Bangladesh hospital named world’s best new building

Winner of the RIBA International Prize: Friendship Hospital by Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA © Asif Salman

A remote community hospital in the water-laden landscape of south-west Bangladesh has won the RIBA International Prize 2021, architecture’s highest global accolade for design excellence and social impact.

The sustainable and low-cost hospital, designed by Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA, delivers essential healthcare services to the local communities of Satkhira in the southern region of Bangladesh, providing a medical lifeline for thousands of people in an area of the coast that was heavily affected by a major cyclone in 2007.

Lauded for the care and humanity at the heart of its design, the building responds innovatively to the challenging environmental conditions of the Bengal, a fragile and dynamic environment, directly impacted, without protection, to rising sea levels.

Water is central to the hospital’s design scheme – a canal cuts through the length of the site, separating the inpatients and outpatients. Rainwater from all areas of the complex is drained and stored in a newly built tank.

This water channel also helps with micro climatic cooling during the unbearably hot summers, avoiding the need for high energy consuming air-conditioning.

RIBA said Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA’s design creates an uplifting and inviting experience for visitors, patients and healthcare professionals and a peaceful environment consistent with health and healing.

Winner of the RIBA International Prize: Friendship Hospital by Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA © Asif Salman

Odile Decq, Chair of the RIBA International Prize Grand Jury, said: “Friendship Hospital embodies an architecture of humanity and protection that reflects the Friendship NGO’s philanthropic mission to provide dignity and hope to communities through social innovation.

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“Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA has achieved a building designed with a human touch which is deftly integrated with its surroundings and celebrates local, and traditional crafted materials. The hospital is relevant to critical global challenges, such as unequal access to healthcare and the crushing 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.”

Kashef Chowdhury said: “In a sublimely important moment, RIBA and the jurors have identified a project from the global periphery to bring to the centre of architectural discourse and be the subject of one of the most important global awards. 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.

“I am incredibly grateful to our client Friendship, and their founder Runa Khan for their unending support and understanding, and to the many architects, engineers and consultants who have been with us through the rigorous quarter century of our commitment to society, culture and our most beloved nature.”

Runa Khan, Founder and Executive Director of Friendship said: “Having worked with communities most impacted by climate change over the last 20 years, I have seen, time and time again, proof of my belief that ‘The poor cannot afford poor solutions’! Working with Kashef was a joy for us. Someone who could efficiently use local materials, ensure efficiency of the work we were to deliver and keep the spirit of Friendship alive, and not ever compromise on quality either for himself or for the spirit we wanted it to be. Truly for me he was the architect who could bring this – in his design, his care and delivery.”

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