by both architects and clients as I can observe. The material itself transcend the legacy of Louis I. Khan’s Parliament building in a very modern way. Perhaps that is the reason both architects and clients endorse this exposed concrete without doubts, to resonate that legacy of modern architecture in Dhaka.

Modern exposed concrete surface was made from the formwork system. Steel and plywood formwork delivers a nice smooth and rather flat surface of the concrete when it was taken away as an ‘exposed’ surface. I presume that the formwork system is made commercially available through its generic modular system. So most of the buildings that was design to be built by the system has to made into certain modular dimensions of this formwork system, in order to enjoy the favorable exposed concrete surface economically. As a result, those new buildings built from formwork system then were design from modular proportion, the same way bricks fabricate architectural dimensions of buildings in the past. When the system proportion is nice, perhaps because of gravitational physics or economic cause, the architecture will also resonate that proportion.

And that rationale define a new brilliant ‘proportions’ to several new buildings in Dhaka as I may observe.

Or all of these observations might not true. It might be that the architects in Bangladesh just got those proportions right by their own expertise. That I will not know.

Only that I know is that we might be able to teach students and architects to know of good proportion by understanding modular system of structure and building materials. And that could be something that this writing will be left with.

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