Bashirul Haq

Bashirul Haq (1942-2020)

“Adieu, Architect”
–Adnan Morshed Khan
[EXCERPT] …Bashirul Haq was fortunate to find a mentor in Fazlur Rahman Khan (popularly known as F.R. Khan), a fellow countryman, partner of the famed Chicago-based architectural/engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), and structural designer of Chicago’s Sears Tower (now Willis Tower), the tallest building in the world from 1973 to 1997. The SOM stalwart took Haq under his wing and encouraged him to join his Chicago firm as an architect. However, as fate would have it, Bashirul Haq, already in his mid-30s, chose to return home, to Bangladesh. He was ready to embark on an architectural journey in the land he knew best.

Bashirul Haq creates a cosmopolitan architecture, one in which the very premise of the local/modernity dichotomy is robustly resisted. Rather, he seeks to conflate an architectural archetype with a perceptive understanding of temporality and the spatial sensibilities of Bengal, but ultimately transcending the exigencies of the local. Experiencing his architecture, particularly his red-brick buildings, reminds one that searching for local inspiration does not have to be an inflexible moral burden, in the same way one feels that Alvar Aalto’s Säynätsalo Town Hall (1949) seems to remain embedded in some kind of Finnish genius loci, while ultimately suspending the very need to be Finnish as an expression of aesthetic authenticity. In many ways, the exquisitely delicate use of brick in Haq’s work, for example the architect’s own residence on Indira Road in Dhaka, performs Bengali folk dance and western ballet at the same time….

There is a lot to learn from him. But how we learn from him is crucial. His work can be a great pivot to foster the production of “local” knowledge about the Bengal delta and its habitats. The lingering West-oriented tendencies of architectural curriculum in Bangladesh could be best mitigated when native knowledge is produced within a global-historical milieu of the built environment. There is a serious scarcity of architectural literature in Bangladesh. The predominantly design studio-oriented undergraduate architectural curriculum in the country neither encourages nor trains architects to think analytically about the design culture. Furthermore, a general lack of research initiatives in the academia only exacerbates the problem.

 

Yet, to frame Bashirul Haq’s work with the trite argument that he searched for local inspiration in his design and then sought to synthesise indigenous spatial qualities with modernity is to do disservice to his oeuvre that is complex, nuanced, and multi-layered. It would be unfair to see his architecture ricocheting between the false binary of local and modern. His work is much more. His sensitive and restrained use of brick as a building material tells richly complex architectural stories that elude simple classifications.

…To understand how Bashirul Haq resisted the temptation of compartmentalised historiographies of local and global (or East and West), one needs to appreciate the ways he values his cross-cultural architectural education. Like architect Muzharul Islam, Haq grasped the power of diverse geographies and how their cultures could blend together to produce all kinds of aesthetic chemical reactions.

Read Full Obituary here

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