The best architecture award celebrates a hospital designed to withstand the impact of climate change


A remote community hospital in Bangladesh is the winner of the 2021 Royal Institute of British Architects International Award, the world’s highest honor in architecture for design excellence and social impact.

Designed by Kashef Chowdhury of URBANA Architects, the sustainable, low-cost hospital is located in the water-laden landscape of Bengal and provides essential healthcare services to local communities in Satkhira in southern Bangladesh.

The coastal area was heavily affected by a major cyclone in 2007 and remains prone to environmental problems due to rising sea levels.

The building is named Friendship Hospital, after the NGO that commissioned the architects, and is part of the organization’s mission to empower and empower remote rural areas through social innovation.

The judges praised the “care and humanity at the heart of its design” which will provide a medical lifeline to thousands of people in the region.

“Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA has produced a building designed with a human touch that skillfully blends into its surroundings and celebrates local and traditional handcrafted materials,” said Odile Decq, Chair of the Riba International Prize Grand Jury.

“The hospital is relevant in the face of critical global challenges, such as unequal access to healthcare and the overwhelming impact of climate breakdown on vulnerable communities. It is a demonstration of how beautiful architecture can be achieved through good design when working with a relatively modest budget and with difficult contextual constraints. This hospital is a celebration of a building dedicated to humans.

Once surrounded by grain fields, rising sea waters have led to the conversion of Satkhira’s farmland into shrimp fisheries. Water is therefore at the heart of the hospital’s design project.

A canal crosses the site for its entire length, separating the inpatient and outpatient areas. Rainwater from all parts of the complex is drained and stored in a newly constructed reservoir. This water channel also contributes to microclimatic cooling during unbearably hot summers, thus obviating the need for energy-intensive air conditioning.

Mr Chowdhury described the win as a ‘hugely significant moment’ which brought the building to ‘the center of architectural discourse’.

“I am encouraged that this may inspire more of us to engage, not despite, but because of the limitations of resources and means, in an architecture of care for both humanity and nature, to collectively address the emergencies we face today. globally,” Mr. Chowdhury said.

Friendship founder and executive director Runa Khan said the design and construction of the hospital brought “new hope for a brighter future to some of the most climate-affected people on this planet”.

“Having worked with the communities most affected by climate change over the past 20 years, I have seen, time and time again, evidence of my belief that ‘poor people can’t afford bad solutions’!”

The Kohan Ceram office building in Tehran, Iran by Hooba Design.  Photo: RIBA

“Through the interplay of light, clay, air and water, Friendship Hospital Shyamnagar comes alive beautifully with the purpose it serves. It brings new hope for a brighter future. to some of the most climate-affected people on this planet,” Ms. Khan added.

Iranian group Hooba Design, which won the Riba International Emerging Architect 2021 for the Kohan Ceram Central Office Building in Tehran, was also celebrated at the prestigious biennial awards.

Located along the Sattari highway in the Iranian capital, the office building was constructed with an internal and external structure comprising a unique perforated brick design. The architect’s “innovative approach” to the unique use of brick was celebrated for “stretching the creative possibilities of the material” and creating a harmonious structure between a busy highway and a residential area.

The “glasses brick” is produced in three different forms, which effectively regulate the building’s temperature and light intake in the dry heat of Tehran, while creating an exterior light show at night. Vegetation planted in the spaces inside the building helps filter polluted air from the main road.

Riba Awards Group President Denise Bennetts said the judges were impressed with the architect’s “restraint, invention and elegance”.

“The decision to use a single material to create both the external and internal structure results in an intriguing ambiguity about what is solid and what is empty; creating different perceptions during day and night. In the dry climate and polluted from Tehran, the building is minimal and cohesive, using the voids in the facade to provide light, ventilation and space for vegetation.

Updated: January 26, 2022, 6:49 p.m.


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