Historic Preservation and Landscape Design of the Old Dhaka Central Jail and Redevelopment of Its Surrounding Area,” National Design Competition, 2017. (Finalist)
Jailnama: Dhaka Central Jail History as Urban Park:
The Centre for Inclusive Architecture and Urbanism (Ci+AU) participated in this important national urban design competition in 2017 to redevelop Dhaka’s central jail in the old town into an urban park. Our proposal was among the five finalists, eventually receiving honorable mention.
- Our project proposed to convert the historic Jail into a people-oriented urban park that minimally disrupts the history and architecture of the sprawling jail complex. Our vision was to retain the original as much as possible, so that visitors can experience an “authentic” and unmediated past, while a sustainable economic management plan ensures the project’s urban adaptability.
- Our extensive site analysis and photo-documentation of the jail compound—a site long affiliated with the sacrifice of many of our national leaders and their heroic struggle for the country’s independence—inspired us to conceive an urban design proposal that preserves the Central Jail’s unique history with minimal design intervention. While we seek to preserve history with as much consciousness as possible, we are most careful about not sacrificing the efficient management of the entire site and its urban blending with surrounding neighborhoods.
- In our proposed park, infused with a “feel the jail” ethos, visitors would experience the Central Jail’s history and ecology in their most organic conditions, while finding respite from the congestion of the old town and the ambiance of a heritage village in its new development zones. Our project weaves together the jail compound’s three zones as a singular narrative of history, culture, and economy based on Old Dhaka’s unique urban character.
- The project begins from the core idea of a gently choreographed walkway that weaves together the key architectural nodes of the jail complex. Such as: Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s independent cell; Char Netar (four leaders) cell; the gallows; the inmate workshop; and the general jail blocks (Meghna, Surma, Jamuna).
- The walkway is conceived as a conceptual journey, jatra, into the history of the Central Jail. The walkway is flexible and allows visitors to see the old jail as a historical narrative, but, very consciously, without a grand theme. Along the walkway, there are small “knowledge” kiosks with interactive digital displays, highlighting histories of the jail’s different key spots. Furthermore, occasional sitting arrangements that organically “grow” from the walkway’s thematic wrought-iron design are provided, so that visitors can pause during their journey to reflect on the jail’s past, as well as the broader philosophical meanings of incarceration and freedom for fundamental human conditions.
- The design of the walkway is inspired by the typical door of a jail cell: a series of vertical wrought iron rods, obliquely connected by another rod, covered by a metal mesh for easy walkability. As an emotive icon of the prison, this door becomes the path of the visitor or jatri. The jatri explores the idea of imprisonment as an experiential history of the jail compound.
- The aquatic oval that frames the independent jail cell of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibut Rahman terminates the entrance axis as a symbolic gesture toward our nation’s complex pursuit of self-rule. As they approach the slender and soaring “starry” tower, rising from the oval’s shallow water, visitors discover the modest jail house where the Father of the Nation spent many years of his life. The walkway encircles this structure that now serves as a museum and the trees planted by Bangabandhu and her daughter, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed. From there the walkway snakes through Char Netar jail, the gallows, and the prisoners’ workshop. The loop then continues on to the main jail blocks.