In Bangladesh, the establishments of villages owe their origin to agriculture and the settlement in this area dates back to the remote past. Over time, indigenous architecture in rural Bangladesh has evolved according to regional topography, climate, and availability of local resources. The indigenous settlements are built largely without formally trained professionals and are built by local workers together with household and community members. Indigenous people of this region have hereditarily been doing this for years. Despite not being designed by professional architects, the buildings continued to accommodate and serve the needs of the majority of the population, which are well adapted to the local environment and resources.

Bangladesh is predominantly a deltaic flat alluvial plain. There are two main types of settlement – elongated-linear and amorphous, both established on raised land above the natural flood level. The amorphous type built consists of clustered or scattered settlements, and the elongated-linear type is developed along natural levees of rivers or water channels, often dispersed throughout the terrain. When highland is not available, settlements are established on raised earth mounds, excavated from channels or ponds, and in hilly regions and some marshy lands, settlements are built on stilts. In the rural areas of Bangladesh, different patterns of the settlement are developed in the different physiographic regions which have their specific characteristics. Different socio-cultural and economic factors also play a great role in shaping different forms and patterns of settlement. Typical rural houses feature a rectangular layout with an open courtyard. Generally of single-storied though occasionally double-storied structures are seen. Buildings are constructed on a raised earth plinth. The raised earth plinth is widespread in Bangladesh and is a characteristic feature of indigenous architecture. The roof is considered the most difficult and expensive part of a rural house. Pitched roofs and the gable (dochala), and hipped (chochola) are the main roofing characteristics. Mud walled houses, thatched houses, tin-sheet houses, and bamboo houses are common types of houses found in different parts of the country.

1. Mud Walled Houses

Houses with mud walls are commonly known as ‘mud houses’ is a distinctive housing feature in the northwestern regions of Bangladesh. Relatively less rainfall, dry climate, and being above the flood level are the main reasons for the development of mud housing in this region. In some areas, walls are made of sun-dried mud of one to two thickness which helps to keep the interior cool. Mud walls with thatched roofs are an ideal combination for keeping the interior at a moderate temperature. Tin sheets or clay tile are other commonly used roofing materials.

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Double storied mud house with tin-sheet roof ©
Vernacular architecture of Bangladesh - Sheet2
Double storied mud house with tin-sheet roof ©

2. Thatched Houses

This type of house is extensively seen all over rural Bangladesh. Materials like reeds, long grass, rice straw, and jute sticks are widely used for roofs and walls, mainly because reeds and long grasses are abundantly available in char areas and on river banks, and are also very cheap. The materials are usually used with mud plastering on one or both sides, while the roof is framed by bamboo and covered by various kinds of thatch.

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Houses built of mud walls and thatch roof ©
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Houses built of mud walls and thatch roof ©

3. Bamboo Houses

Bamboo is the most widely used material in the eastern and northern part of Bangladesh. In general, bamboo is available in two varieties, thick-walled and thin-walled. Thick-walled bamboo is used for posts and roof rafters, while thin-walled bamboo is split into a variety of stiff mats and screens used as walls, as roof cladding, and as well as wall screens, panels, and partitions. The material is cheap and light-weighted, and due it’s porous, screen-type walls, it provides necessary ventilation and thermal comfort.

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House on stilts made of bamboo and tin-sheet roofing ©
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House on stilts made of bamboo screens and thatch roofing ©


4. Corrugated Iron (CI) / Tin Sheet Houses

In the northern part where rainfall is relatively very high, houses with tin sheet roofing and also as walling material is becoming common, since it offers obvious advantages. The sheets are damp-proof, light, and durable, and ensure direct protection against heavy rain. This type of house acts as a status symbol in the local community and most rural households aspire to it.

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Tin-sheet house on a raised plinth ©
Vernacular architecture of Bangladesh - Sheet9
Tin-sheet house on a raised plinth ©

In the past decades, due to the reduction of natural building materials, low durability and lack in planning have caused indigenous architecture to change. Nonetheless, a lot more buildings are being built with similar indigenous methods with modern interventions to achieve a more sustainable living environment; proving that conventional local resources and materials can be used to build successful environmentally friendly unconventional architecture

5. Pani Community Centre

The Pani Community Center designed by Schider Scholte is an educational building located in the north Bengal of Rajarhat. The plan consists of two volumes sheltered under a large bamboo roof construction. The roof lifted above the volumes reduces heat build-up within the spaces, and further cooling is provided by cross ventilation, surrounding vegetation, and the nearby pond. The design focuses on locally available materials and weather conditions. The main materials used include Mango wood, reused steel, bamboo, hand-shaped brick, local mortar, and wafer-thin recycled corrugated panels.

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6. The METI Handmade School

Located at Rudrapur, the METI Handmade School is designed by architect Anna Heringer and Eike Roswag. The design is based on regional construction methods and local materials but introduces new techniques for efficiency and structural integrity. The school is designed with thick earth blocks and bamboo. The building rests on a deep brick masonry foundation to minimize the effects of moisture on the earthen walls. The ground floor is enclosed by a mud wall while the first floor has slatted bamboo walls aiding diffused light and natural ventilation. In addition to the classrooms, there are spaces for children to interact and play.

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Tasmania Chowdhury, an architecture graduate, is currently engaged as a feature writer in the leading architecture magazine in Bangladesh. To her, architecture exists as an emotional platform. It has the potential to make people move. She enjoys putting down this emotive tool in writing while enjoying a cup of latte and plugging to ‘Rabindra Sangeet’.

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