Prize For Architecture Goes to Building That Collects Rainwater in Canals

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The Friendship Hospital on the rural outskirts of Bangladesh received one of the most coveted architecture prizes globally, the 2021 RIBA International Prize.

Its location gives the Friendship Hospital unique challenges. The hospital stands on land surrounded by fields that once grew rice. Rising sea levels flooded the area. As a result, water salination became a problem for the hospital. To combat this, Bangladeshi architect Kashef Chowdhury built the hospital to catch rainwater, purify it, and store it.

The Royal Institute of British Architects awards the prize every two years to a building that "exemplifies design excellence and architectural ambition and delivers meaningful social impact."

Over the last fifteen years, rising waters overtook the land around the hospital. Locals converted rice farms into shrimp fisheries; this led to difficulty in getting fresh water to residents. Collecting rainwater seemed like a natural idea, Chowdhury said.

"The cycle of catastrophic flooding in Bangladesh is caused by the combination of cyclones, monsoons and snowmelt from the Himalayas," French architect and member of the RIBA committee Odile Decq writes. "As climate change makes rainfall more erratic and powerful storms even more intense, millions in Bangladesh are facing devastating effects, including loss of agricultural land due to sea level rise."

The long list for this year's prize included buildings in 11 countries. The list included the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, the Lille Langebro pedestrian bridge in Copenhagen, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama.

Chowdhury hopes the award will encourage architects to create buildings that care for humans and nature.

"I am encouraged that this may inspire more of us to commit, not in spite of, but because of limitations of resources and means, to an architecture of care both for humanity and for nature, to rise collectively to the urgencies that we face today on a planetary scale," Chowdhury said.

For architectural problem solving by designing a means to capture and purify rainwater, Bangladesh's Friendship Hospital received the 2021 RIBA International Prize.

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