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Old November 12th, 2008, 05:57 PM   #1
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Saving Dhaka's Historic Treasures

Bangladeshi architects fight to save capital's treasures
11 November 2008
Agence France Presse

Quilla Mosque - http://www.pbase.com/tasmart/image/81186852

Taimur Islam points to the ruins of a grand building in Bangladesh's capital and says wearily: "This is our only so-called success story."

The crumbling Boro Bari mansion, with its neo-classical and French rococo influences, would not have looked out of place in a European city when it was built at the start of the 20th century.

Now, with its few remaining ornate decorations barely visible, the owners want it demolished to make way for an apartment block.

As Dhaka marks 400 years of existence, architect Islam says there is little to celebrate with the city's historically significant buildings being bulldozed at an alarming rate.

Five years ago, Islam and his wife, fellow architect Homaira Zaman, started the Urban Study Group to raise awareness that Dhaka was losing its heritage.

Since then, they have worked with government agencies, planners, engineers, architects and university students to make them aware of the 2,000-odd structures they say need protecting.

But Bangladesh's department of archaeology says there is still no official programme to restore the capital's historic urban quarter.

Islam and Zaman are trying to sow seeds that could one day transform a city currently known as a polluted and overpopulated maze with notoriously bad traffic.

They have halted the demolition of the Boro Bari mansion for the time being but must come up with a way of saving the building and making it financially viable for its owners.

Situated in the old French quarter of Dhaka, it is just a stone's throw from the Buriganga River, which Islam believes holds the key to capital's future.

"Waterfront development is the engine of growth for every city. There's a lot of potential, for old buildings to be converted into apartments, for boutiques, for a food court," Islam says.

According to official figures, Dhaka's population was 177,000 in 1974. Now it hovers around 12 million as Bangladeshis flock to the city from rural areas to find work, and new buildings are thrown up to accommodate them.

Known as "the city of many mosques" when it was part of the Moghul Empire which preceded British rule, rapid urbanisation since Bangladesh gained independence from India in 1971 has led to the disappearance of many ancient religious structures.

For Islam and Zaman's single success story, they say there are many examples of buildings not being saved in time, including the facade of an old Hindu temple which came down last month.

"We need legislation to stop these buildings from being demolished and save them before it's too late," Islam says.

In a country where 40 percent of the 144 million people live on less than a dollar a day, the pair acknowledge Bangladesh faces many other problems, but they say architecture should not be dismissed.

"When all of these buildings go we'll look back and wish we'd done more to save them," says Zaman.

Islam says Dhaka's emerging middle class does not care for Old Dhaka, preferring to spend time in purpose-built apartment blocks and shopping malls.

"There's no pride attached to living in an old building. Given the first chance people will tear them down and have a new apartment," he says, adding that it is mostly expatriates and foreign tourists who are interested in saving the old quarter.

"It's messy and it's dirty so locals don't want to come to this part anymore. Living in Old Dhaka is like a stigma," says Islam.

Dhaka University history professor Mumtassir Mamoon has little hope things will change anytime soon in the Bangladeshi capital.

He has spent more than 30 years working to save its cultural relics, but says he has given up hope of changing official attitudes.

"I've tried and failed and I don't want to try again because I'm getting old. There are so many problems in Bangladesh with poverty that culture is a low priority," he said.

"But if you do not have a connection with the past we cannot have a good future. We need a ministry of culture. If the government doesn't understand that, the city will die."
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Old November 16th, 2008, 11:57 AM   #2
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The building in the photo is the Lalbagh Fort. I don't know about the Boro Bari Mansion. People in overcrowded countries think that historic preservation is a waste of space. I don't know how many historic structures have been destroyed already.
I honestly think all development projects must be sustainable and futureproof.

You support the good projects... and oppose the bad.
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