Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum has been awarded the 2021 Soane Medal in recognition of her “architecture of relevance”.
Tabassum, the founder and principal architect of Marina Tabassum Architects (MTA), was born and works in Bangladesh and is known for her sustainable architecture which aims to improve the lives of the country’s ultra-low-income people.
One of her best-known works is the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, which features perforated brickwork so that sun and air can reach its prayer hall, and which won Tabassum the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2016.
A jury of leading architects and critics chose Tabassum as the winner of this year’s Soane Medal, which recognises practitioners who further understanding of the importance of architecture in people’s lives.
Tabassum “consistently demonstrates the ways in which architecture can improve lives and her work with Rohingya Refugees at Cox’s Bazaar showcases the potential of architects to contribute to solving the problems society faces today,” said jury chair and Sir John Soane’s Museum director Bruce Boucher.
“From her Bait ur Rouf Mosque to Dhaka’s Independence Monument, Tabassum has created buildings which bring communities together and foster a distinct sense of place,” Boucher said.
“Her research into dwelling in the Ganges Delta and Bengali courtyards suggest alternative models of building, habitation and ownership which have the potential to inform architectural practice more widely,” he added.
“All her work is underpinned by a focus on sustainability and Tabassum is truly leading the conversation about the ways in which architecture, people and planet interact.”
In addition to her architecture practice, Tabassum has held educational positions at TU Delft, Harvard University, the University of Texas and BRAC University in Dhaka.
She describes her human-centric, sustainability-driven approach to practice as “the architecture of relevance”.
“I am honoured to have been chosen to receive this recognition from such a distinguished institution as the Soane Museum,” Tabassum said.”
“Winning the Soane Medal means a great deal to me,” she added. “My current work is focused on the twin crises of Bangladesh: the plight of refugees, and the heightened threat to our population of flooding, exacerbated by global warming. Both factors have led me to focus on prototyping low impact, mobile housing which can be delivered at the lowest cost possible for those in need.”
“Our goal is to make it an open source knowledge that can help people build their own houses, with the help of a manual with detailed instructions.”
Tabassum’s recent projects have seen her working in Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and designing low-cost Khudi Bari (“Tiny House”) mobile and modular housing kits for families affected by flooding in the Ganges delta region.
She was given the Soane Medal at a ceremony in London on Tuesday, 16 November. Established in 2017 by Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, the prize recognises the work of architects, educators or critics whose work has furthered and enriched the public understanding of architecture.
Its previous winners include architects Rafael Moneo, Denise Scott Brown and Kenneth Frampton.
The 2021 jury was made up of Boucher along with architect David Chipperfield, architecture critic Paul Goldberger, architecture writer and curator Owen Hopkins, architect Farshid Moussavi, architect Eric Parry, design critic and author Alice Rawsthorn, architecture critic Oliver Wainwright and architectural historian Thomas Weaver.
The Soane Award recipient receives a replica of the original gold medal presented to Sir John Soane as an award by the “Architects of England” in 1835.
They also give a lecture in front of an invited audience at the Sir John Soane Museum in London. Tabassum’s is available to watch online at the museum website.