Muzharul Islam (25 December 1923 – 15 July 2012) was a Bangladeshi architect, urban planner, educator and activist. He is considered as the Grand Master of regional modernism in South Asia. Islam is the pioneer of modern architecture in Bangladesh and the father of Bengali modernism. Islam’s style and influence dominated the architectural scene in the country during the 1960s and 70s, along with major US architects he brought to work in Dhaka.
As a teacher, architect, social and political activist, Islam set the course of architectural practice in the country not only through his own many varied works but also through being instrumental in inviting architects like Louis Kahn, Richard Neutra, Stanley Tigerman, Paul Rudolph, Robert Boughey and Konstantinos Doxiadis to work in Bangladesh.
“The artistic qualities are essence of architecture. The practical aspects of architecture are measurable – such as, the practical requirements, climatic judgments, the advantages and limitations of the site etc. – but the humanistic aspects are not measurable. This depends on the talent, sensitivity and creativity of the architect. Only some bookish knowledge is not a sufficient tool in this regard. One has to be creative. One has to love his own land, its people and its culture and think profoundly about these. The love of one’s own land is the eternal source of creative power, which in turn, makes a proper architect.”
Muzharul Islam was born on 25 December 1923 in Murshidabad. He went to the United States in 1950 where he received his bachelor’s degree in Architecture from University of Oregon. In 1956, he received a scholarship to study tropical architecture at the AA School of Architecture, London. In 1961, he completed his post-graduation under Paul Rudolph from Yale University. At Yale Stanley Tigerman was one of his classmates, and there he came in touch of Louis I Kahn. Muzharul Islam began his career by designing two buildings in the Shah bag area in 1955 – Dhaka University Library and College of Arts and Crafts. Between 1958 and 1964, Islam was the Senior Architect of the Government of East Pakistan.
His most important work was born when the Governor’s Conference of Pakistan decided in 1959, under the leadership of President Ayub Khan, that Dhaka will be second capital of Pakistan. The government decided to build a capital complex at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Dhaka. Muzharul Islam was given to design Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban (National Assembly Building of Bangladesh). But, he brought his teacher Louis Kahn into the project to do a significant work for future generation. Islam worked closely with him from 1965 to Kahn’s death in 1973.
Along with Kahn, he also brought Paul Rudolph and Stanley Tigerman to work in Bangladesh, and three of them came to be known as the American Trio. Apart from the Trio, it was Islam’s monumental style that dominated Bangladesh architecture from the 1950s onwards.
His major works include – Jahangirnagar University, Chittagong University, Central Public Library, Charukala Institute, the Azimpur Estate, Rangmati township, and a number of Polytechnic Institutes. Islam designed the master plan of Dhaka City. He also created the logo for the government of Bangladesh.
This architectural legend achieved numerous award in recognition of his works like:
- Institute of Architects, Bangladesh Gold Medal, 1993
- He was awarded the Honorable Fellowship, American Institute of Architects at the National convention of the Institute at Dallas, Texas in 1999.
- He was an honorable member of the Master Jury of the First Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Geneva, 1980.
- Islam has been a jury member for several national and international design competitions and awards including:
- The Aga Khan Award for Architecture
- design contest for Faisal Mosque competition in Islamabad
- design contests for the headquarters building of the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah
- Headquarters building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building at Riyadh, which won Aga Khan Award for Architecture
- He was awarded Independence Day Award in 1999, the highest state award of Bangladesh.