Architect Ador Yousuf’s ‘Sonadia School’ project received the 'Architectural Projects and Build Works-2020' award this year. Designed with remote disaster-prone areas of Bangladesh in mind, it could bridging the interruption caused by crises and ensure much-needed continuity of education for children living in these areas.
Bangladeshis are always excited when one of their own achieves recognition on an international platform, and the joy only doubles when the attainment fulfils a greater social cause. Ador Yousuf’s recent award winning project 'Sonadia School' is one such achievement that aspires to build a community hub to secure certain basic facilities to the local population.
Ador Yousuf won the 'Architectural Projects and Build Works-2020' award by The International Academy of Architecture (IAA) for his eco-friendly, climate-tolerant and sustainable construction projects. Given by IAA in different categories of architecture in every two consecutive years, Ador Yousuf’s unbuilt project has won the award in the 'Education Building' category for the Sonadia School construction project in Maheshkhali Cox's Bazar.
Where it all began
Planning of Sonadia School as it is now sprang from a personal travel experience. Ador had witnessed firsthand the hardship of local people during his visit to the island in 2011. “The livelihood of Sonadia is quite woeful due to its geographic location,” said Ador.
Sonadia, a small island located offshore of the Cox's Bazar coast in Chittagong Division is considered one of the most isolated areas of Bangladesh. The 9 square kilometers long island’s only means of communication is via boat that is only available twice a day. Between the western side (Paschim Para) and eastern side (Purbo Para) of the island, the western side’s community lacks certain basic civic facilities such as health care or education system than the other part. Since the only educational institute is located on the eastern part of the island, children of western part have to walk across around 8 Kilometers to go to school thus causing an increasing dropout rate.
The entire island has only one government primary school which is located on the eastern part thus the dropout rate from western part of the island is huge. Youth for Change, an organization started a school on the west coast to serve the underprivileged children who were being deprived. After four years of functioning and observing a rise in numbers of students, the organisation thought of making it bigger and better. And that’s when Ador Yousuf got the opportunity to design the school.
‘Despite building a structure that will serve only the education purpose, my aim was to build a community hub that can serve the total community as a whole,’ said Ador.
Apart from schooling facilities for children, the institution is designed in such a way that parents and elderly can have night-school lessons, vocational training, etc. “Keeping space facilities for training in my proposal was to help the community to be economically stable and have access livelihood after training,” said Ador.
His firsthand experience on the island also influenced him to plan to facilitate a weekly medical camp to be set up at the school, since the health system on the island is quite fragile.
The school structure was designed over at a 2'6" raised platform (Machang)- a local construction system, from the ground so that it does not get submerged during the monsoon seasons.. The round shape of the school was derived to reduce the impact of wind force. There is a courtyard in the middle of the school which is about 30 feet in diameter. The eastern side of the courtyard is open and connected to a channel.
Moreover, Ador had to deal with challenges of water level rise during monsoon season and flood in Sonadia. In Bangladesh, many schools in remote areas get shut down when the water levels rise. However, due to lack of facilities such as alternative access premises in schools during such crisis situations, students are left with no choice but to stop going to school.
“If you look at the design, the school has a courtyard and eastern side of it is kept open and connected to the channel so that students can access it directly by boat during monsoon or flood. And during dry season the multifunctional courtyard can be used for vocational training, cultural activities and medical camp” said Ador.
About the circular pattern of the school courtyard Ador mentioned, “ children like to wander freely and beyond limits. the circular pattern gives them a edgeless feeling.”
A sustainable approach
Ador prefers to keep intact the natural characteristics of a certain land. “The landscape of Bangladesh is very diversified. The pattern changes based on different seasons. While working with this project, I highly prioritise the characteristics of the landscape and environment as a whole so it becomes more sustainable,” Ador said.
Thus, while building the structure Yousuf used raw materials such as bamboo, thatch etc. that are available at the locality. “ Instead of bringing materials from outside, I prefer using rustic, locally available materials because these are cost-effective and also eco-friendly," said Ador.
The structure will be built with bamboo, a locally available material. The roof will be formed of local thatch which safeguards against high rainfall and reduces high wind force, deployed over the bamboo structure. The labour cost is low since the traditional building techniques of using ropes and strings will be used in lieu of nails and clamps.
In regard to energy efficiency windows are designed from floor to the beam. “since light and ventilation are abundant, the school needs no additional use of artificial energy during daytime,” said Ador. Solar panels provide light during night school.
Ador believes this project can be a prototype for similar projects in other remote areas as a low cost means of fulfilling the local demands for uninterrupted education while serving society.
A few facts about Ador Yousuf
Born and brought up in Chittagong, Ador Yousuf, an alum of Chittagong Collegiate School, graduated from the University of Asia Pacific.
His notable works include the mausoleum of Shah Abdul Karim, Comilla Rup Sagar Dighi project, Houseboat katpai, and Hatkhola.
His favourite architectural projects include the Sangsad Bhaban and Charukola Institute because of their connection to the roots and incorporation of the context and surroundings.