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Unformatted text preview: Ali Faruki M GBER Vol. 3 No. 1 pp 15-25 15 Locating Dhaka: A Study of Potential Inspirations for Louis Kahns National Assembly Mustafa Ali Faruki * School of Oriental and African Studies, London Abstract Two decades have passed since the completion of Louis Kahns Citadel of the Assembly in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In that span of time, the National Assembly building has received both enthusiastic praise and harsh criticism from architectural designers and scholars alike. This paper focuses on a particular aspect of recent critical responses to Kahns work in Dhaka: that is, interpretations surrounding the conceptual origins of the buildings design. While Kahn never explicitly linked his work to South Asian architectural paradigms, such a connection has gained popularity. The paper endeavours to both explore and problematize this historicist view. Alternative explanations of the motives behind Kahns Assembly building are also examined. While no rigid conclusions can be immediately drawn in relation to this rather abstract study, the paper attempts to present what may be an additional means of understanding the National Assembly, via aspects of work completed elsewhere in Kahns design career. Introduction Is Louis Kahns design for Dhakas National Assembly inspired by a Bengali - or even Indian - tradition? 1 While some have emphatically arguedoften in praise of Kahnthat the complex is distinctively of the land, the reality, I think, leads us not necessarily to that conclusion (Rashid, 1991: 39). Although it is true that Kahn studied extensively major monumental works of architecture in Pakistan, India, and even Iran quite immediately before the onset of his work in Dhaka, these preliminary explorations should not be viewed as tantamount to the architectural foundations of the National Assembly (Sevcenko, 1984: 72). To begin with, Kahns writing and thought process with regards to the Assembly building stridently question the assertion that the project sought to conform to Bengali, Mughal, or South Asian paradigms. Indeed, the architect himself was particularly averse towards any endeavour seeking to re-locate an historic Mughal architecture into the designs of the modern day. In expressing his thoughts about the use of Islamic designs in contemporary building, Kahn wrote, [T]hese lies, these frauds, do not exhibit Islamic Architectures. These can appeal to only those who are fond of outward manifestation of religion without basic fundamental purity of thought and action. In essence, Kahn aspired to what he deemed to be an honesty of purpose in architectural design, one in which only the techniques and materials of the present day would be used to create the structures of contemporary times (Hossain, 1992: 44) 2 . Moreover, a determination to avoid oversimplified pastiche or obvious references to the forms of the past was a concomitant of Kahns personal approach to design....
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