National Parliament House, Dhaka, Bangladesh by Louis Kahn: One of the Largest Legislative Complexes - Sheet1
National Parliament House ©highengineering.info

Modern Architecture or modernist approach towards design has become one of the important architectural styles in design innovation which focuses on the concept of form follows function thereby embracing functionality and minimalism. Such buildings are often considered flexible to their context or where they can be placed anywhere predominantly serving its purpose. The National Parliament House is one of its examples where ornamentation itself does not represent aesthetics but innovative technologies and architectural style define its identity.

Situated in the modern megacity of Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, the structure symbolizes the fast-growing metropolis. Also known as Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban, the official house of the Parliament of Bangladesh signifies modern architecture in its unique way. Designed by an American architect Louis Kahn, it is one of the largest government complexes in the world that conducts parliamentary functions of Bangladesh. Unlike other modernist constructions, the national assembly building reflects the Bangali Vernacular architecture. Historically, it was conceived by the government of Pakistan in 1959, until Louis Kahn was commissioned to design in 1962. Post-independence in 1971, when Bangladesh became independent of the Pakistani rule, the intention of a monumental structure transformed into a symbol of democracy and pride for the Bengali people. It was then finally completed in 1982, a time span of more than two decades similar to the time required for constructing the Taj Mahal, surprisingly all built by hand, with thousands of workers carrying baskets overhead across the bamboo scaffolding. 

The design philosophy revolved around the optimization of space while representing the heritage and culture of Bangladesh. The building façade consisted of huge geometric openings which covered the deeply recessed porticoes creating an overall visual impact.

Architect Louis Kahn himself had earlier quoted on his design, “In the assembly, I have introduced a light-giving element to the interior of the plan. If you see a series of columns you can say that the choice of columns is a choice in light. The columns as solids frame the spaces of light. Now think of it just in reverse and think that the columns are hollow and much bigger and that their walls can themselves give light, then the voids are rooms, and the column is the maker of light and can take on complex shapes and be the supporter of spaces and give light to spaces. I am working to develop the element to such an extent that it becomes a poetic entity that has its beauty outside of its place in the composition. In this way, it becomes analogous to the solid column I mentioned above as a giver of light.” 

National Parliament House, Dhaka, Bangladesh by Louis Kahn: One of the Largest Legislative Complexes - Sheet2
Plan ©www.archdaily.com

The spatial planning of the complex comprised three sectors – The main plaza, south plaza and presidential plaza. The complex also houses residences for the members of parliament. At the heart of the building is the main plaza which is the parliamentary grand chamber whereas the outer eight peripheral blocks project out of the central volume. The plan is a result of the concentric arrangement of different functions around the main hall. These individual blocks are placed around the central octagonal block with nine-floor connectivity between them across three levels. All spaces include different functional spaces linked vertically and horizontally through a complex circulation system. The spaces include hotels for the members of parliament, ministers and secretaries, social halls like cafeteria and prayer hall all linked by roads and walkways to form a part of the eight surrounding blocks. The structural system is holistically connected throughout the building where the columns have transformed into the function of load-bearing walls. It depicts more like a large mass of concrete sculpts itself into a perfect functional entity.

National Parliament House, Dhaka, Bangladesh by Louis Kahn: One of the Largest Legislative Complexes - Sheet3
Aerial View ©in.pinterest.com

The building aesthetics were achieved by providing geometric openings in the form of triangles, squares and circles along the façade rather than the conventional method of placing windows thus sacrificing the composition of a monumental building. The predominance of geometric shapes offers a great tribute to the building concerning the indoor activities as well as serve the purpose of natural lighting and ventilation through light wells. Having a universal concept and function, the building could not be found anywhere else due to the traditional cultural importance. The artificial lake surrounding the three sides of the building acts as a natural insulator portraying the riverine beauty of the city and creating a traditional cooling system to combat the harsh desert climate of the region. Built-in in-situ concrete with bands of white marble along the elevations which form the strong architectural character.

National Parliament House, Dhaka, Bangladesh by Louis Kahn: One of the Largest Legislative Complexes - Sheet4
Lightwell ©mosqpedia.org

With time, the building gained significant importance and acceptance which influenced the city of Dhaka in many positive ways. Certain design features include light wells and courts as well as circular traffic movement so that every visitor gazes and appreciates the enormous spatial volume inside the structure. The construction and technology have adapted to the local architecture by use of local materials concrete, marble and red-brick exterior that has given its identity. Architect Louis Kahn emphasized on the feature of light as an element of design for the structure, not just by illuminating the space but also conceptually creating the space. The entire masterpiece is designed in a way to form one single or non – differentiable entity connecting the garden and mosque surrounding the structure and forming a statement on the landscape. The national assembly received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1989.

Author

Tanya is pursuing her B.Arch from VIT’s PVP College of Architecture, Pune. She believes in a holistic approach towards design and living with nature. Through her bachelor’s study, she has developed an interest in travelling and exploring this profession. Apart from architecture, dance and music are an integral part which has made herself know better.

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