Aarong means “village fair.” Bangladesh’s most iconic lifestyle retail chain, Aarong was founded in 1978 with a view to marketing the handicrafts of rural women. The goal was twofold: a. empowering rural artisans to transcend abject poverty and b. creating an urban market for traditional crafts. Blending traditional artistry with modernist aesthetic sensibilities, the retail store introduced high standards of quality and professionalism in bringing rural cottage industry to an urban clientele. Aarong is now well known around the world through international trade-fair network and exhibitions, creating a global market for Bangladeshi crafts.
In 2018, Aarong celebrated its 40th anniversary. An outdoor exhibition of its products was planned. Ci+AU was given the commission to create an exhibition master plan in Dhaka and design its individual pavilions for different iconic products, from Jamdani and silk fabric to jewelry and leather merchandise.
Our concept was to choreograph a loop of pavilions with the informal spatial organization of a Bengali village bazaar. While each pavilion retained its individuality, the master plan sought to create a holistic experience of one central theme: the evolutionary story of Bangladesh’s rural handicrafts and Aarong’s contribution in it. Time constraints required a quick installation and dismantling. Hence, bamboo was the ideal choice for the structure of the pavilions. Furthermore, our choice of bamboo was logical, as it is the most ubiquitous traditional building material throughout the world’s tropical and sub-tropical regions. High strength and low weight provide bamboo its versatility. It is affordable, renewable, and can be transported easily. Bamboo is widely used in different forms of construction, particularly for housing in Bangladesh’s rural areas. Thus, we were inspired to employ bamboo as an aesthetic foil for Aarong’s 40th-anniversary celebration. The modern vernacularity of our bamboo-based design creates an appropriate visual expression for the Aarong exhibition that drew people from all walks of life.