Village study in Rudrapur: “Place – Relationships – Functions”

Four students from Austria – Tobias Hagleitner, Anna Heringer, Petra Rager and Gunar Wilhelm exchanged their place of study from the University in Linz to a remote village in Bangladesh, Rudrapur to learn about the basic relationship between architecture and living. Three months in the field driven by the questions “How does a village work?” “What is a village? - A town in a smaller scale or an own particular organism?” “What are the links between architecture, the local economy and society?” “How important is culture?” ”What are the problems, the potentials, the future challenges of Rudrapur - and of rural areas in general?”

Globally seen arable land is a precious resource. It is evident in a country like Bangladesh with about 1 000 inhabitants on one square kilometre. In general land is used very intensively in Rudrapur and the surrounding area and often has multiple functions. Streets for example are not only for transportation, they are also market places, playgrounds, drying area for rice or jute. Regarding the use of land the survey also shows that all expansion of space – caused by the growing population or increasing wealth - is only growing horizontally. In the research area all houses were single storey.
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with a population growth rate of 2.022% (2008 est.). Each year more and more agricultural land is lost to residential development. If Bangladeshis in the rural areas (about 110 million people) started living in two story structures, more land would be available for farming. This would also reduce the pressure on the cities like Dhaka and Chittagong where the slum population is growing day by day. “Population pressure continues to place a severe burden on productive capacity, creating a food deficit (…). Foreign assistance and commercial imports fill the gap. Underemployment remains a serious problem (…) Finding alternative sources of employment will continue to be a daunting problem for future governments, particularly with the increasing numbers of landless peasants who already account for about half the rural labour force.“ (Pearson Education, 2006) As this quotation states, the use of land is interlinked with many aspects such as economics, increasing debt, health/food, employment facilities and in a wider perspective – even with demographic changes in larger scale (migration), stabilised democracy and peace.
Approximately 75% of the 147 million Bangladeshis live in villages – mainly in loam or bamboo houses. Although these traditional building materials are highly sustainable, villagers have an increasing desire to build homes out of bricks, concrete, and corrugated iron sheet (CI sheet). This trend could have a serious impact on the environment; fabrication of these materials requires a lot of energy and produces noxious emissions. The choice of a building material is more than a rational decision. It is a matter of prestige, identification, zeitgeist and culture.
According to the survey mentioned above is reflected clearly in the choice of the building material for the private temples and shrines. They all follow the unwritten ordinance to erect religious buildings in the most valuable material that is used in the homestead. The hierarchy is clear to see while walking through a Bengali village: Brick (best), loam (middle), bamboo and straw (last).

To conclude: All the expansion caused by the demographic development as well as financial ability is shown in capturing space and investing in so called modern materials that often require a high amount of energy. Not only comparatively “rich” people follow that pattern: also NGOs or public buildings from government, which stand for development and improvement. What will be the consequence if this trend will continue?
It is vital that policy making organisations, government and non-government organisations set good examples through representative public buildings as well as through pilot projects for high quality and dense residential housing that can be multiplied by the villagers.
To increase the living condition in the rural areas and to re-foster the ecological balance the use of traditional, natural building materials will play a decisive role. Appropriate construction techniques and design strategies need to be introduced to respond to the needs and dreams of the people in an economically reasonable, ecological, social and aesthetic way. Beauty and comfort as teaser – sustainability as underlying concept.

This text includes parts of the Phd of Anna Heringer.

Research work during the semester 2002 at the University of Art and Industrial Design Linz, Austria

Fieldwork in Bangladesh:
July - September 2001
Tobias Hagleitner, Anna Heringer, Petra Rager and Gunar Wilhelm with great support of Prodip F. Tigga and Dipshikha
Prof. Peter Kuglstätter

All photos and drawings by Team Rudrapur