Friendship Hospital is world’s best building | RIBA International Prize 2021

The Friendship Hospital in Bangladesh, designed by Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA, has been awarded the RIBA International Prize 2021. 

Prestige surrounds this biennial award which celebrates outstanding, international projects, with the jury looking for works that ‘demonstrate design excellence and social impact’. The awarded rainwater-harvesting project, led by NGO Friendship, is a remote community hospital situated in the water-laden landscape of the Bengal in south-west Bangladesh. It employs low-cost sustainable architecture and offers essential health services to those living in remote rural areas. 

Created by Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA for non-governmental organisation Friendship, the hospital has been praised for the “care and humanity at the heart of its design”. It was selected as the winner from a selection of three exceptional shortlisted entries, and stood out for its innovative response to the challenging environmental conditions of its local region that is unprotected against rising sea levels. 

Commenting on the award, Jury chair Odile Decq said: “Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA has achieved a building designed with a human touch which is deftly integrated with its surroundings and celebrates local, and traditional crafted materials.”

Friendship hospital is designed to strengthen and empower remote rural areas affected by rising sea levels

“The hospital is relevant to critical global challenges, such as unequal access to healthcare and the crushing impact of climate breakdown on vulnerable communities. It is a demonstration of how beautiful architecture can be achieved through good design when working with a relatively modest budget and with difficult contextual constraints. This hospital is a celebration of a building dedicated to humans,” Odile Decq adds.

Water is central to the hospital’s design, with the building positioned on agricultural land that has been converted from grain fields to shrimp fisheries. Cutting through the length of the site is a canal that separates areas for the inpatients and outpatients. This water channel also helps with micro-climatic cooling during the hot summers, avoiding the need for high energy consuming air-conditioning. In addition, a new rainwater harvesting system helps prevent water logging and flooding from incessant rains.

The hospital campus consists of a series of low-lying pavilions made from locally sourced brick, chosen for its resident qualities and low cost, and interspersed with courtyards. Used to bring light and ventilation into the hospital wards, the courtyards offer a tranquil place for visitors and patients alike. 

On the success of the design, Runa Khan, Founder and Executive Director of Friendship, commented: “Working with Kashef was a joy for us. Someone who could efficiently use local materials, ensure efficiency of the work we were to deliver and keep the spirit of Friendship alive, and not ever compromise on quality either for himself or for the spirit we wanted it to be. Truly for me he was the architect who could bring this – in his design, his care, and delivery.”

“With the interplay of light, clay, air and water, Friendship Hospital Shyamnagar comes more alive in beauty with the purpose it serves. It brings new hope of a better tomorrow to some of the most climate-impacted people on this planet.”

Photography of Friendship Hospital: Asif Salman, courtesy of URBANA

RIBA International Emerging Architect 2021 winner

Also, as part of the International Prize announcements, Iran’s Hooba Design Group was named as the RIBA International Emerging Architect 2021 for The Kohan Ceram Central Office Building in Tehran (pictured below). The standout office building, featuring an internal and external structure built with a unique perforated brick, is recognised for its innovative single-material use and ability to regulate light and temperature.

Situated alongside the Sattari highway in Tehran, the “environmentally considered ‘Spectacled Brick’ building” stands out like a glowing beacon on a grey city corner,” according to Denise Bennetts, Chair of the RIBA Awards Group. What’s intriguing is how the facade’s voids provide light, ventilation, and space for vegetation to grow. Recognised as “design innovators of tomorrow”, Hooba Design Group is definitely one to watch.

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