Tuesday, January 08, 2013


On our third visit to Dhaka in Bangladesh we did it. We got inside one of the world’s greatest buildings.  Our first effort was thwarted by Bangladesh's caretaker military government of the time (they were not in the mood to share so we simply circumnavigated the complex) and the second was tangled by bureaucracy but this year it suddenly became easy. Bangladesh’s General Assembly Building, known to the Bangladeshi as Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban, is without doubt the masterpiece of architect Louis Kahn. We were deeply grateful to be allowed to visit; we were even taken into the debating chamber itself as the parliament was not in session.
Obviously our photos can’t do the place justice but you can get some idea of two usually contradictory forces at work: monumentality and grace. What you can't get is the extraordinary sensation of walking corridors soaring up six storeys with great arcs cut into the walls above you and light projecting sweeping shapes over the massive concrete surfaces. Looking out of the building you see sheets of reflecting pools and the beautifully sculpted brick buildings that house the ministerial offices, strangely delicate next to the grand architectural gestures of the main building.

It is impossible to comprehend how a bunch of politicians agreed that this was the building they wanted or to understand how Kahn managed to get this enormously complex work completed. Although it took around twenty years with a bloody war in the middle of it, as an assertion of a people it is unprecedented. We've heard that the building has functional problems and there is certainly some maintenance needed, but the basic concrete structure is magnificent and the Kahn designed detail splendid.

If you are anywhere near Dhaka in Bangladesh go here first to download the form you need to fill out. From there it's just a matter of showing up at the front gate and following your nose and then the nose of your guide.

Images: top outside and the rest inside Louis Kahn’s Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban. More pictures here.