Friendship Centre Bangladesh
The Friendship Centre has been designed by the prominent Architect Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury which was completed in December 2011. It was built for Friendship, a non-governmental organisation, which works to restore the Dignity and Hope of marginalised communities living in the remote and unaddressed areas of northern Bangladesh and as well as in the southern coastal belts. Located in rural Gaibandha where agriculture is predominant, the project’s roofscape merges with its environment.
The project’s aim is to enhance the skills and tools of Friendship beneficiaries, the char populations of northern Bangladesh, through periodic training workshops. The main goal of the project is to enhance the capacity of Friendship staff, stakeholders, and marginalized and isolated char community members through training programs.
The centre is a community training centre which makes a virtue of an area susceptible to flooding in rural Bangladesh. The Centre provides services for the marginalised community of the region. It was designed to provide an inviting and accessible space for those who use the Centre’s services. It is situated on two acres; the complex is designed to blend with the natural environment while echoing the ruins of Mahasthan, a Buddhist dwelling from the third century BC, located nearby. It is constructed and finished primarily with one material local handmade brick, and individual pavilions, courtyard, pools, and green spaces are woven throughout.
- The Centre was created to train staff of an NGO working with people inhabiting nearby chars, or riverine islands. Offices, a library, meeting rooms, and prayer and tea rooms are included in pavilion-like buildings surrounded by courts and pools. The Centre is also rented out for meetings, training, and conferences for income generation.
- The local hand-made brick construction has been inspired by the monastic aesthetic of the 3rd century BC ruins of Mahasthangahr, the earliest urban archaeological site yet found in Bangladesh. Structural elements are of reinforced concrete and finishes also include timber and stone. The naturally ventilated structures have green roofs.
- The Centre is located in an agricultural area susceptible to flooding and earthquakes, and whose low-bearing soil has a low bearing capacity. As a result, an embankment has been constructed with a water run-off pumping facility. Constructed and finished primarily of one material – local hand-made bricks – the spaces are woven out of pavilions, courtyards, pools and greens, corridors and shadows.
- The Friendship Centre is divided into two sections, the outer Ka block for the offices, library and training classrooms and the inner Kha block for the residential section. At a time, 80 people can be trained here in four separate classrooms. Simplicity is the intent, monastic is the feel.
“The client, Friendship, is an NGO that works with those living in the remote riverine islands of the region. Their programmes, including health, education, capacity building and women empowerment, are targeted at some of the poorest people in the country. They had this idea for a centre which could be used for training sessions, classes and meetings and also as a facility they could rent out as an income generator. We wanted to take this idea further and truly create a centre, around which the activities of this wonderful organisation would revolve, but that could also serve as a place which brings people together. In this way, the architecture needed to be simple and bare: a response to the economy of the region, and with a quality of calmness and serenity that echoes the nature of its riverine landscape setting.” – Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury
“Looking at the sunken brick compound of the Friendship Centre, one is reminded of the archaeological remains of the nearby Vasu Bihara Buddhist temple, built during the third and fourth century. The Friendship Centre blurs the boundaries between an archaeological site and an architectural and landscape project. Through its configuration and its use of grassed rooftops, it becomes part and parcel of the surrounding landscape. This grounding is both literal and metaphorical. The quadrilateral layout and the skilful brickwork reflect continuity with local architectural traditions”, Aga Khan Award’sstated the Jury about the Friendship Centre. “While every aspect of this project is local – local inspiration, local builders, local materials, a local architect, local NGO – its architectural value and qualities are undeniably universal and merit both appreciation and attention”, the Jury also mentioned.
The Friendship Center near the district town of Gaibandha, Bangladesh, is for an NGO which works with some of the poorest in the country and who live mainly in riverine islands (chars) with very limited access and opportunities. Friendship uses the facility for its own training programs and will also rent out for meetings, training, conferences etc. as income generation.
The low lying land, which is located in rural Gaibandha where agriculture is predominant, is under threat of flooding if the embankment encircling the town and peripheries break.
An extensive program with a very limited fund meant that raising the structures above flood level (a height of eight feet) was not an option: nearly the entire available fund would be lost below grade. Being in an earthquake zone and the low bearing capacity of the silty soil added further complications. The third and final design relies on a surrounding embankment for flood protection while building directly on existing soil, in load bearing masonry. Rainwater and surface run-off are collected in internal pools and the excess is pumped to an excavated pond, also to be used for fishery. The design relies on natural ventilation and cooling, being facilitated by courtyards and pools and the earth covering on roofs. An extensive network of septic tanks and soak wells ensure the sewage does not mix with flood water.
The ‘Ka’ Block contains the reception pavilion, offices, library, training/conference rooms and pavilions, a prayer space and a small ‘cha-shop’. The ‘Kha’ Block, connected by three archways, is for more private functions and houses the dormitories, the dining pavilion and staff and family quarters. The laundry and drying shed is located on the other side of the pond. There is no air-conditioning and the entire lighting is through LED and energy efficient lamps.
As in construction, so in conception – the complex of the centre rise and exist as echo of ruins, alive with the memory of the remains of Mahasthan (3rd century BC), some sixty kilometers away. Constructed and finished primarily of one material – local hand- made bricks – the spaces arc woven out of pavilions, courtyards, pools and greens; corridors and shadows. Simplicity is the intent, monastic is the feel.
The centre serves and brings together some of the poorest of poor in the country and -by extension – in the world, yet in the extreme limitation of means was a search for the luxury of light and shadows of the economy and generosity of small spaces; of the joy of movement and discovery in the bare and the essential.
About: Friendship Centre
Friendship started operating in 2002. It was founded by Runa Khan, now Executive Director, supported by a group of well-wishers and advisors who believed in the vision of carrying healthcare to the ultra-poor in the remote communities of the rivers of Bangladesh. Friendship began with the innovative concept of a floating hospital. Yves Marre sailed a river barge from France to Bangladesh to donate it for use by the people of Bangladesh. The concept was realised when the river barge was converted to a fully equipped hospital ship, the Lifebuoy Friendship Hospital. Since then, Friendship has developed a structured three-tier healthcare system to provide comprehensive quality health and information to the remote river-based communities of northern and southern Bangladesh. Recognising that the broader goal of enabling these communities to improve their living conditions and gain control over their lives requires more than healthcare support alone.
Project name: Friendship Centre
Location: Balashi Road, Gaibandha, Bangladesh
Coordinates: 25.322255, 89.591158
Type: Meeting / Conference / Banquet
Site Area: 9,210 sqm
Built area: 2,897 sqm
Design Year/Period: 2008-2010
Completion Date/Year: December 2011
Opening Date: November 18th, 2012
Visit Friendship Centre Bangladesh’s website: here
Client / Owner / Developer: Friendship NGO
Architects: Kashef Chowdhury-URBANA – House 56, Road 5A, Dhanmondi, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Project Team: Anup Kumar Basak, Sharif Jahir Hossain, Motiur Rahman, Amrul Hasan
Text Description: © Courtesy of Kashef Chowdhury-URBANA, Friendship Centre
Images: © Kashef Chowdhury-URBANA, Friendship Centre, Eric Chenal, Anup Basak,