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A rural hospital in Bangladesh is named the world's best new building

Friendship Hospital in Bangladesh, winner of the 2021 RIBA International Prize. The hospital's zig-zag canal collects rainwater and aids in cooling the site.
Asif Salman
/
URBANA
Friendship Hospital in Bangladesh, winner of the 2021 RIBA International Prize. The hospital's zig-zag canal collects rainwater and aids in cooling the site.

Most hospitals don't have a canal to collect rainwater.

That's one of the unusual features that earned a major architecture honor — the 2021 RIBA International Prizefor Friendship Hospital, an 80-bed rural community hospital in Bangladesh.

"This hospital is a celebration of a building dedicated to humans," said French architect Odile Decq, who chaired the jury that awarded the prize. The hospital uses an innovative canal system to collect excess rainwater and store it so that it can be used later. The prize's jury felt that the hospital's canal and shaded brick alcoves worked well to respond to the local environment's frequent rains and often blistering summer weather.

Judges noted the hospital was built using local low-cost building materials.

"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," Decq wrote.

The Royal Institute of British Architects awards the prize every two years to a building that "exemplifies design excellence and architectural ambition and delivers meaningful social impact."

Designed by Bangladeshi architect Kashef Chowdhury of the firm URBANA and completed in 2018, the hospital is run by the nonprofit group Friendship, which works with communities in rural Bangladesh to respond to issues such as lack of access to vital services, poverty and climate change.

Fitting into a watery environment

Located in Shyamnagar in the southern region of Bangladesh, Friendship Hospital was designed to meld with the water-laden local environment, which is filled with shrimp fisheries and crisscrossed by rivers. The hospital is surrounded by former grain fields that now sit underwater due to sea level rise (the land has been converted into the shrimp fisheries as a result).

An aerial view of Friendship Hospital. The building's design was praised for staying in harmony with its waterlogged environment.
Asif Salman / URBANA
/
URBANA
An aerial view of Friendship Hospital. The building's design was praised for staying in harmony with its waterlogged environment.

But the ample supply of water surrounding the structure can't be easily used for drinking water and other purposes because of its high salinity level.

The hospital's relationship with rainwater was a key element in the prize. Its major design feature is a canal that zigzags along the length of the hospital, splitting the outpatient building from the building for inpatient services. The canal collects rainwater from the site, which is then stored in a tank so that it can be used by the hospital.

The cycle of catastrophic flooding in Bangladesh is caused by the combination of cyclones, monsoons and snowmelt from the Himalayas. As climate change makes rainfall more erratic and powerful storms even more intense, millions in Bangladesh are facing devastating effects, including loss of agricultural land due to sea level rise.

A grateful architect issues a challenge

Architect Kashef Chowdhury hopes the award will inspire people to commit to architecture that cares for humans and nature simultaneously.

"I am encouraged that this may inspire more of us to commit, not in spite of, but because of limitations of resources and means, to an architecture of care both for humanity and for nature, to rise collectively to the urgencies that we face today on a planetary scale," Chowdhury said.

The longlist for this year's prize included 16 buildings from 11 countries, including the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, the Lille Langebro cycle and pedestrian bridge in Copenhagen and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala.

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