With a view to bringing to the fore a critical conversation on urban densities in developing countries, the Department of Architecture at BRAC University hosted a symposium, titled “Unpacking Dhaka: 1st International Congress on Ultradense Urbanism” in collaboration with Open Studio, based at the University of Arkansas, USA. The congress was planned in two phases, with a 2-day symposium from 4-5 June, 2017, that sought to explore various cultural, social, political and economic ramifications of high urban density. A host of national and international speakers offered a multidisciplinary analysis of urban density. The symposium was followed by a 3-day workshop for the students of the Department of Architecture, from 6-8 June, 2017. Professor Ansar Ahmed, Pro vice-chancellor, BRAC University, graced the occasion as Chief guest and Professor Adnan Zillur Morshed, Chairperson of the Department of Architecture, BRAC University, as the keynote speaker.
On the first day, Architect Tanzil Shafique, an alumnus of BRACU and co-director of Open Studio and Dr. Javier Sanchez Merina, a professor at the University of Alicante, Spain, discussed the politics of embodied experience in creating an urban narrative. This discussion led to another conversation about the proximity of built forms - their impact and “negative density” in between apartment buildings. In this session, architect Fawaz Rob, an architecture professor at the North South University, introduced the roles of anthropometry and ergonomics in the old and new parts of the city and how lives adapt to these phenomena.
The theme of the second day revolved around presentations by Dr. ShamsulHoque and Dr. Ruben Garcia Rubio, who discussed the relationship between density and urban communication - how dense planning can support compact transportation. In the next session architect Sujaul Khan and Dr. Paco Mejias presented two case studies: Dhaka and the American city. Both the speakers advocated smaller building footprints, not only as key element of sustainable urbanism, but also as narratives deeply embroiled in ongoing political situations.
The conference ended with a stimulating panel conversation with the following participants: Professor Adnan Zillur Morshed, Architect Jalal Ahmed, Professor Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, Dr. Javier Sanchez Merina and Dr. Paco Mejias, who critically made the distinction between urban density and urban congestion in disparate contexts of cities around the world. One of the contentious points was how to approach the extreme population density in urban slums without an “ivory tower” attitude.
The following 3-day workshop was planned for the students to work in groups focusing on four critical themes. The coordinators of the workshop chose Karail as their ground for research based on the fact that this area offers one of the densest living conditions in an urban context.
Out of the four themes, “The Body in the Space” looked at changes within infrastructural systems in relation to human comfort in outdoor spaces. It presented methods of improving outdoor living conditions and green roofing through proposals such as shading devices made from discarded sarees and bamboo. The theme of “The Social and the Political” generated innovative discussions around emergency water tanks to be hidden in the minaret of a mosque, allowing water storage for fire fighting. The third group, zeroing in on “Movement in the City,” developed models in which boating facility and aquaculture became part of a broader issue of urban mobility. The fourth group, “Architecture in the Fabric,” proposed stilted housing, freeing up the ground as community spaces.
The event has been supported by Binyash Limited and the Angan Lecture Series, Department of Architecture, BRAC University.