Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change

Marina Tabassum, center, speaks to Arab News at her office in Dhaka on May 2, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 23 May 2024
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Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change

  • Marina Tabassum is among Time’s most influential people of 2024
  • Her mosque in Dhaka received the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture

DHAKA: With structures that “breathe” and are designed in tune with Bangladesh’s history and environment, Marina Tabassum’s work focuses on the local community and resilience in the country where every year millions of people lose their homes and livelihoods to climate change.

The award-winning founder of Marina Tabassum Architects came to the international spotlight after winning the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, which she designed, built and fundraised.

An architect and educator, she is also the recipient of the prestigious 2021 Soane Medal for Architecture, the 2021 Gold Medal by the French Academy of Architecture, the 2021 Arnold W. Bruner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters 2021, and the Lisbon Millennium Lifetime Achievement Award, which she received in 2022.

In 2024, she was featured on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list for developing a “practice and a way of being that prioritizes local cultures and values, as well as the perils faced by our shared planet.”

One of the drivers of Tabassum’s work is a sense of responsibility.

“There is enormous disparity in our human condition in Bangladesh and I feel like it’s not just my responsibility, (but) it’s for everybody to take that, their own share of the responsibility, and to do something about it,” she told Arab News at her practice in Dhaka.

“And I am of a breed who has the knowledge, has the capacity, all the different things that are required to take the responsibility to reduce these differences.”

Throughout her nearly three-decade career, she has designed some of Bangladesh’s most famous structures, which, besides the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, are the Museum of Independence in Dhaka — a project with Kashef Chowdhury — as well as housing adapted to the environment, including a modular mobile house for climate victims in the country’s south and north.

The Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, which is personally very close to Tabassum, was built on land donated by her grandmother and with a modest budget raised through community contributions.

“I was not just designing it, but also constructing it, fundraising it, so that became a very intensely involved project. I would say it is an important milestone for me and also it gave me a lot of international acclaim, which definitely helps in many ways,” she said.




The prayer hall of Marina Tabassum's Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka. (Aga Khan Trust for Culture)

The building’s porous brick walls keep it ventilated and cool while natural light enters it through a skylight. For Tabassum, one of the most important features in her work is that it “has to be able to breathe without artificial aids,” especially in her own subtropical country.

“It’s important for us to have our buildings as open as possible so that we can have natural ventilation, air can come and pass through the buildings. That’s what I call the breathing of a building,” she said.

“That’s an absolutely crucially important phenomenon that we should integrate in our architecture.”

Another crucial factor is having her architecture rooted, as much as possible, in the local context, including by sourcing material locally and working with local craftsmen.

Working with local communities and “trying to make ourselves available to their service,” is the main focus of her projects now — inspired also by her parents and teachers.

“Till date, my father, who is 87 years of age, is still working as a doctor, giving treatment to people who cannot afford cancer therapy. I think that’s embedded in us, to some extent, to have that value of giving,” she said.

As an architect, she has been inspired by many different people — her professors at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and Muzharul Islam, an architect and urban planner who is considered the grand master of modernism in South Asia.

“There’s a lot that I learned from him,” Tabassum said. “He always talked about how we have a small country and a huge population, how the entire country needs to be planned in a proper manner in terms of land use, in terms of housing, food production, and all the other things that a country requires, and every single space should be properly planned and designed — which we are still yet to do.”

In 2020, she established a new non-profit branch of her practice — the Foundation for Architecture Community Equity — dedicated to providing a home and humane living environment to Bangladesh’s low-income, landless, or climate-affected communities.

One of its flagship initiatives is Khudi Bari, which translates to “little house” in Bengali. Under the project, over 50 such bamboo-frame houses have already been built for the coastal communities where seawater regularly claims the land, and for flood-prone communities in the north, where swelling rivers cause catastrophic flooding during the monsoon season.




Marina Tabassum, center, and her colleagues from the Foundation for Architecture and Community Equity stand next to the frame of a house for low-income Bangladeshi communities affected by climate change. (FACE)

The cheap and light houses are made from materials that are widely available in the regions and are designed to be easily dismantled and moved when needed.

“Architecture is not a product, architecture has expanded and has always had that expanded idea of creating a proper environment, a good environment. And in order to create a good environment, you cannot just focus on a building, but you have to create, starting from planning to landscape to building (according) to people’s living conditions, economics,” Tabassum said.

“It’s about changing the mindset in many ways … The changes I would like to see (are) more about rootedness, more about sourcing locally, building responsibly, including people.”


NATO in talks to put nuclear weapons on standby, Stoltenberg tells UK’s Telegraph

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NATO in talks to put nuclear weapons on standby, Stoltenberg tells UK’s Telegraph

  • Jens Stoltenberg tells paper there are live consultations between members to use transparency around its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent
  • ‘Transparency helps to communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance’
LONDON: NATO is in talks to deploy more nuclear weapons, taking them out of storage and placing them on standby, in the face of a growing threat from Russia and China, the head of the alliance said on Monday.
Jens Stoltenberg told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that there were live consultations between members to use transparency around its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent.
“I won’t go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” he told the paper.
“Transparency helps to communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance.”
“NATO’s aim is, of course, a world without nuclear weapons, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, we will remain a nuclear alliance, because a world where Russia, China and North Korea have nuclear weapons, and NATO does not, is a more dangerous world.”
Stoltenberg said last week that nuclear weapons were NATO’s “ultimate security guarantee” and a means to preserve peace.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned that Moscow could use nuclear weapons to defend itself in extreme circumstances. It accuses the US and its European allies of pushing the world to the brink of nuclear confrontation by giving Ukraine billions of dollars worth of weapons, some of which are being used against Russian territory.
NATO, which has taken on a greater role in coordinating arms supplies to Kyiv, rarely talks about weapons publicly, although it is known that the US has deployed nuclear bombs to several locations in Europe.

Afghan Taliban govt says to attend next round of UN talks in Doha

Updated 31 min 34 sec ago
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Afghan Taliban govt says to attend next round of UN talks in Doha

  • Taliban government were not included in first set of talks, refused invitation to second round in February
  • The talks in Doha are scheduled for June 30 and July 1 and have already been criticized by women’s groups

KABUL: Taliban authorities will attend the third round of United Nations-hosted talks on Afghanistan in the Qatri capital, a government spokesman said on Sunday, after snubbing an invitation to the previous round.

The Taliban government’s participation in the conference of foreign special envoys to Afghanistan had been in doubt after it was not included in the first set of talks and then refused an invitation to the second round in February.

“A delegation of the Islamic Emirate will participate in the coming Doha conference. They will represent Afghanistan there and express Afghanistan’s position,” Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

The talks in Doha are scheduled for June 30 and July 1, and have already been criticized by women’s groups.

Mujahid told Afghan media on Sunday that a delegation — yet to be announced — would attend because the talks’ agenda appeared “beneficial to Afghanistan.”

The agenda includes “topics such as aid for Afghanistan and creating opportunities for investors in Afghanistan, which are important,” he said.

However, foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi warned in a post on social media site X later on Sunday that “if there are any changes to the agenda and participation, it would naturally affect our decision” to attend.

Launched by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in May 2023, the series of talks aim to “increase international engagement with Afghanistan in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner,” according to the UN.

Civil society groups that included women were invited to the February talks but the Taliban government refused to participate unless its members could be the sole representatives of Afghanistan.

It also requested to meet Guterres, who at the time said the set of conditions to participate “were not acceptable.”

In recent weeks, multiple UN representatives and international envoys have held meetings with the Taliban government on the next Doha talks, which Guterres will not attend.

Diplomatic sources told AFP there were plans to consult with Afghan civil society groups before and after the next talks, but that they would not take part in meetings that include the Taliban authorities.

The sources said the official meetings were due to cover finance and economic issues, as well as counternarcotics efforts.

Several civil society groups have urged the UN to prioritize women’s rights and include Afghan women.

“The world must provide platforms for the people and women of Afghanistan to discuss the future of their country,” Afghan women’s rights activist Hoda Khamosh, now based in Norway, told AFP.

“Still, they are not heard because the world is interacting anyway with the Taliban, even if they say they do not recognize them.”

The international community has wrestled with its approach to the Taliban government since it returned to power in 2021, still not officially recognized by any other state.

The Taliban government has imposed a strict interpretation of Islam, with women subjected to laws characterised by the UN as “gender apartheid.”

Human Rights Watch’s Associate Women’s Rights Director, Heather Barr, said the Taliban should not have been allowed to make demands on the conditions of the meetings considering their policies targeting women.

“It is unthinkable that diplomats could gather to discuss Afghanistan in the middle of such a crisis and do so without women’s rights being the main issue on the agenda and Afghan women being full participants in the discussion,” she told AFP.

Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, extended Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi an advance invitation to the talks during a visit to Afghanistan in May, a statement said.

A key element of the talks held in the Gulf state, which hosted the Taliban during years of peace talks with the United States, is a UN independent assessment on Afghanistan released late last year.

The assessment, backed by Western nations, suggested recognition of the Taliban authorities be tied to the removal of restraints on women’s rights and access to education.

It also recommends the appointment of a UN special envoy, which the Taliban government has rejected.


Five killed as Indian passenger and goods trains collide

Updated 42 min 1 sec ago
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Five killed as Indian passenger and goods trains collide

  • Images on Indian broadcasters showed tangled wreckage of carriages flipped on their side
  • India has one of the world’s largest rail networks and has seen several disasters over the years

KOLKATA: At least five people were killed when an express passenger train and a goods train collided Monday in India’s West Bengal state, derailing three passenger carriages, police said.
Images on Indian broadcasters showed tangled wreckage of carriages flipped on their side, and one thrust high into the air precariously balanced on another.
“At least five people have died and 25-30 are injured,” senior police officer Abhishek Gupta said from the site of the crash.
“Three compartments of the express train were derailed.”
West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called the crash “tragic” in a post on social media.
“Doctors, ambulances and disaster teams have been rushed to the site for rescue, recovery, medical assistance,” Banerjee said. “Action on war footing initiated.”
Banerjee said the crash took place in the Phansidewa area of Darjeeling district, when the Kanchenjunga Express train was hit by a goods train.
Railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the “injured are being shifted to the hospital.”
The incident is the latest to hit India’s creaking rail network, which carries millions of passengers each day.
India has one of the world’s largest rail networks and has seen several disasters over the years, the worst in 1981 when a train derailed while crossing a bridge in Bihar state, killing an estimated 800 people.
In June last year, a three-train collision killed nearly 300 people in Odisha state.
In recent years India has been investing huge sums of money to upgrade the network with modern stations and electronic signaling systems.


Strong winds, steep terrain hamper crews battling Los Angeles area’s first major fire of the year

Updated 17 June 2024
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Strong winds, steep terrain hamper crews battling Los Angeles area’s first major fire of the year

  • Los Angeles County’s first major wildfire of the year swiftly grew to nearly 60 square kilometers
  • The blaze, dubbed the Post Fire, was just two percent contained Sunday evening

GORMAN, California: Strong winds pushed flames through dry brush in mountains along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles on Sunday, and officials warned residents in the wildfire’s path to be prepared to leave if it explodes in size again.
Los Angeles County’s first major wildfire of the year swiftly grew to nearly 23 square miles (60 square kilometers), one day after it forced the evacuation of at least 1,200 campers, off-roaders and hikers from the Hungry Valley recreation area.
The blaze, dubbed the Post Fire, was just 2 percent contained Sunday evening. No injuries were reported. The cause was under investigation.
Firefighters working in sweltering conditions and steep terrain raced to douse spot fires that erupted as unpredictable winds blew embers ahead of the flames, said Kenichi Haskett, a section chief for the LA County Fire Department. The gusts also hampered efforts by aircraft crews to drop water and fire retardant, he said.
“When it’s windy, it just sprays the water everywhere we don’t need it. So that’s a challenge,” Haskett said.
Meanwhile in Northern California, a small wildfire sparked Sunday prompted evacuation orders and warnings for a sparsely populated area near Lake Sonoma. The so-called Point Fire sent up a huge plume of dark smoke as it churned through brush and timber about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of San Francisco. It was 15 percent contained.
The Southern California fire erupted Saturday afternoon near I-5 in Gorman, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles. Two structures burned within the evacuated recreation area.
Flames were moving toward Pyramid Lake, a popular destination for boaters that was closed as a precaution on Father’s Day. No houses were threatened Sunday, but officials warned residents of Castaic, home to about 19,000 people, that they should prepare to leave if the fire pushes further south.
“If you’re in a warning area, be prepared with a ‘go bag,’ with overnight clothes and your cellphone, your medicines, your glasses. Have your car fueled up,” said Haskett. “Be ready to evacuate.”
Low humidity and gusts around 50 mph (80 kph) were expected throughout the day, and winds could pick up speed after sundown, warned the National Weather Service office for Los Angeles.
About 75 miles (120 kilometers) to the east, the nearly 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) Hesperia Fire forced road closures and prompted evacuation warnings after it broke out Saturday near mountain communities in San Bernardino County. The blaze was 19 percent contained Sunday evening.


Muslims in Asia celebrate Eid Al-Adha with sacrifice festival and traditional feast

Updated 17 June 2024
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Muslims in Asia celebrate Eid Al-Adha with sacrifice festival and traditional feast

  • On Monday, worshippers shoulder-to-shoulder joined in communal prayers in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta
  • Preachers in their sermons called on people to pray for Muslims in Gaza and Rafah

JAKARTA: Muslims in Asia on Monday celebrated Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, with food and prayers for people in Gaza suffering from the Israel-Hamas war.
One of the biggest Islamic holidays, the occasion commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith through slaughtering livestock and animals and distributing the meat to the poor. It’s a joyous occasion for which food is a hallmark where devout Muslims buy and slaughter animals and share two-thirds of the meat with the poor and it’s a revered observance that coincides with the final rites of the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Much of Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Bangladesh, observed Eid Al-Adha on Monday, while Muslims in other parts of the globe, including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen celebrated the holiday on Sunday.
On Monday, worshippers shoulder-to-shoulder joined in communal prayers in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Preachers in their sermons called on people to pray for Muslims in Gaza and Rafah.
“Our prayers and thoughts are with our brother and sisters who are now suffering in Palestine,” worshipper Adi Prasetya said after praying at a field in southern Jakarta. “There are many opportunities for us now to channel our help through charities.”
“May Allah give strength to those ravaged by war... may those who are divided can live in peace again,” said another devotee, Berlina Yustiza.
Although Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country in the world, its traditions to mark Eid Al-Adha have been influenced by other religions.
Residents in Yogyakarta, an ancient center of Javanese culture and the seat of royal dynasties going back centuries, believe that if they manage to catch the crops arranged in the form of a cone-shaped pile called “gunungan” that is paraded from the royal palace to the Kauman Grand Mosque, it can bring them good luck. They scrambled to grab various food offerings, made of fruit, vegetables and traditional snacks.
A day before the sacrifice festival, people in East Java’s Pasuruan city expressed their gratitude and respect for the sacrificial animals by dressing them as beautiful as a bride. The sacrificial cow is wrapped in a seven-fold garland, a shroud, turban and prayer mat and paraded in a tradition called “manten sapi,” or bride cow, before being handed to the sacrificial committee.
Villagers in Demak, a town in Central Java province, celebrated the holiday with a procession of livestock called “apitan” as a form of gratitude for the food and harvest. They bring foods in bamboo containers to the town’s square that they eat together after praying. Locals believe the procession will provide prosperity and that disaster would come if it was abandoned.
Eid Al-Adha commemorates the Qur’anic tale of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice Ismail as an act of obedience to God. Before he could carry out the sacrifice, God provided a ram as an offering. In the Christian and Jewish telling, Abraham is ordered to kill another son, Isaac.
In Malaysia, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim joined thousands of congregants, including foreign tourists, and offered morning prayers at a mosque near his office in Putrajaya, south of the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Meanwhile at a wholesale market in Selayang, just outside the capital, Muslim workers there knelt on mats placed on a large piece of white cloth laid outside the market to perform their prayers.
In his message, Anwar said the opportunity to go on the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah is one of God’s great gifts and should make one more ascetic and simpler.
“I invite Muslims to live the message of simplicity that is preached in Hajj, to always be humble and not be mesmerized by the attraction of temporary worldly riches,” Anwar said, “Let’s not deviate from this goal. The world should be a bridge to the eternal land.”