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 began his schooling in Krishnansgar College School where he studied up to Class Five. However, in 1932 professor Omadatul Islam was transferred from Krishnanagar to Rajshahi Government College and thus Muzharul Islam moved to Rajshahi Government High School. He was admitted into Class Five and in 1938 passed his matriculation. Four years later he passed his intermediate in Science (ISC) from Rajshahi Government College where his father was a professor.
While studying for Physics with honors at the college, Muzharul Islam applied for Shibpur Bengal Engineering College (at present Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology or IIEST, Shibpur) and was successfully admitted.
The teacher in Shibpur used to admire his drawings. He was aware that there were beautiful and ugly sides to everything. As an engineer, he could probably express his profound love for beauty and own culture. Hence, as soon as he got the chance to study architecture he grabbed it.
From Engineer to Architect
In 1946, he graduated in Civil Engineering from Shibpur Bengal Engineering College and in 1950 he traveled to USA to study Architecture to study in the University of Oregon after he was awarded a two-year scholarship under Post War Development. After two -and-half years he earned enough credit for his Bachelor Degree in Architecture.
It would have been very difficult for me to live in the USA and study Architecture if two people Professor Ross of History and Professor Hayden of Design, didn’t give me their love and affection. They told me that the curricula would mostly refer to European Architecture. But as I was from a region with a rich culture and heritage, something to be proud of but not taught over there, I must studied it on my own.
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.