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Permission for Use of Content: “The authors herewith permit it that the present dissertation be made available for consultation; parts of it may be copied, strictly for personal use. Every other use is subject to strict copyright reservations. Particular reference is made to the obligation of explicitly mentioning the source when quoting the present dissertation’s results.� Leuven, 2012 All images presented in this booklet are, unless credits are given, made or drawn by the authors.

Booklet 1: INTRODUCTION Acknowledgements 13 Problem Statement and Hypothesis 17 Structure 19 Principles, Methods and Limitations 23




We would like to express our gratitude to the people who made the outcome of this thesis possible. Our promotor, Prof. ir. Bruno De Meulder, for his expertise, flexibility and critical reflections during the making of our thesis. Kishwar Habib, our guidance, for her helpfulness, support and the organizing of the BUET-Workshop ‘[Re] Visiting Ramna/ [Re] Mapping the Place’ which added considerably to this thesis. Our local promotor, Prof. Qazi Azizul Mowla, for his advice and making our stay and fieldwork in Bangladesh possible. Prof. Dr. ir. Hilde Heynen, our co-promotor, for her advice during the workshop in Bangladesh. Arch. Leo Van Broeck for reading our thesis and his useful design advice. The family Habib, for their warm welcome, hospitality and providing us with a place to stay during the fieldwork period in Dhaka.

Mumit M., the photographer of the Daily Star, who provided us with his own beautiful pictures of the cultural events in Ramna Area. Everyone we met in Bangladesh who helped to complete our fieldwork in the best possible way: the participants of the BUET-workshop ‘[Re] Visiting Ramna/ [Re] Mapping the Place’, in particular Ahmed Hasib, who invited us to his parents’ house outside Dhaka and to his family house in Old Dhaka. Joris Schelfaut for his splendid sketches which are interwoven in the storylines of the Historical Overview. Leo Peeters and Gerda Raskin for their contributions to the finalization of the texts. And last but not least, our parents, family and friends for their continuous support during the past 5 years.

Architect Nurur Khan Rahman for the interesting discussions and the guided tour in Fine Arts Institute and the National Assembly Building. Architect Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury for the opportunity to visit the Liberation War Museum. Architect Marina Tabassum for providing us maps and pictures of the Liberation War Museum. Urban planner Salma A. Shafi for arranging visits to a slum settlement and a garment factory.



25 August 2011. Dhaka. Bangladesh Ramna. The centre of Dhaka. Bangladesh. We are looking for a bus back to our neighbourhood. No idea where to take the bus, no idea how to know which bus to take. Bangla is all Greek to us. We start shouting to every passing bus. ’MAHAKALI!’ ‘MAHOKOLI!’ ‘MOACHOKOALI!’ We still do not know how to pronounce the name of our neighbourhood. ‘MOHAKALI’ yells someone from a bus. His finger is pointing at us. Thumb sign. He knocks twice on the bus door. The bus slows down. We jump on it. Busses in Dhaka are always full but there is always place for someone extra. Ramna-Mohakali. 7 kilometres. One hour traffic jamming. In Dhaka there are more traffic jams then there are roads. In the end of the rainy season a bus in Dhaka seems like a sauna. Sweaty Bangladeshis are squeezing us to the back of the bus. We are sweating even more. We are leaking. All the eyes in the bus are pointed in our direction. There must be something very interesting. I look behind me. Nothing to see. They are looking at us. Thousands of eyes. Even more questions. ‘Can I speak to you? How are you? Where are you from?’ We pay 10 taka each. 40 taka in total. 40 taka equals 40 euro cent. In Belgium you can by 2 chewing gums with 40 cent. In Bangladesh 40 cent is a full plate of chicken birrani on the side of the road. The guy in front of me only paid 6 taka. The busboy tricked us for 4 taka. Rascal!






In a 15 million metropolitan giant where public space do not just mushroom every day, the only ‘public and accessible’ space is a precious good. The growing population will continue to put pressure on this area in the future. Therefore the quest is to maximize the use of every zone, if not, public life will burst out of its limits .

A not-defined design-intervention limited to the borders of Ramna Area that takes into account the context as such -both physical as sociopoliticalfuture developments and existing plans in Dhaka and Ramna. Interventions in other parts of the city are beyond the scope of the design-assignment.

Some limits are made visible in the Ramna Area in the form of physical boundaries. They cut through the city’s tissue and split it up in determined zones. Every group owns its patch. There is only little space left for ambiguity.

However, as the thesis will further explain, considering all large open spaces in Dhaka, this is the most realistic place for intervention. In this sense the thesis is not purely hypothetical but a relevant design assignment.

However even in the ambiguous zones where different social groups mix with each other, every group seems to be chained to its ‘place in society’. Osmosis through the borders of social groups occurs physically but the mental limits are fixed. The limit of the national Bengali identity is not yet fixed. This struggle is materialized in the Ramna Area where political slogans, street- and building names, national monuments and political demonstrations try to crystallize this identity.





MAIN STRUCTURE The 7 booklets -Introduction, Public Space, Ramna Area, Design Guide and the 3 Design booklets- can only be understood as a whole stretched together by 4 main design concerns. The process from analysis towards design was not a 2 step event. It was rather one of 2 steps forward, 3 back, 2 left, 1 forward and so on. A dialectical process of constant alternating between zooming in and zooming out. Making a ‘good’ design already implicates making a ‘good’ analysis. In that sense analysing is already designing and so these are not 2 separate components. After 2 months of fieldwork a general analysis was the starting point. Proceeding layer by layer, zooming in, zooming back out and zooming further in again the main design concerns bubbled up: segregation, gender, potential and contested space. Doing the process all over from the perspective of the main concerns resulted in a sharpened design directed analysis. STORY LINES The experience of living in Dhaka, the different opinions of the users of Ramna Area, the perception of different atmospheres and the importance of certain changes in history are not always easy to capture in objective scientific words or in one image. A sequence of fictive stories helps to transmit different perceptions and opinions. The backbone of this sequence is the story lines of the family Hasan and Basak. Their stories start in ancient times, proceed till present day and end up in the future when the design is built. These tales form a second leading tread running through the thesis.


Low Capacity

High Capacity

80% 20% Left to improve Left to improve HIGH LOW POTENTIAL POTENTIAL

POTENTIAL AND CAPACITY Using the metaphor of a barrel the capacity of a plot is the volume of the barrel. This can vary from a small volume to a large volume. The capacity depends on an accumulation of several parameters like the size of the space, the occupied footprint, the physical characteristics of the plot, the function, the position in the environment, the ability for multi- functionality and so on. The capacity is absolute. The potential says how empty the barrel is. How much there is left to improve. The potential is relative and thus can be captured by percentages. A high potential indicates that much is left to improve. A low potential indicates that very little is left to improve. The outcome results inter alia in a Potential Map that shows the potential of every plot. This visualizes which sites are left for improvement and which are already functioning at its maximum capacity.

High Capacity

High Potential

Bangla Academy plot

Low Capacity

Low Potential

Tomb of Kazi Nazrul Islam


The 2 examples below clarify the idea: Bangla Academy, a cultural important building where a yearly book fair is staged, contains a function that allows public life in its surroundings. Furthermore there are interesting objects like the water body and a couple of trees. Thus the Bangla Academy plot is a large barrel. The capacity is high. The building of the Bangla Academy only takes a small footprint on the plot. A wall cuts the place from its surroundings. On a regular day the site is almost not used. Thus the barrel is almost empty. It is a plot of high potential. The tomb of the national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam only takes a small footprint of the plot. However, to respect the value of this place it cannot just be used to play cricket. It is rather a monofunctional plot that does not permit many other activities and therefore it is a small barrel. The capacity is low. The site already fulfils the task of commemorating Kazi Nazrul Islam quiet well. Therefore the barrel is almost full. It is a plot of low potential.


SEGREGATION Segregation is related to both physical segregation and social segregation. Sometimes these two enforce each other but there is not always a direct relation between them. Although there are no physical boundaries social rules often chain people to their group. GENDER The gender issue has, to a large extent, to do with the segregation between man and women but because of the importance of this theme it is considered as a design concern on its own. CONTESTED SPACE This design concern is related with the colliding of different opinions and interests in public space,fear, and political/cultural/religious expression. Although every element is looked at in it specificity these 4 points form the main starting points. When dealing with one of these points it is made clear by the corresponding stamp.


PRINCIPLES 2 months of fieldwork form the basis of this thesis. With the term ‘fieldwork’ the whole of observations, interviews, information gathering and living in Dhaka is meant. The used observations methods are detailed logbook observations, quick counts, remapping and photography. The public of the interviews is composed of acknowledged Bengali architects and professors, journalists, the users of Ramna Area and officials related with the city management. Furthermore useful information of official and officious instances and architects linked with our thesis subject made an important contribution. Last but not least the experience of living during 2 months in Dhaka is a cornerstone of this project. It is a cliché to say that the contact with local people is essential to understand the local culture but nothing could be more true. Above all it helped not only to understand but also to feel the problems of living in a city as Dhaka. The fieldwork is completed with reading of related lecture and research, and observations made by students from BUET-university during the workshop ‘Remapping Ramna’, organized by our guidance Kishwar Habib. [Habib 2012] A field trip through the whole country, both through rural areas as other cities, contributed to a better understanding of Bangladesh and forms a basis for comparison. However the fieldwork and all the collected information form the principles, the essence of the thesis project is above all critical interpretation.



FIELDWORK METHODS Logbook Observations To be as accurate as possible a day time span was split into 5 time zones: morning from 5h till 9h, forenoon from 9h till 12h, noon from 12h till 2h, afternoon from 2h till 6h, evening from 6h till 23h and night from 23h till 5h. Because the first prayer is at 5 am this is when the day starts for many people. We chose noon from 12h till 2h because that is when most people have their lunch. 23h00 is the beginning of the night because then it is completely dark and many people have left the public space. Furthermore a distinction is made between weekdays and weekend days. In Bangladesh Fridays are free days because the main prayer is on Friday. The weekend is Friday and Saturday. The workweek starts on Sunday. To tackle the practical problem of the size of our thesis site the area is divided in manageable plots: Shahbag-Node, TSC-Node, Shaheed Minar, Suhrawardi Udyan and Ramna Park. Suhrawardi Udyan and Ramna Park are subdivided in 4 observation plots. Following a strict scheme every time zone and observation plot got filled in. The quantity of users and their location was marked according to a colour and symbol legend. This was completed with personal remarks. Quick counts The observations of Suhrawardi Udyan and Ramna Park are completed with quick counts. At the beginning of every time zone a quick count of the number of users of every observation plot was done. Counting the people passing an imaginary line walking around the whole plot in maximum 15 minutes reduced inaccuracies.

LIMITATIONS The stay in Dhaka lasted from 21 August until 23 October. This is the end of the rainy season in Bangladesh. Because of the limited time span the observations are moment dependent. During other moments in the year, when the climate is different or when there are special festivities, the behaviour of people will also be different. Nevertheless this was a quiet useful period to observe because of the switching climate –one day it was raining and clouded, the next it was hot and sunny- and because of the many special events occurring during this period. The accuracy of the observations and quick counts is because of practical reasons not 100 percent precise. However the strict division in time zones and observations plots reduced inaccuracies to a minimum. The fact that we, the observers, are not from Bangladesh is also an important factor to take into account. It is difficult to be an unnoticed observer if you are the only white person around. Direct interviews were only possible with people who know English and these people are mostly well educated people. Luckily some students of BUET-university were often willing to function as interpreter. Furthermore an observer from Belgium is not fully aware of the ‘stereotypes’ and ‘nuances’ in the society of Bangladesh. For example if a boy and a girl are sitting on a bench it is hard to distinguish if the girl is the girlfriend or a sex worker because sex workers in Bangladesh do not respond to the Western ‘stereotype’. On the other hand being a foreigner gives the logical advantage of the ability of comparison. What is common for someone from Bangladesh can be experienced as exotic for someone of another culture.

Remapping Although different maps of Ramna Area are available non of these are 100 percent correct. Therefore remapping the observation zones on a detailed level was necessary.




NOTE: All maps in the thesis are directed with the north facing the top of the page. 26


^ Based on worldmap [Graphics Factory CC (2009-2012]



INDIA p 3.287.263 km2 = 367 p/km2

NEPAL 29.890.686 p 147.181 km2 = 203 p/km2

CHINA 1.343.239.923 p 9.596.961 km2 = 140 p/km2

FRANCE 65.630.692 p 643.801 km2 = 102 p/km2

USA 313.847.465 p 9.826.675 km2 = 32 p/km2

BELGIUM 10.438.353 p 30.528 km2 = 342 p/km2

[CIA Factbook 2012]



Bangladesh lies on the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean and is surrounded almost completely by India except in the southeast with Myanmar. With a surface of 143.000 km2 it is only 5 times bigger than Belgium. But with the immense population of 158 million it takes the seventh place on the world ranking.

[CIA Factbook 2012]


Defining the city of Dhaka is no easy task. It is a megacity with a population of more than 16 million people covering an area of more than 1500 km2 (Dhaka Metropolitan Area). The Dhaka City Corporation (DCC), indicated in dark on the map on the next page, is host to 7 million people living together at a density of 23.000 p/km2. This is truly impressive, certainly when we compare this with some other well known examples of large cities and metropolitan areas like Paris, New York and Brussels. The metropolitan areas of Paris and New York also host millions of people (12 million and 22 million respectively) but they also occupy many thousands square kilometres of land (17.000 and 30.000 respectively). This in contrast with Dhaka’s Metropolitan Area where more than 16 million people live on only 1530 km2 of land. This density of almost 11.000 p/km2 is even denser as in New York City.

Map of divided Dhaka. Ramna area is situated in Dhaka South but adjacent to the border with Dhaka North. [PPG 2010]


DCC has the task of running the affairs of the city of Dhaka. The incorporated area is divided into 90 wards, each with an elected ward commissioner. Since 1994 the mayor of the city is elected by popular vote every five years. Recent actions by the Awami League government led to Amendment Act 2011 which divides Dhaka City Corporation in Dhaka South City Corporation and Dhaka North City Corporation on December 4th 2011. [DSCC 2011a] Opposition party BNP condemned the split and they even promised that once BNP returns to power they will scrape the split into North and South.


Brussels, Belgium

Dhaka, Bangladesh

1.119.088 p 161 km2 6934,39 p/km2

Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) 7.000.940 p 360 km2 23.029 p/km2 Dhaka Metropolitan Area (DMA) 16.623.000 p 1530 km2 10.865 p/km2

Paris, France 2.211.297 p 105 km2 20.980 p/km2 Aire Urbaine de Paris 12.089.098 p 17.175 km2 704 p/km2

New York, USA 8.175.133 p 783,8 km2 10.429,6 p/km2 Combined Statistical Area (CSA) 22.085.649 p 30.670 km2 720 p/km2

Sources Brussels: [NIS 2010] Paris: [INSEE 2010] New York: [NYC DCP 2010] [USCB 2009] Dhaka: [BBS 2008] [DSCC 2011b] > Map of Dhaka with the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) indicated in dark. [University Campus 2002-2003]






A historical overview on both the important events that shaped the present Bangladesh, the urban growth of Dhaka City and the prominent role the Ramna Area played and still plays in this evolution is situated in this chapter. By scrolling chronologically through the history different periods are marked, major personalities are mentioned and events by the people itself are explained. Using a timeline the consecutive sequence of the events is made clear and a map on every right page shows the, sometimes exponentially, growth of the city from a trifling riverside village to the present 16 million giant. Not only the spatial landscape has been reshaped by historical events but the people have been adapted through the ages as well. This led to some extent to a segregated society. How this social evolution took place and formed present-day Bangladesh society is explained in the final part of this chapter.


During the 9th and 13th century Vikrampur was the capital of the rulers of Bengal. The junction of rivers made the best spot for the establishment of administrative headquarters. In the late 13th century Vikrampur was replaced by Sonargaon. Sonargaon became an important seat of Government during the rule of the Hindu Deva dynasty. For about two hundred years Sonargaon maintained the dominant position in East Bengal. [Dani 2009]

At that time people of all origins and all religions lived in East Bengal, besides a Hindu majority, descendants of the Buddhist Pala dynasty and many followers of nature religions were present. [FDR 2010a] In 1608 the Mughal governor Islam Khan crushed Sonargaon and left the city desolate. He built the new capital at Dhaka. The Mughal Emperors were descendants of Genghis Khan. In the late 17th and early 18th century, the Mughals were at the top of their power and they controlled most of the Indian Subcontinent. [Dani 2009] Before the arrival of the Mughals the Indian Subcontinent and particularly Bengal was already introduced with the Islam by Arabic traders but the Mughal rule formed the base for both the Indo-Persian culture as for the spread of Islam. [Ikram 1964]

^ Based on map showing Pre-Mughal situation of region around Dhaka. [Dani 2009]

After the victory of governor Islam Khan the modest Mughal outpost suddenly grew into an important city and a new Mughal Dhaka had to be quickly built up to accommodate the new arrivals. He renamed the city Jahangirnagar in honour of the reigning sovereign Jahangir. [Dani 2009] In the Pre-Mughal period nothing is mentioned about the Ramna Area as such.

< Based on map showing the demarcation between Pre-Mughal & Mughal Dacca. [Dani 2009]



< Based on map showing the demarcation between Pre-Mughal & Mughal Daccaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; [Dani 2009]


BASAK. 05 June 1340. Dhaka. Father Basak lets his paddle rest on the edge of the boat. His arms are tired. The nose of the boat slips on the muddy shore. He weeps the dirt of his forehead. It has been a long trip. The family Basak arrived at Dhaka. A small village at the borders of an immense water mass. From a distance it looks like a solid road resting in the landscape, but actually millions of gallons of water rush by in the blink of an eye. What he does not know yet is that this water will not only bring rich soil from the mountains but also strange people and exotic goods from all over the world. The Buriganga forms a gate that opens to the rest of the world.



HASAN. 22 June 1235. Kashimpur A tear trickles down on Hasanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cheek. He is looking at the place where his house used to stand. Some wooden beams are stuck in the new river shore. In Bangladesh water not only shapes the land, but writes the story of everyday life. A story of giving and taking. Water has no mercy. Heavy rains, melting water descending from the Himalaya, rising seawater conquering precious farmland and heavy torments coming together can shift the Buriganga river in an eyewink. The family Hasan decides to move to Shifipur. One of the many little villages in the surroundings. Once again they have to built up a new life. New village, new house, new neighbours, new friends, new chiefâ&#x20AC;Ś being kind is a way of survival in Pre-Mughal Bangladesh. Nature made what Bengalis are known for today: friendly and tough people.


The Mughals removed the capital from Rajmahal (India) to Dhaka. From 1608 to 1717 Dhaka remained the administrative capital. There was no break in the expansion of the city. Dhaka reached its greatest extent under the Mughals, in which the Mughal governors played an important role. The importance of Dhaka is not only due to its status of capital of the province, but also in monopolising the trade and commerce. An artificial canal starts from Buriganga and joins the branch of the Dulai River that divides the city into two halves. This canal is undoubtedly artificial and appears to have been dug by Islam Khan to serve as a protective moat to his new settlement. The part of the city which was surrounded by this moat, the two branches of Dulai River and the river Buriganga, formed the old part. Dhaka at that time can be seen as a sequence of the river - the city - the gardens. The banks of the river Buriganga are entirely built up by merchants and a few miles away from the borders of the river, big enclosed gardens with palaces are developed. These occur in the area nowadays called Ramna. This house-in-a-garden type of buildings was very popular for wealthy residents of Dhaka during Mughal times. The history of Ramna begins in 1608 during the Mughal Rule. Two localities in the Ramna Area were settled and these localities consist of two or three storied mansions, bungalows, spacious halls for reception, gardens, mosques, tombs and temples. [Dani 2009]

Bagh-i-Badshahi is the name of the Imperial Garden at Jahangirnagar, where Islam Khan was originally buried. This garden is approximately located in the area where the modern High Court building and Racecourse are situated. The present Shahbag, one of the most dense transportation hubs of the city, lies on its western border and preserves the old name. < Based on map showing the demarcation between Pre-Mughal & Mughal Dacca. [Dani 2009]




1608 - 1717

< Based on map showing the demarcation between Pre-Mughal & Mughal Dacca’ [Dani 2009]


During the reign of governor Shaista Khan, 1666-1688, the city of Dhaka extended to its fullest limit. The area embraced 100 km2. It stretched from Demra Khal in the east to Mirpur in the west and from Buriganga in the south to Tongi in the north. With the departure of Shaista Khan the fortunes of Dhaka gradually ebbed. His successors were given to pleasure and greed. In 1706 the prime position, which Dhaka held for about one hundred years as the provincial capital of the Mughals in Bengal, departed forever, never to come back in the time of the Mughals. Ramna lost much of its glory and was transformed into a barren area with bushes and abandoned buildings, old temples and tombs. On the transfer of the capital to Murshidabad (India), Dhaka became the seat of a Naib Nazim (deputy governor), who was appointed by the governor. Under them the administration of the city declined. Trade and commerce moved to Murshidabad. The population thinned and the city impoverished. The Mughal Nawabs could not see the great change that was going on in the country before their very eyes. They were happy to maintain their precarious hold over a decrepit land-system, the produce of which has gone into the hands of the business class. Among them the European Companies were the most dominant. [Dani 2009] The map on the right also shows two famous temples of Dhaka. In the Ramna area the Ramna Kali Mandir is located, which was one of the most renowned Hindu temple complexes of the city. However this temple was destroyed by the Pakistani army in the Liberation War. A memorial site can be found today in Suhrawardi Udyan park. The other temple, called Dakeshwari Temple, is the oldest temple of the city.

< Based on Mughal map of Dhaka. [Dani 2009]



< Based on Mughal map of Dhaka. [Dani 2009]


BASAK. 3 July 1705. Dhaka. Ramna. Shouting venders. Stands bulging out of fresh fruits. People crisscrossing. Now and then you can hear some French, Dutch, Portuguese and English words on the streets. The 17th century is the ‘Golden Era’ of Dhaka. ‘The city of 52 markets and 53 lanes’. A metropolis of almost 1 million inhabitants. The family Basak is doing good business. Life is fine in the Ramna area. A zone at the border of the restless city where the family Basak finds ease in the soothing pleasure gardens. The Basaks are what they call a ‘Bhodorock’ family. This is the Hindu version of a Muslim Zamindar family. People at the upper strata of society. Since the arrival of the Mughals they could strengthen their position at the top of the pyramid and they found good companions in their Muslim friends.


HASAN. 3 February 1707. Shifipur There is a new boss in town. A â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Zamindarâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; they call him. The peasants have to pay him some taxes, but they still possess their own ground. Life is not easy for the family Hasan but it is ok. The Mughals did not only bring a tax system, new irrigation techniques and exotic architecture but also a new religion: the Islam. Today father Hasan went for the first time to the mosque. A mysterious place. People making strange movements and shouting words he could not understand to someone he could not see. Judging by the amount of villagers in the mosque it must be an experience worth it.


Riverfront of the Buriganga with the European factories visually dominant. [Mowla 2011]

Many foreign nations resort to this city on account of its vast trade and commerce in great variety of commodities, which are produced in profusion in the rich and fertile lands of this region. The Portuguese and Dutch established their mission in the beginning of the 17th century, the English mid 17th century and the French at the end of the 17th century. Afterwards the Armenians (early part of the 18th century) and the Greek (mid 18th century) settled in Dhaka. The Holy Rosary Church in the Tejgaon area was built by the Portuguese in 1677. These foreign trading companies settled their business by the riverside of Buriganga River and set up their garden-house in Tejgaon. [Dani 2009] In the second part of the 18th century Dhaka experienced disastrous famines, floods and fires resulting in a decline in population. Also Calcutta, as the Capital of British India, enjoyed the patronage of the rulers, which caused development in Dhaka to stagnate. [DSCC 2011c] The acquisition of Diwani (civil administration) of Bengal in 1765 by the British India Company was a significant change in the governance of the province and this affected the status of Dhaka initiating a gradual decline in its importance. [Chowdhury 2006] The nearly two centuries of British colonial rule went hand in hand with the emergence of a colonial architectural style that was significantly different from the earlier Mughal style. The Indo-Saracenic Revival Architecture is a great example of this colonial style. In Dhaka buildings like Ahsan Manzil and Curzon hall are a representation of this architecture. The European influenced buildings were modified in later periods to accommodate local climate. [Dani 2009]

< Map based on Dacca, or Jehangir Nagar (after Rennel) [Dani 2009]


HISTORICAL OVERVIEW_BRITISH EAST INDIA COMPANY European Trading Companies in 17th and 18th Century

< Based on map Dacca, or Jehangir Nagar (after Rennel) [Dani 2009]


The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 initiated the formal British rule in India with the transfer of governance from the East India Company to the British Crown in 1858. [Chowdhury 2006]

In 1825 Mr Dowes, the British collector of Dhaka, cleared up the bushes and demolished most tombs and monuments except the Ramna Kali Mandir (temple of goddess Kali). [Rahman 2006] The renovated area was given the name of Ramna Green and was fenced by a boundary for using it as a Racecourse. Kali Mandir stood in the centre of the racecourse, but was totally destroyed by the Pakistani Army in 1971. The horse race became very popular in Dhaka under the patronization of the Nawabs of Dhaka. The Nawabs developed the area as a beautiful garden and named a part of it as Shahbagh, the royal garden. [Rahman 2006] In the British period, the term Nawab was used for a state conferred honorary title of rank without any official attachment. The term is originating from the Mughal administrative hierarchy where nawab indicated a political rank and power. [Islam 2006a]

The map shows a distinction between the built up space mainly on the border of the Buriganga river and the open lands more in the north adjacent to the Racecourse. In 1841 Dhaka College was founded by Dr. James Taylor on the grounds of an English factory close to the river. [Rahman 2006]

^ The Ramna Racecourse used for recreation during the British rule.


< Based on the 1859 map City of Dacca included Cantonments. [Dani 2009]



< Based on the 1859 map City of Dacca included Cantonments. [Dani 2009]


19th century view on the Buriganga river facade with on the right Ahsan Manzil. [Mowla 2011]

Due to the gaining of importance in terms of commerce and administration, the colonial authorities took efforts to make Dhaka an important centre in East Bengal and the city started to grow again. The bulk of the building activity comprised of administrative, educational, religious and residential. In their design the European influence is clear. A good example is the developed residential area in the north-east of the Dhaka Club. This part was designed for luxury houses for wealthy and prominent citizens. [Islam 2011]

At the river Buriganga two important buildings were constructed at that time. The Ruplal House was owned by a rich merchant family who renovated it in a neo-classical style. Ahsan Manzil was built by the Nawab of Dhaka between 1859 and 1872. Together they were the ornament of the city arriving from the Buriganga river. [Chowdhury 2006] In 1911 British civilians established the Dhaka Club on the northern corner of the Racecourse, an elite club for British, other European people and local elite living in Dhaka. [Islam 2006b] By the end of the 19th century it was decided to shift Dhaka College from its existing premises to a more spacious site at the northern suburbs of Ramna. The construction of the college building called Curzon Hall, named after Lord Curzon, began in 1904 and the college was shifted in 1908. The Curzon Hall is an important example of Indo-Saracen style initiated by the British colonial rulers that was mostly used in academic institutions. [Islam 2011]

The layout of the railway in 1885-1886 introduced a new perception of the city. The railway was laid out around Ramna to save the precious gardens. As this railway served as the new economical vein through the city, the riverside lost much of its importance and the facade with its monumental buildings was partially neglected. As it were the city turned her back to the river. [Chowdhury 2006] The map on the next page shows the situation in 1905 when the decision was made to partition Bengal and to make Dhaka the capital of the province of East Bengal and Assam. This did not work out great and the situation was reverted in 1911. [Mowla 2011] In history the city of Dhaka has shifted in a northward direction and the gravity point of the city also moved away from the river. However the Ramna Area maintained its importance from the moment the British began to develop the area. [Mowla 2011]

^ The British influences are still visible in the city layout of Dhaka. The former railway is still a clear border between Old Dhaka and the rest of the city. In colonial times the city expanded perpendicular to the river and a new civil station was established in the area around the Racecourse. Civil station indicates a new development which will increase growth of the city and will become the centre of this city. The British established all kinds of civic functions like court buildings and educational infrastructure which encouraged future developments. [Mowla 2011]

< Based on a 1905-1911 map. [Mowla 2011]



CROWN 1857 - 1947

< Based on a 1905-1911 map. [Mowla 2011]


The much controversial decision of partitioning Bengal in 1905 had to be reverted in 1911. This short-lived decision saw the establishment of Dhaka as the capital of the newly created province of East Bengal and Assam. Attainment of the capital status in 1905 witnessed a significant expansion of the city, particularly in the Ramna Area, with a number of buildings getting constructed in the expanded part and they constituted the main facilities for the administration of the newly created province.

The climax of educational developments in Dhaka was reached in 1921 with the foundation of the University of Dhaka. It reintegrated a relatively backward Muslim community in the society and gradually developed into a powerful seat of the movement for freedom for the subcontinent from British colonial rule. Educational progress has reached such a scale that Dhaka has not only a large student population but also much of the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s political, economic, social and cultural life moves around the educational institutions and students. [Islam 2011]

In the late 19th century the area around the Racecourse was mostly used as pleasure gardens for the Nawabs of Dhaka. They established their pleasure pavilions in the green gardens on the northern end of the city called Shahbag. In the late 19th century and early 20th century landlords and merchants built many houses and the noteworthy among them are the Rose Garden, Shankanidhi House an Bhajahari Lodge. Adjacent to the High Court building some beautiful residential houses for the judges and top bureaucrats were built.

^ From top to bottom [British Library]: 1 Picture of the High Court entrance showing the Old High Court Gate. 2 One of the Nawabs pleasure Pavilions in the Shahbagh Gardens. 3 Picture of the Ramna Deer Park made by the Nawabs of Dhaka around 1875. 4 Garden House at Dilkusha, close to the Zoological Gardens. < Based on the 1924 Dacca Map [Mowla 2011]


HISTORICAL OVERVIEW_BRITISH CROWN partitioning of Bengal 1905 - 1911

< Based on the 1924 Dacca Map [Mowla 2011]


BASAK. 10 December 1812. Dhaka. The family Basak does not complain about their new ‘bosses’. Dhaka is just a glimpse of the shining capital of the Golden Era but for people at the top of society life is not getting worse at all. The British gave them a good tool to strengthen their positions at the top of the pyramid by means of tax rules and the possession of peasants’ land rights. British politics of indirect rule oblige them to give a share of their profit to the colonial ruler, but there is left more than enough to live a good life. Actually they do not have to worry about anything. Under the British rule they made up their own little top-down feudal structures. They are standing at the top. No idea who is at the bottom.


HASAN. 15 December 1804. Dubail. ‘The British will raise the taxes AGAIN!’ Father Hasan smacks the door. He has never seen a British but he knows he has to pay taxes to them. Hard times for the family. They had to move to another village again because the flash-floods took away their house and they lost the rights of the land they just bought in the new village. Because ‘the British’ say so. Father Hasan does not understand why he lost the land rights and why he has to pay so much tax. He has not even seen the Zamindar of Dubail. The Zamindar has his own little helpers to collect ‘what belongs to him’. Judging by the size of his residence he definitely did not lose any money since the British arrived.


The partition of Bengal led to the Nationalist or Swadeshi Movement (part of the Indian Independence Movement). Dhaka played an important role the following years in the independence movement against the British rule. This led to the separation of India and Pakistan in 1947 as independent countries. One of the main reasons for the separation was the dissimilarity about religion. This clarifies the borders between the countries and the fact that East- and West-Pakistan together formed Pakistan but India was situated right in between. Dhaka became the capital of East Pakistan but the city witnessed major communal violence following the partition with India. The best example is the influx of Muslims and the large emigration of Hindus to India the years after the partition. More than 3 million Hindus may have migrated from East-Pakistan and during the same period some 864,000 Muslim refugees immigrated to East-Pakistan. [FDR 2010b]

As capital of East Pakistan the official need for government buildings was fulfilled and many of those buildings were constructed in the Ramna Area. During that period the High Court buildings were developed and University facilities spread in the campus area. North of Ramna the Tejgaon Airport and Tejgaon industrial area were developed by the government in the early 1950â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s. The creation of Pakistan did not fulfil the economic hopes of the people of East Pakistan. That fact in combination with the declaration that Urdu shall be the state language of Pakistan sparked the creation of the Language Movement. That continuous activity of the Language Movement eventually led to the founding of an own country.

In Bangladesh an apparent onrush to the cities, and particularly Dhaka, caused the appearance of new residential settlements in vacant areas within the city as well as in the outskirts. From 1947 to 1962 the city grew from 16 km2 to 65 km2. These residential areas were found on higher grounds mainly in the surroundings of Ramna.

< Based on the map City of Dacca 1952. [Survey of Pakistan offices in Dacca]


HISTORICAL OVERVIEW_EAST PAKISTAN Separation of India and Pakistan in 1947

< Based on the map City of Dacca 1952. [Survey of Pakistan offices in Dacca]


From the start in 1947 the people of East Pakistan felt deprived but when in 1948 the Government of Pakistan ordained Urdu as the sole national language extensive protests, called Bhasha Andolon, sparked among the Bengali-speaking majority of East Pakistan. Public meetings and rallies were outlawed by the government but at the campus of the University of Dhaka students and other political activists kept the protest going. This led to a climax on 21 February 1952 when they organised a protest at the University premises. During struggles between students and the police several students were killed. These happenings provoked widespread civil unrest in the city led by the Awami Muslim League. This political party was established as the Bengali alternative to the domination of the Muslim League in Pakistan. Later on this party will be renamed as Awami League and will play a prominent role in the struggle for independence. In 1956 the central government granted official status to the Bengali language.

In Dhaka the events of this day are commemorated at the Shaheed Minar, a stylistic representation of a mother and her children, representing Bangla the mother and Bengalis, her children. This monument is located near Dhaka Medical College which also acted as the frontline on that particular day in 1952. Nowadays 21 February is celebrated worldwide as International Mother Language Day and in Dhaka on this day many people come together in the Ramna Area to celebrate the Bangla language. The language movement catalysed the assertion of Bengali national identity in East Pakistan and became a forerunner to Bengali Nationalist Movements leading to the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. [Helal 2006]

^ top: Students protest at the University of Dhaka on 21 February 1952 [IIBB] bottom: Monument of Shaheed Minar near Dhaka Medical College

< Based on the map City of Dacca 1952. [Survey of Pakistan offices in Dacca]



21 February 1952 Student meeting at 11AM on the Dhaka University Campus close to the Medical College Hospital. Clashes between students an police resulted in the death of three young men. At the same time at the Legislative Assembly Building a session about the state language is held. Some members of the Assembly went out and joined the students. 22 February 1952 Public demonstrations occurred again resulting in police reprisals. During a morning procession, dedicated to the dead of the day before, the crowd was attacked again by the police and the army resulting in several deaths. 23 February 1952 On the spot where the students had been killed, next to the Medical College a memorial was erected. 1963 The temporary structure was replaced by a concrete memorial, the Shaheed Minar. [Helal 2006]

< Based on the map City of Dacca 1952. [Survey of Pakistan offices in Dacca]


The map of 1960 shows that in the Ramna Area many new buildings have been constructed, particularly around the site of the Racecourse. The University site in the west of the Racecourse extended with several institutions like the Public Library and the Arts Institute, today known as Fine Arts Institute. In fact Dhaka University occupied the whole of Nilkhet and a part of Shahbagh. Opposite to the High Court Building another educational institution, the Bangla Academy, was created, nowadays home to a leading book publisher and the site of the annual book fair. On the site of the High Court the Institute of Engineering was located. This remained on the same location until today and is a popular place for students as they frequently host music concerts for the young generation. Students of the Medical University played an important role during the Language Movement and this building was renamed to Medical College Hospital. Today the area around the hospital, located near the Shaheed Minar monument, is a crowded place with people from all over the city.

In the western part called Purana Paltan an open area was developed with the Dhaka Stadium and the Zia Avenue which formed the main thoroughfare by the western side of this expansive open area. Later on the stadiumâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s name changed into Bangabandhu National Stadium and the street to Bangabandhu Avenue. To cope with a need for more houses, the Dhanmondi Residential Area was developed in 1955. This is a good example of a planned neighbourhood with streets laid out in a strict pattern. [Nilufar 2010]

On the eastern side of the Racecourse the Pakistani Government implemented some institutional buildings like the Pakistan Secretariat and the DIT building (Dhaka Improvement Trust). Other facilities like the first Dhaka Museum in the south and the Shahbag Hotel north of the Racecourse were also implemented in that time. Other regions were developed in the Ramna Area, for example just west of the rail line a vast commercial complex called New Market was set up in 1954. Even today, with a huge offer of shopping complexes around the city, New Market still plays an important role for commercial purposes. [Media Bangladesh 2012]

< Based on the 1960 map Dacca city and surrounding [Surveyor General of Pakistan]



PAKISTAN 1947 - 1971

< Based on the 1960 map Dacca city and surrounding [Surveyor General of Pakistan]


In the second part of the 1960’s the decision to locate a second capital of Pakistan at Dhaka was taken and Sher-e-Bangla Nagar was established in the area west of the Tejgaon Farm and the Airport. The famous American architect Louis Kahn completed this building mid-1980’s and it comprises 400 hectares. The Pakistani Government created DIT (Dhaka Improvement Trust) in 1956. This institution was responsible for a planned development of Dhaka City. From that moment on they developed many residential areas like Gulshan Model Town (1961), nowadays one of the wealthiest wards of Dhaka, Mohammadpur (end 50’s), Mirpur (1962), Banani (1964), Uttara (1965), and Baridhara (1972). In the mid-1960’s the railway track was shifted and a new railway station was built at Kamalapur. The following years the old railway track was transformed into Sonargaon Road. This street still acts as a border between two parts of the city with contrasting characters: in the south the Mughal (Old) Dhaka with its winding streets and crowded dwellings and a northern part with planned spacious extensions (New Dhaka). [Nilufar 2010]

< Based on a map of Dhaka City of 1990. [DCM]



< Based on a map of Dhaka City of 1990. [DCM]


BASAK. 10 July 1961. Dhaka. Old Dhaka Since the Pakistanis are in charge things changed. Hindus leave, Muslims arrive. Friends and families are torn apart. Even for a wealthy Bhodorock family the situation is very difficult. They are one of the very few Hindus who stayed in Dhaka. The family lost its respect. That you notice by the looks on the street. Bitan is frustrated. For centuries and centuries his family has been respected but it seems like changing the countries name wiped out all that history as it meant nothing. At the upper strata of society competition is tough for a Hindu family. They have to compete with top Pakistani militaries and new industrials supported by the Pakistan government.


HASAN. 5 August 1960. Dhaka. Ramna. Some children are splashing in a water pool. A woman is squatted on the side. It is not easy to wash the dishes in the muddy water. The dinner was fine. Chicken birrani. Heated on a traditional clay oven. This is not a scene from the countryside. This is a slum squeezed in between the posh Sonargaon hotel and some concrete skyscrapers. This is the centre of Dhaka. A 6 million metropolitan giant. It is not easy to fit a rural life into a concrete jungle. Hasib thinks about his old village in the countryside. Flash-floods transformed his village into a riverbed. For generations and generations his family has been moving from site to site but this time there is no space left in the countryside to rebuild a new village. Migrating to the city seemed to be the shortest way to a better future. Millions of rural migrants will follow his example.


Ever since independence from Britain in 1947, the relations between the two wings of Pakistan had been strained due to a series of questions about land reforms, provincial autonomy, the defence of East Pakistan and the state language which led already to the Language Movement in 1952. One man above all acted as the main character in the struggle for independence, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. During his student years he already acquired status as an intense political activist and in the 1950’s he joined the Awami League political party. He appeared as the undaunted advocate of the Bengali interests from the start, but however grew in political eminence in the early 1960’s. He was taken prisoner by the Pakistani several times. However on 23 February 1969, the day after his release from jail, a mass reception for him was held at Ramna Racecourse and he was given the title Bangabandhu, Friend of the Bengalis. At the general elections of December 1970 he was made the sole spokesman of East Pakistan as all Bengali people were rallying around his famous six-point doctrine named ‘Our (Bengalis) Charter of Survival’. On 3 January 1971 he organised a solemn ceremony at Ramna Racecourse where he took an oath never to deviate from the six-point idea when framing the constitution for Pakistan. An all-out non-cooperation movement was exclaimed supported by the whole province from 2 to 25 March. During this period Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the de facto head of government of the province. In his famous speech on 7 March 1971 he addressed specific charges against the Pakistani Government which failed to transfer power to the elected representatives. A mammoth crowd attended this gathering at the Racecourse. “Build forts in each homestead. You must resist the Pakistani enemy with whatever you have in hand... we shall liberate the people of this country, Insha Allah ..The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation, the struggle this time is the struggle for independence. JOY BANGLA!” A dialogue between Yahya Khan, president of Pakistan


and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from 16 to 25 March did not bring any solutions and at mid-night of 25 March 1971, the Pakistan army launched its brutal crackdown in Dhaka, called Operation Searchlight. That night many intellectuals, among them many Awami League politicians, University professors and mostly Hindus, were brutally killed by the Pakistan army. The same night Mujibur Rahman was taken prisoner and lifted to West Pakistan. Major Ziaur Rahman announced Bangladesh’s independence on behalf of Mujibur from a radio station in Chittagong. 26 March 1971 counts as the official beginning of the War of Liberation. [BGA 2012] On April 10 1971 an exile government, The People’s Republic of Bangladesh, was formed headed by Tajuddin Ahmed. They organised the military resistance in Bangladesh and when India and the Soviet-Union signed the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty, a new dimension was given to the War. They offered military aid to Bangladesh and India opened her borders to refugees on the run for the devastation. On 16 December 1971 at one minute past 5PM the instrument of surrender was signed by Lieutenant Jagit Sing Aurora and Lieutenant General Niazi at Ramna Racecourse. This event entails the official end of the Liberation War and the Independence of Bangladesh. Throughout the period of the War of Liberation, Sheikh Mujib’s charisma worked as the source of national unity and strength. After the liberation of Bangladesh, Mujibur Rahman was released from jail and via London he arrived in Dhaka on 10 January 1972. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the first Prime Minister of the newly liberated country. The assassination of the intellectuals caused many difficulties for Mujibur when building up his new country. On 17 March 1972 the official inauguration of Bangladesh took place at the Ramna Racecourse. Mujibur Rahman together with the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi addressed the huge crowd attending the ceremony. [Sheren 2006]

From top to bottom: Poster with portrait of the ‘Father of the Nation’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Famous speech at Ramna Racecourse. Surrendering of Pakistani army. [The Liberation Times 1971] Bangabandhu’s arrival at Tejgaon Airport. [The Daily Sun 2012]

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW_LIBERATION WAR 26 March 1971 - 16 December 1971

27 February 1969 Reception for Mujibur Rahman and named Bangabandhu 3 January 1971 Ceremony where Bangabandhu explains his Six-Point program 7 March 1971 Famous speech of Mujibur Rahman against Pakistani Government 26 March 1971 Operation Searchlight attacks in the Ramna area 27 March 1971 Ramna Kali Mandir Temple destroyed by Pakistani army 16 December 1971 Surrendering of Pakistan signed 10 January 1972 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman arrives at Tejgaon Airport 17 March 1972 Official inauguration of Bangladesh with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi [Rahman 2006]



BASAK. 7 March 1971. Suhrawardi Udyan ‘JOY BANGLA’ shouts Bidhan to a skinny guy standing next to him. Bidhan is overwhelmed with emotions. This is the moment where he has been waiting for! This is the moment that will end the humiliation of his family. From now on Hindus and Muslims will be equal. All Bengalis will be the same! HASAN. 7 March 1971. Suhrawardi Udyan ‘This time the struggle is for our freedom, this time the struggle is for our independence! JOY BANGLA!’ Blood is pumping through Hasib’s vanes. His eyes are pinned on Mujibur Rahman. Words of freedom echo through the speakers. Words of a better future. Words of equality. Words of a united Bangladesh. Joy Bangla! Tears are blinking on the cheeks of the man next to him. Bidhan Basak is his name. ‘JOY BANGLA!’ they shout to each other. Hasib does not see that Bidhan is wearing a posh costume. He only sees Bengalis. Thousands of them. Millions. Gathered in a former racecourse next to the campus area. This is not just a place. This is ‘holy’ ground. The soil they are standing on is drenched with blood from the brave students who fought for the freedom of their mother language. A few days later the Pakistan army started the systematic killing of many leading Bengali intellectuals and everyone in suspicion of opposition. This was just the beginning of a horrible Liberation War words cannot describe.


City development in Dhaka in the last two decades is regulated by the DMDP (Dhaka Metropolitan Development Planning) which was implemented in 1995 and provides a long-term strategy for 20 years. The plan anticipates on an urban growth with a population target of 15 million. Preservation of waterways in and around the city and retention ponds around the city limits for retaining rain water are some key elements integrated in the plan. The provisions of the DMDP Structure Plan have been implemented through Detailed Area Plans (DAP). [RAJUK 2011]

Many planned areas have been developed in and around Dhaka starting in the 1950â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s. These were mainly residential areas each of them organizing the planned area as a part of the whole system. Each area has gained strong focus on its own local spine where in recent times commercial functions have start to grow. The planned areas are characterized by organic land use transformations beyond the rigid planning rationality. This resulted in planned residential areas which became transformed into an unplanned state in relation to their physical layout and distribution of non-residential function. [Khan & Nilufar 2009] Due to the enormous increase in population, already from the 1950â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s but with an exponential growth during the last few decades, the planned residential areas, mainly located at the fringes, are now surrounded by high density low income living. These also occupy the low lying or water lands originally left open in the Structure Plan.

^ Map of DMDP Structure Plan by RAJUK for a period from 1995 to 2015 [RAJUK 2011]

As a consequence that great part of lands have become private property, the implementation of the initial plans of Government planning organisations like RAJUK and the National Housing Authority, are complicated. Many private owners are not concerned about planning, but seek for fast cash and squeeze in as many houses as possible often creating slum settlements. Today more than 3 million people are living in slums scattered over the city of Dhaka. [See Booklet Public Space, Classification of Open Spaces in Dhaka, Slums] Based on Google Earth map Dhaka. [Google Earth 2006]



Based on Google Earth map Dhaka. [Google Earth 2006]


THE FORMATION OF A NEW STATE The constitution of the new formed Bangladesh was based on the principles of ‘nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism’. Hopes to translate these values from a phrase on a sheet of paper into real life where high. Though soon became clear that Mujibur Rahman was more effective as an opposition leader than he was as a statesman. [Van Schendel 2009] However, rising a war damaged country from its ashes was not an easy task at all. The war left not only a heavily material damaged country but also a human devastation: millions of wives were raped, a great tension between freedom fighters and collaborators merged and moreover due to actions like ‘Operation Searchlight’ Bangladesh was largely decapitated from its leading intellectuals. Many national top positions in the new state had to be occupied by inexperienced middle rank people from provincial governments. Furthermore the international economics were not going well. [Van Schendel 2009] Concluding the circumstances were not ideal to settle a new state. MILITARY RULE After the assassination of Mujibur Rahman, Major-General Ziaur Rahman, popularly known as General Zia, gained power by a military coup. Dreams of millions of Bangladeshis of a popular democracy turned into a military rule that lasted until 1990. [Van Schendel 2009] The Zia regime set the country on a course of liberalization from which it has not deviated since then.[Van Schendel 2011] Nationalized enterprises were handed back to their former owners and the private sector was favoured. The military forces gained a lot of power and today they still are a strong political entity. In Dhaka the ad hoc location of high rise residential areas and garment factories, a street image dominated by commercial billboards and the military cantonment occupying a large piece of flooding safe land show the influence of the capitalist evolution originated by the Zia Regime. Dhaka stands closer to


a ‘capitalist anarchy’ than the socialist values of the promising constitution. [Islam 1992] OTHER RULERS SAME SOCIAL STRUCTURE Actually there can be seen a parallel between the ‘revolutions’ of the 50’s and the 70’s: high hopes for democracy were soon dashed by an autocratic regime. The Independence from Pakistan exchanged the old regime for a new one, but this did not bring a social revolution. On the contrary the liberal policy widened the gap between the top of the society and the rest. [Van Schendel 2009] ‘REAL’ DEMOCRACY Ziaur Rahman was followed by another general, Hussain Muhammed Ershad (1982-1990). A popular uprising expelled Ershad in the 90’s. This was a fresh start for a ‘truly’ democratic Bangladesh. [Van Schendel

^ ‘Bangabundhu’ (Father of the Nation) Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. [Awami League 2012]


From this moment the political landscape was dominated by a still ongoing struggle between the two political parties: the BNP of Ziaur Rahman - today headed by his widow Khaleda Zia- on the one hand, and the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman today headed by his daughter Sheikh Hasina- on the other. These parties embody respectively the Bengali and Bangladeshi ideology [Wahid 2011]. BENGALI The Awami League of Mujibur Rahman’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, embodies the Bengali feeling. They emphasize the Bengali culture above religion and their focal point of independence is the Liberation War of 1971. This ‘narrative’ emerged when Pakistan was liberated from India. East-Pakistan was economically and institutionally deprived from West-Pakistan and moreover the Pakistan government imposed the Urdu language. The people of East-Pakistan reacted by stressing their Bengali culture and language over the religious link with West-Pakistan. Bengali music, art, books, literature and architecture expressed this feeling and were actively used to enforce it.

^ Sheikh Hasina. The daughter of Mujibur Rahman and today’s chairperson of the Awami League. [Awami League 2012]


HISTORY 1971-Today

During the momentum just after the independence of Bangladesh this narrative is said to be supported by ‘everybody’ from Bangladesh. It unified different groups and religions of society. As a famous poster demonstrates, a general feeling of generosity and inclusion was latent. [Van Schendel 2009] The Bengali ideology was used to legitimize the formation of a new country in that period. Later on this transcending Bengali nationalist feeling was remoulded into one of the two mainstreams. ^General Ziaur Rahman. [BNP 2012].

^ Khaleda Zia. The widow of Ziaur Rahman and today’s chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationlist Party. [Reuters 2009]

BANGLADESHI The BNP of General Zia’s widow Khaleda Zia embodies the Bangladeshi feeling. They emphasize the Muslim religion above Bengali culture. In their view the period of East-Pakistan was an essential and necessary phase in the process towards an independent Bangladesh. Their focal point of independence is the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. This ‘narrative’ developed during the rule of General Zia. Religious education was made compulsory, the role of Mujibur Rahman during Liberation War was minimized and the role of General Zia emphasized, words and songs linked with the Bengali culture were censured from National Radio and Television, and other actions helped to establish the Bangladeshi idea. The struggle between the Bengali and Bangladeshi ideology still divides the society of Bangladesh today.

^ The poster shows a Hindu temple, a mosque, a pagoda and a church all together. The text says: ‘Bengal’s Hindus, Bengal’s Christians, Bengal’s Buddhists, Bengal’s Muslims. We are all Bengalis!’. [Van Schendel 2009].


PRE-MUGHAL In times when technology was limited, the constant changing natural environment of the delta region shaped the specific socio-economical and political structures of this region. It was characterized by constantly varying fragmented hamlets and frequent conflicts. Attempts to integrate these pieces into larger political entities were unsuccessful. Every hamlet had it own social structure but because of the limited scale and duration it was difficult to merge stable structures. [Van Schendel 2009] MUGHALS The Mughals were the first who succeeded in establishing a relatively integrated political system. They introduced a structure of local centralized authorities. Local landlords -known as Zamindarswere in charge. These Zamindars differed from the rest of the population by their military and political power and an elite way of living. The rich Zamindars ate refined food and wore clothes of fine cotton or silk. The Zamindars were sovereign rulers but formed part of a bigger tax-based network spread over the delta region. Every Zamindar had to ensure steady tax revenues to the imperial court. The Mughals brought political unification to the delta region and made an end at the constant fighting between the small hamlets.[Van Schendel 2009] A stable socio-economical structure was born. BRITISH The victory of the British over the Mughals meant new forms of capitalist exploitations, a racially ordered society and another cultural change. The intention of the British was not to impose their culture or occupy the territory but to extract as much income as possible from the region. Therefore they applied a tactic of indirect rule and introduced a more efficient tax system that is known as the ‘permanent settlement’. [Van Schendel 2009]. The tax system did not renounce the Zamindars but by making them the direct landowners they became even more powerful. They benefited in such an


amount from the new system that they could shift their responsibilities to intermediaries. For people without connections with the colonial rulers it was a very hard time. The stable social structure born during the Mughal rule, grew into a multilayered hierarchical social structure during British rule. Not only the Zamindars reinforced their structures at the top of society but the British tax system also advanced Hindu landlords. They were called ‘Bhodrolock’(gentlefolk).[Broomfield 1995] and [Joya 1995] In the beginning of the colonial period Hindu and Muslim were no political categories. When the British empire was crumbling the British ‘divide and rule’ tactics tried -and succeeded- to create friction between them. The administrative division of Bengal in 1905 exposed the weakness of political solidarity between the religious communities. After 1905 ‘Muslims’ and ‘Hindus’ became clear-cut political categories and they still are today. [Van Schendel 2009] PARTITION The translation of a Muslim state into geographical reality was not an easy task. The Boundary Commission, charged with this task, never explained the anomalies in their invented border. As a consequence of the modern international border millions of Muslims where now located in ‘Hindu’ Indian territory and millions of Hindus in ‘Muslim’ East-Pakistan. This was the starting point of a mass migration that continued for years. [Van Schendel 2009] PAKISTAN AND BANGLADESH PERIOD The Pakistan government left economic development to private entrepreneurs and spent a big amount on its military budget. This resulted in tight linking between army generals, top bureaucrats and the big entrepreneurs. [Van Schendel 2009]


By the end of the Pakistan period the amount of people living in poverty had increased a lot in comparison to 1947. Although the global economical growth was positive, it was very badly distributed. The gap between poor and rich widened. [Wilcox 1969] This capitalistic policy and the preferential treatment of militaries was actually continued during the military regimes of General Zia and Ershad. After General Zia grabbed power the differences between the different layers of the society grew even more due to the opportunistic neo-liberalism. The stable social structure born during the Mughal rule, grew into a multilayered hierarchal social structure during British rule and matured during the Pakistan and Bangladesh period. RUN TO THE CITIES East-Pakistanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s towns were growing rapidly. The bulk of the rural newcomers that arrived in the cities were job-seekers. Most of the men found a job as rickshaw-puller. Most of the women became domestic workers. In the 70â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the economical agricultural base of the countryside was totally saturated. Low-skilled men found work in transport and construction. Low-skilled women mostly did domestic work or industrial labour like in the garment factories.[Ahsan 1997] The influx of migrants was so immense that the job market soon got oversaturated. An expanding lower strata of society and an increasing number of floating people was the result. [Conticini and Hulme 2007] CONCLUDING HISTORICAL SEGREGATION A critical historical overview of the economical and political regulations and ideologies points out the following conclusion: In Bangladesh the economical segregation is deeply rooted in history. The opportunistic liberalism during Pakistan and Bangladesh periods and the related fled to the cities widened the gap between rich and poor and increased the amount of poor.


The preferential treatment of militaries created a strong military group. Political division forms partly the basis of the creation of Hindu and Muslim categorization and the polarization between these two groups. Political, cultural and religious ideologies enforced by economical deprivement are the main reasons for the division between Bengali and Bangladeshi groups. From a critical historical perspective Bangladesh is a strongly segregated society. After this perspective 4 -partly overlapping- types of segregation can be pointed out: Economical segregation: Poor-Rich Military segregation: Militaries-Civilians Religious segregation: Hindu-Muslim Political segregation: Bengali-Bangladeshi NUANCES This historical point of view is only one point of view and not dogmatic. For example the gender and architectural aspect still have to be further analysed and contextualized. The question of segregation will be looked at from other perspectives later on. Moreover the deltaic region has always been a crossroads of ideas, people, goods, religions and cultures. All these aspects left traces and formed a unique identity. Multi-culturality and openness are the hallmarks of this region [Van Schendel 2009]. In public life different religious festivities, cultural habits and way of clothing seem to go along without conflict and even intertwine. The liberal economy resulted in big differences but it also had positive effects. It created an economical basis and created jobs for millions of people. The fact that women were massively employed in garment factories gave these women a stronger individual voice in the society.





READING RAMNA Through history different rulers seized power in Bangladesh. They all left traces and often tried to erase those of the predecessors. Some traces have already faded away other are still strongly present. Sometimes that is just the law of nature but often there is a political intention behind it. Architecture was and is frequently used to legitimize the power of the ruler or as a mean to make clear who is pulling the strings. A story of censuring and imposing. By reading and interpreting the present architecture of Ramna Area this story gets clear. However the first lecture often leads to misconceptions. One cannot fully comprehend the story without reading between the lines. On the following pages the still existing politically coloured architectural elements are put in their context and interpreted.


BASAK. 2 March 2001. Dhaka. Ramna. After the difficult Pakistan Period I can say that me and my family are finally living a decent life again. More than decent actually. We live in the ‘Democratic Zone’ because I worked as a judge at the High Court. Actually I’m retired but I often pass by former colleagues. My oldest son owns a garment factory not so far from here. My other son is working as a lawyer and I have a daughter who is studying in the United States. Things are not going well in Bangladesh. I have the feeling we missed the momentum in the 70’s! The streets are dirty and packed with scum! Today a rickshaw puller scratched my car. I made him clear that he better should not do it again.


HASAN . 2 March 2001. Dhaka. Ramna. Hasib had a though day. His old legs find it difficult to turn the paddles of his rusty rickshaw. He made some good money but a guy in a fancy costume slapped him in the face because he scratched his car. As a rickshaw puller you are supposed not to make scratches and to silence when they slap you. Hasibâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wife cooked a fine dinner. With the money she is making in the garment factory the family is able to survive. They can even put something aside for the future. But itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not enough to get out of the slums. They are still squeezed between Sonargaon hotel and the other concrete blocks.



Bengali 82


VANISHING GLORIES Buildings like the Curzon Hall (meant to be the town hall), Old Supreme Court (intended as the Government House), Burdwan House (later on changed into Bangla Academy) and Dhaka Club are built in the beginning of the 20th century. These were times of a crumbling British Empire. The imposing architecture of Curzon Hall and the Old Supreme Court symbolize a last spasm to conserve power. [Banglapedia 2006] The British Council built in 1947 stands for the acceptance of their defeat but at the same time it can be read as a sign that says that they will not just cut all contact[1] This idea is prominent in the architecture: a modest building on a non-prominent plot but in an important neighbourhood. Conquered by wild plants and banalized by drying clothes and slum dwellings the architecture of the Haji Shahbaz Khan Mosque still speaks with proud. The old gates of the Mughal pleasure gardens are barely noticeable in the street view. The last reminders of the Golden Era of the Mughal period are fading away.


CONFIRMING NATIONAL BENGALI IDENTITY After the independence of Bangladesh a new country rooted in Bengali culture had to be established. [Van Schendel 2009]

The demolished Shaheed Minar was reconstructed, a National Museum was set up and all kinds of monuments honouring the Bengali struggle towards independence and promoting Bengali culture mushroomed. Examples are the tomb of the national Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, a mosaic commemorating the Liberation War and Mujibur Rahman in front of Bangla Academy and the Shadhinotar Songram sculpture dedicated to the famous speech of Mujibur Rahman. NOTE: In the legends of the maps on the left page and the next page ‘Bengali’ returns 3 times in 3 different colours. This emphasizes the nuance between the Bengali ideology during the Pakistan period, during the momentum just after the independence of Bangladesh and during the years following the momentum until today. This is explained in the part of ‘recent history’.

PAKISTAN vs BENGALI As pointed out in the previous chapter, from the moment Pakistan became independent the struggle for an independent Bangladesh started. A struggle between the Pakistan government focusing on the uniting Muslim religion and the Bengalis focusing on their proper culture and language. [Wahid 2012] The imposing architecture of the High Court makes clear who was the new boss, the National Mosque enforces the common Muslim identity and the TSC is said to be an attempt of the Pakistan government to convert the political anti-Pakistan energy into cultural activities. [Rahman 2005] On the other hand Bangla Academy was now used to spread the Bengali language, Shaheed Minar commemorates the martyrs fallen for the Bengali Language and the Banyan Tree became the symbol for Bengali New Year.







After the death of Mujibur Rahman General Zia claimed the power. To establish his legitimacy he gave his own twist to history. Therefore he did not only censured words linked with Mujibur Rahman but also places. He banalized the place of Mujibur Rahman’s speech by converting it into Shishu children’s park. This was the beginning of a struggle between Bangladeshis and Bengalis. [Wahid 2012] The order of the Awami League to construct the new Liberation War Museum to honour Mujibur Rahman’s speech is emblematic for how they use architecture to emphasize their vision of history. Only few commemoration signs are ‘political neutral’. On the roundabout in front of TSC a famous statue is dedicated to a student who died protesting against hooliganism. The ‘Tower of Light’ dedicated to universal freedom is a nice attempt to overcome local political disagreements. Further more the Independent Liberation War Museum is an independent museum that intends to elucidate the Liberation War without political prejudgments. [Kashef 2012] and [Tabassum 2012]


Although today 89,5 percent of Bangladesh’s population is Muslim there was a Hindu majority until the partition in 1947. [Ahmed 2008] and [CIA factbook] Most of the mosques are constructed during Pakistan rule who wanted to stress the Islamic bound between East- and West Pakistan. The British applied a tactic of indirect rule and this is also noticeable in the absence of churches in Dhaka. They enforced the existing social structure with themselves on top without imposing their culture nor religion.


Cumulating all these layers the multilayered aspect and the struggles within the culture and history of Bangladesh become clear. Ramna can be read as a ‘battlefield’ of opinions.


British Mughal Bengali1.0 Pakistan Bengali2.0 Independent Bengali2.1 Bangladeshi Hindu Muslim Catholic




WHAT’S IN A NAME? Not only behind architectural elements but also behind their names a political intention is often hidden. The best example is the synchronous changing of names and rulers. Jinnah Avenue named after the first prime minister of Pakistan became Bagabundhu Avenue. Ayub Avenue converted into Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue, the national Bengali poet. Dacca stadium was renamed Bagabandhu National Stadium. The struggle between the two political mainstreams in Bangladesh is also latent in the names. Many student hall names are dedicated to freedom fighters like for example in 1972 the Surja Senn Hall. On the other hand F. Rahman Hall was renamed after the first Muslim Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University during the rule of General Zia. Many names of important buildings change with the alternating of government. They get a Bengali coloured name when the Awami League is in power and a Bangladeshi name when the BNP is in power [Habib 2012].

How sensitive the naming is demonstrates the recent quarrel about the changing of the name ‘Khaleda Zia Hall’ after the BNP prime minister into ‘Begum Sufia Kamal Hall’ who is a famous poet en feminist. [Alam 2011]

Further on the names in Ramna Area demonstrate the political, religious and cultural multilayered aspect of Bangladesh.




CONCLUDING: RAMNA AREA AS A METAPHOR Fading remains of the British and the Mughals, a bunch of mosques and some Hindu remains, the BNP tries to focus on the Muslim identity, the Awami League emphasizes the Bengali Culture,... looking at the whole picture Ramna Area is a coloured patchwork and every piece shouts its own opinion. Because every element is clearly not objective but politically polarized, one can say that all the coloured pieces together form the patchwork that is Bangladesh today.


NATIONAL IDENTITY: A PALIMPSEST OF CULTURES The struggle of opinions that can be read in public space also exposes today’s struggle of the inhabitants of Bangladesh with their national identity. Their national identity is still far from fixed. Since the 16th century Bangladesh has been ruled by ‘foreign’ forces: first the Mughals, then the British and finally by the Pakistan forces. Bangladesh is a recognized independent state since 1972 but actually ‘real’ democracy started only since the 90’s. [Van Schendel 2009]

An important question to ask is if between all these shouting voices every voice is heard or even if every voice is permitted to speak. Between all these names, imposing buildings, memorial signs and wall paintings the only trace of women are the names of Begum Sufia Kamal Hall, the Rokeya Hall and the Viqarunissa Noon and Girl School. Respectively two student halls and a girl school that are totally absent in the street image. If Ramna Area is a metaphor of the society of Bangladesh one can conclude that the situation of women in visible public life is problematic. As far as our observations this is correct: public space is largely dominated by men. Concluding the colour of women is missing in the patchwork of opinions. Perhaps a new design can complete the patchwork with a female coloured element.

Many like to refer to the Golden Era of the Mughals as the real Bangladesh. The British are generally labelled as the ‘foreign’ rulers. About the Pakistan Period there are 2 opposite opinions: in the Bengali opinion the Pakistanis were foreign rulers and from the Bangladeshi point of view this was a necessary phase. [Wahid 2012] None of all these opinions is totally ‘correct’. The ‘real’ national identity we believe is captured in the photo on the left page. In this picture a Hindu person, born in ‘Muslim’ East-Pakistan, wearing ‘Western’ clothes produced in modern Bangladesh, is having a cup of British tea. Next month he will celebrate Bengali New Year, a ‘national’ festival of Hindu origins, together with the Muslim Bangladeshi, on the back of the photo, dressed in traditional lungi, and millions of others, everybody with his own story and roots. The identity of an inhabitant of Bangladesh cannot be understood without the complete history. All the layers together is what forms their national identity. When looking to an inhabitant of Bangladesh in this perspective, the beauty of their identity becomes clear: a palimpsest of cultures.



BOOKS, ARTICLES AND WEBSITES AHMED, Sharif Udin, (2008), Dhaka: Past Present Future, Dhaka, Bangladesh: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. AHSAN, Rosie Majid, (1997), Migration of Female Construction Labourers to Dhaka City, Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh: International Journal of Population Geography. ALAM, Mahbubul, (2011), The Independent: Renaming Khaleda Zia Hall proposed, Retrieved on May 2, 2012 from BBS, (2008), Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Pocket Book, 2008, Retrieved on April 20, 2012 from BGA, (2012), Bangladesh Genocide Archive, Genocide, Retrieved on April 19, 2012 from BROOMFIELD, J.H., (1995), Elite Conflict in a Plural Society: 20th-century Bengal, Los Angeles, United States: University of California Press. CHOWDHURY, A.M., (2006), Dhaka, Retrieved on November 26, 2011 from CIA FACTBOOK, (2012), Retrieved on May 8, 2012 from CONTICINI, Alessandor & HULME, David, (2007), Escaping Violence, Seeking Freedom: Why Children in Bangladesh Migrate to the Street, In Development and Change, Volume 38, Issue 2, March 2007 pages 201â&#x20AC;&#x201C;227. DANI, Ahmad Hasan, (2009), Dhaka: A Record of Its Changing Fortunes, Dhaka, Bangladesh: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. DSCC, (2011a), Dhaka South City Corporation, Retrieved on May 12, 2012 from DSCC, (2011b), Dhaka South City Corporation. Retrieved on April 20, 2012 from DSCC, (2011c), Dhaka South City Corporation, Dhaka under the East India Company, Retrieved on May 11, 2012 from FRD, (2010a), Federal Research Division, Country Studies. Bangladesh, Chronology of Important Events. Retrieved on May 11, 2012 from FRD, (2010b), Federal Research Division, Country Studies. Bangladesh, Migration. Retrieved on May 11, 2012 from Graphics Factory CC, (2009-2012), Retrieved on December 1, 2011 from HASAN, Perween, (2006), Curzon Hall, Retrieved on May 2, 2012 from HELAL, Bashir Al, (2006), Language Movement, Retrieved on Februari 16, 2012 from


IKRAM, S. M., (1964), The Establishment of the Mughal Empire, Retrieved on May 11, 2012 from INSEE, (2010), Institute National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques, Census 2010, Retrieved on April 20, 2012 from ISLAM, Sirajul, (2006a), Nawab, Retrieved on February 10, 2012 from ISLAM, Sirajul, (2006b), Dhaka Club, Retrieved on April 19, 2012 from ISLAM, Muhfakharul, et al, (2011), 400 Years of Capital Dhaka and Beyond, Volume II: Economy and Culture. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. ISLAM, Nazrul, (1992), Dhaka: From city to megacity : perspectives on people, places, planning, and development issues, Dhaka, Bangladesh: Dhaka University. JOYA, Chatterji, (1995), Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947, New Delhi, India: Foundation Books and Cambridge University Press. KHAN, Nayma & NILUFAR, Farida, (2009), Spatial Logic of Morphological Transformation: A Paradigm of Planned - Unplanned Areas in Dhaka city, Proceedings of the 7th International Space Syntax Symposium, Stockholm, Sweden: KTH (Royal Institute of Technology). NIS, (2010), Nationaal Instituut voor Statistiek, Census 2010, Retrieved on April 20, 2012 from NILUFAR, Farida, (2010), Urban Morphology of Dhaka City: Spatial Dynamics of Growing City and the Urban Core, Presented in the International Seminar on the Celebration of 400 years of the Capital Dhaka, Asiatic Society, Retrieved on April 20, 2012 from Urban_Core NYC DCP, (2010), New York City, Department of City Planning, 2010 census, Retrieved on April 20, 2012 from MEDIA BANGLADESH, (2012), Dhaka New Market - A unique shopping complex with a long history, Retrieved on April 20, 2012 from PPG, (2010), Pakistan Policy Group, Splitting Dhaka: Should megacities divide?, Retrieved on May 11, 2012 from RAHLAN, Shafiq, (2005), Probe News Magazine, Retrieved on 28 April, 2012 from RAHMAN, Syed Sadiqur, Ramna Racecourse, Retrieved on April 28, 2012 from SHEREN, Syeda Momtaz, (2006), War of Liberation, Retrieved on April 17, 2012 from USCB, (2009), United States Census Bureau, Population, Annual Estimates of the Population of Combined Statistical Areas, 2000 to 2009. Retrieved on April 20, 2012 from


VAN SCHENDEL, Willem, (2009), A history of Bangladsh, Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. WILCOX, Wayne, (1969), Pakistan: A decade of Ayub. California, United States: University of California Press. WAHID, Zeenat Huda, (2011), Middle Class Paradox and The Problem of National Identity in Bangladesh. Dhaka, Bangladesh: University of Dhaka.

FIELDWORK The head of the British Council, (September 2012), Interview KASHEF, Mahboob Chowdhury, (September 2012), Interview - Arch. (Liberation War Museum & Masterplan Suhrawardi Udyan, Dhaka in cooperation with TABASSUM, Marina), Dhaka, Bangladesh. TABASSUM, Marina, (September 2012), Interview - Arch. (Liberation War Museum & Masterplan Suhrawardi Udyan, Dhaka in cooperation with KASHEF, Mahboob Chowdhury), Dhaka, Bangladesh. HABIB, Kishwar, (April 2012), PhD Catholic University Leuven, Leuven, Belgium. MOWLA, Qazi Azizul, (2011), Guest Lecture, Colonial and Postcolonial Katholic University Leuven: Morphological Evolution of Urban Dhaka : The Historical Context.

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This booklet gives a preliminary impression of Dhaka, Bangladesh. It opens with the general structure, principles, methods and limitations are introduced and they form the foundation of the thesis. In Situating, firstly, the condition of Bangladesh is put in perspective and secondly the specific context of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The most important and determining moments over time for Dhaka and more in specific Ramna Area, the main subject of this thesis, are highlighted in History. Finally, reading the built environment in Ramna unfolds the marks left behind by history.

TRANSCENDING THE LIMITS OF PUBLIC LIFE IN RAMNA AREA A DESIGN INVESTIGATION IN DHAKA, BANGLADESH BOOKLET 1 - Introduction Authors: Bernard Forier, Bruno Ronsmans, Thomas Raskin & Karolien Peeters Promotor: Prof. Ir. Bruno De Meulder Local Promotor: Prof. Dr. Qazi Azizul Mowla Co-promotor: Prof. Dr. Ir. Hilde Heynen Assessor: Arch. Leo Van Broeck Guidance: Kishwar Habib


Thesis, Dhaka, Bangladesh


Thesis, Dhaka, Bangladesh