[Photo: Abir Abdullah]
April 24th 2013, morning, the nine storied Rana Plaza in Savar near Bangladeshi capital Dhaka collapsed, it took at least 400 lives, around 2500 survivors were rescued alive and around a thousand more are missing. If we look into the facts that are related to building construction in Bangladesh and this incident we will have to connect a few dots here.
To make a building in Dhaka area (the boundary covers nearby suburbs and towns beyond Dhaka metropolitan, thus it covers the incident area Savar) the owner needs to take permission from 13 different organizations (along with the main authority RajUK
) to get the permit of construction and approval of architectural design (and in case of large projects, structural and other designs), it includes municipality, environment department, fire service, electricity and gas distribution authorities etc. Apparently RajUK coordinates this whole approval process with all the organizations. During the construction, the overall responsibility of checking if the construction is done according to approved design is also the duty of RajUK and all other related organizations. In case of building a factory you need to take a few additional approvals from factory building related authority and if it is a garments factory then you also need license and approval of the non-government organization BGMEA an association of garments owners that regulates the garments business in Bangladesh. If corruption plays any role at any point in this process, incidents like the collapse of Rana Plaza and fire at Tazreen Garments may happen any time. And many of these organizations are infamous for institutionalizing corruption. Allegedly often these paper works are done or overlooked by political influences and bribe.
Particularly in case of Rana Plaza the problem might have happened in many different layers. Allegedly the building was designed to be 6 storied, the owner made additional 3 floors without permission. It was the duty of the local authorities to prevent the owner from doing that at the first place. There could be fault in the structural design. Then the usage of the building, it was architecturally and structurally designed as a commercial complex, for small shops and offices. The dead-load and live-load of garments factories are far more than commercial buildings, counting the number of people per sft and the weight of the heavy machinaries. So even if the initial structural design was ok as a commercial building, using it as garments factories might have made the structure fail. It is difficult to tell what exactly happened without extensive engineering investigation. It was also the responsibility of architects and engineers who worked for that project in whatever phases to check it's legal status.
So clearly all the organizations that let the owner make this building without following the rules and let them use it for unapproved purpose are responsible. Of course along with the building owner, the owners of the garments factories for doing accepting all the corruptions related to building construction and it's usage. And particularly they are responsible for forcing the workers to go inside that building that day even after knowing the warning.
The troublesome fact of all is the paradoxical existence of the two big authorities RajUK for building construction and BGMEA for regulating garments industry. RajUK has it's own real estate business, they sell land and apartments and they are also the authority of regulating building construction and real estates, that's contradictory. A single organization can't run a business and also be the regulatory body of it. Similarly BGMEA is a garments owners' association, it is easily imaginable what may happen when all the regulatory authority and duty of looking after the welfare of workers remain under the owners' control. So Bangladesh need separate independent commissions as the regulatory authorities of building construction and also the garments industry to reduce unethical practices and corruption.
A few good things happened recently with building codes and laws. Bangladesh has a national building code BNBC, first drafted in 1993 and in 2006 it became mandatory by law
to follow the code with a provision of 7 years imprisonment if violated. In 2006 a new construction law came out with a lot of good changes by the help of years of efforts of the architects and related professionals. These codes and laws are not entirely perfect, however they are under constant practice, observation and development. An updated version of the building construction act is under development with many necessery changes.
We hope those efforts be successful and the laws be enforced properly to prevent tragedies like Rana Plaza and save human lives.
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: January 12, 2012.
2nd November Wednesday at 10 in the morning
Gather to form a peaceful human-chain at the South Plaza of the National Parliament Building.
Read the rest to know why:
We are happy to know that the Government of Bangladesh is initiating the long overdue process of making an MRT system for the over-crowded grid-locked Dhaka city. At the same time it is astonishing and very disappointing that a part of the MRT lines are decided (as far we know) to go through a portion of the Eastern edge of the National Parliament Building, the building and the masterplan often treated as the best piece of modern architecture ever built.
It was proposed that the line would go through Bijoy Shoroni in front of the Bhashani Novo Theater avoiding Khamar Bari and Parliament Building area, it would not hamper any of the demands of the neighborhoods, since the line would equally connect Monipuri Para and Khamar Bari area from the other side. (Google Dhaka's map to understand, or follow the attached file with "detailed graphic explanation
Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) put an objection about the line going through Bijoy Shoroni, saying it would disturb the operation of Tejgaon Airport (the Old Airport that has been abandoned for civil use and now it is used solely by BAF as a training base runway). Apparently it is proved that no aircraft exists on earth that would feel disturbed to fly from Tejgaon Airport over Bijoy Soroni, since there is already the Novo Theater building right along the runway and since the MRT lines would definitely be lower than the elevation of the line drawn from the top of the Theater to the edge of the runway.
While there is an arguments about the necessity of the mere existence of the old airport at all in the middle of the city it is utterly unreasonable that the MRT line is being realigned to accommodate an illogical issue raised by BAF to support the airport than the Parliament Building.
We need to stop this ridicule and we need to gather to save Louis Kahn's masterplan. If you really love the country, the city and architecture join in the gathering to show a protest. Come with some banners/placards as you wish (avoid attacking, obscene language).
1. The call for gathering and explanations in Bengali
2. The detail (Graphic) explanation of why the realignment of the MRT route is unnecessary and illogical
3. Letter from the President of ARCASIA (Architects Regional Council Asia)
An elaborate message from Architect Activist Iqbal Habib that was sent to all IAB members via email is quoted here:
"I hope you are observing and deeply concerned about the debate and active persuasion by some quarter to realign the metro route of MRT 6 at Section 3, where it is redirected to run alongside of the Shangshad Complex eastern edge taking at least 50 meter from that present edge with some pillars even deeper than that. IAB in association with BAPA, BIP and others has been engaged in understanding, pursuing with alternatives and encouraging good sense beside protesting the shifting of alignment. But it seems that the other way persuasion by some quarter has convinced the head of the state Honorable Prime Minister. Obviously as professionals of a democratic country we must now put the pressure of demand to save this audacious proposition and convince our Prime Minister to save the sanctity of the Luis I Kahn's Parliament Complex. Pls find our paper and presentation as attachment for your kind considerations of reasons to fight the cause.
To demonstrate our unity and strong urge, I submit to all of you to join in with immediate following actions;
1. On the Wednesday next, That is 2nd November, at 10 am at the South Plaza Side of the Shangshad Bhavan on Manik Mia Avenue, lets stand for one hour as a human chain with lots of banners and placard with our demand highlighted ' to protect the sanctity of the Shangshad Bhavan Master Plan' in Bangla and English (without attacking any other establishment for strategic reasons). Would request all Head of the Department of Architecture of different Universities to encourage the future professionals to participate whole heatedly to assume responsibility.
2. All the Architects who writes regularly in Newspapers or any other media, please come forward and generate a media campaign. We all shall try to ensure the publication of the same with utmost efforts. Lets involve other Professionals and Cultural figures along with Artist to save the sanctity of this Architectural Marvel.
3. Lets arrange more public seminars on the subject and immediately arrange a Signature Campaign from intellectuals, professional and educationists and submit the same to the Honorable Prime Minister and Speaker of the Parliament. At the same time we shall try to publish that urge to get support from the public.
4. Besides everything we must be united to continue our efforts to save the master plan from any further deviation."
A mass movement by the conscious citizens of Dhaka city and architecture lovers.
Supported by IAB, BIP, IEB, BAPA, BELA, POBA, ArchSociety and others.