It’s been a while since RIBA announced an International Prize, having last named a ‘world’s best new building’ in 2018 (this school in Brazil). It’s back and the latest winner is an interesting choice: Friendship Hospital in Shyamnagar, rural South-West Bangladesh.
The hospital is built from bricks made on site, making it a product of its landscape. And it was built by local people, making it a product of the community. This involvement was important to the architect, Kashef Chowdhury, because it would affect the ongoing usefulness of the hospital: “We had to be sure that they would accept this as a place, where they could come for care.”
It’s a building that responds to the changes happening in the landscape too. It is surrounded by fields that have been converted into shrimp farms, an adaptation to repeated flooding and increased salinity. “We sort of took the villagers’ wisdom and brought into the design of this hospital,” says Chowdhury, with the hospital building becoming part of this changing relationship with the land by incorporating water into the design. Rainwater drains into a canal that bisects the site, and is held in a pool. This controls drainage, but is also designed to allow winds across the water to cool the building. Along with air bricks and open corridors, the building will use natural ventilation and cooling and won’t need air conditioning.
The water has aesthetic and therapeutic value too, creating calm and welcoming spaces for people to get well.
This is not a wealthy part of the globe, and I love the fact that this internationally admired new building is for ordinary Bangladeshis in a village in the middle of nowhere. Everybody deserves good architecture. It’s not just the rich, and good buildings don’t need to be expensive. Building something with care and beauty, with respect for the land the community, is a lasting way to love your neighbour.
I think RIBA’s choice is important for the industry too, which is easily dominated by high profile projects and big names. As Chowdhury says of his prize, “I am encouraged that this may inspire more of us to commit, not in spite of, but because of limitations of resources and means, to an architecture of care both for humanity and for nature, to rise collectively to the urgencies that we face today on a planetary scale.”
- Photos by Asif Salman/URBANA