Located right beside the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Novo Theatre at Bijoy Sarani in Dhaka, the Bangabandhu Military Museum is a contemporary establishment that endeavours to uphold Bangladeshi military forces' bravery and glorious history.
Upon entering the premises, the central plaza with moving escalators will draw your attention and make you wonder whether you've entered a shopping mall. But, as you wander around the halls, you develop a sense of the magnificent architecture of the building.
The wide frontal court, waterbody adorned with greenery, fuzzy height variations of each floor, and the picturesque view from every direction make the museum one of a kind and possibly one of the best in Bangladesh.
The museum is a joint venture project of Architect Ali Imam and an architectural consultancy firm, Nakshabid Architects. Design Works Group (DWG), Mukta Dinwiddie MacLaren Architects (MDM) and Journeyman combinedly worked on the museum's interior.
This museum was founded in 1987 at Mirpur Cantonment and the idea was to educate people about Bangladesh military's glorious history. The museum was permanently relocated to its current location in 1992.
The museum's primary purpose is to collect, conserve, and exhibit the history, heritage, successes, and progress of the Bangladesh military throughout the decades and to motivate people to join the force.
The museum has six separate sections, including galleries for the Bangladesh Army, Navy, and Air Force. The maintenance accessories are kept in three separate workshops and stores in the basement. Other than the UN peacekeeping gallery on the top floor, the entire museum is organised from a national point of view.
Owned by the Ministry of Public Administration, a separate museum named "Toshakhana Jadughor" was also built within the museum complex, where valuable gifts and awards received by the country's important personnel are displayed.
Keeping the grand sculpture of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the centre, all the artefacts of this particular museum have been showcased in a corkscrew pattern.
Except for the Toshakhana Jadughor, the entire property belongs to the Ministry of Defence - it is governed and maintained by the military.
The wide implementation of augmented reality is another praiseworthy feature of this museum. The interactive displays, combining brilliant use of light and virtual reality, not only add to the museum's aesthetic value but also provide better comprehension to the audience.
"Along with highlighting the military's national and international significance, the museum has another significant function. In Dhaka, we lack public spaces. The museum was thoughtfully designed to create a recreational space within the city," said Architect Bayejid Mahbub Khondker, Principal Architect of Nakshabid Architects.
The museum complex also has its own cafeteria, art gallery, and amphitheatre. Sitting arrangements can be found hither and thither. A generous amount of greenery was planted in symmetric intervals to save the area from being a heated island.
As per the client's requirement, Bangabandhu Military Museum was designed maintaining a resemblance with Novo Theatre.
"To make something alike yet unique was quite challenging for me, but I think I did justice to both of these establishments," said Architect Imam, who also happens to be Novo Theatre's key designer.
Hence, similar to the Novo Theatre, the Bangabandhu Military Museum's most imposing feature is the geodesic dome - which stretches 120 feet in diameter - in the centre. The dome reflects on the artificial water body placed in the forepart and looks like a complete sphere.
The dome, made of low-emissivity glass, allows an abundance of natural light inside the museum during the daytime, giving the museum a balanced luminescence. Besides, the material also saves the dome from overheating.
"The dome's north-facing position was thoughtfully designed by the architects to save it from direct sunlight," added Tanzim Hasan Salim, Principal Architect of DWG.
The museum's ground floor is made of marble while all the other levels stand on polyurethane flooring. The display shelves are made of glass and metal.
All these materials used and the reflective finishes contribute largely to brightening up the museum's ambience. The railings are also made of glass to ensure utmost transparency from every angle.
Other than natural light, artificial lighting is tailored to each area. Low-level lighting has been used to add dramatic effects inside some displays. In contrast, sunlight contributes to the feeling and vibe of the area.
Around Tk640 crore budget was allocated for this museum. It took almost five years to complete the museum's construction, starting from March 17, 2017 till January 6, 2022.
The project's key constraint was the height restriction as the museum was built on 9.3 acres of land just opposite the old airport, currently being used by the Air Force. As a result, the museum complex's maximum height (especially the dome) had to be reduced to 65 feet.
The entire complex is air-conditioned and artificially ventilated, which includes the dehumidifying process. "Moondust is displayed in the Toshakhana Museum. Such things need meticulous maintenance. So, controlling the temperature and humidity is a must," said Architect Bayejid.
The undisrupted view is one of the fundamental specialities of the entire museum. All the elements have been exhibited in harmony - not a single piece of display distracts from another, creating a perfect juxtaposition.
Keeping that in mind, the wartime relics, which were previously displayed on a flat surface in the old museum, are now displayed in an outdoor spiral pathway connected to the central complex.
"The best part of displaying something in a spiral pattern is that you can see all the elements together from a single point," said Architect Bayejid, adding, "as you escalate up through the pathway, your background is ever-changing."
Besides, to keep the museum's frontal view intact so that it can be seen from the Bijoy Sarani Road, the architects avoided constructing traditional boundaries.
"To protect an establishment, boundaries are a must. But, at the same time, the boundaries block views from the outside. Hence, instead of building a fence in the front, we made six-feet deep trenches," informed Architect Bayejid.
The museum is open for all from 10am to 6pm throughout the week. On Fridays, however, the Bangabandhu Military Museum opens at 3pm and closes at 8pm. The entry fee, for locals, is Tk20 only. Around 450 cars can be parked in a circular pattern on the premises at the same time.
The project at a glance:
Project: Bangabandhu Military Museum
Location: Bijoy Sarani, beside the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Novo Theatre in Dhaka
Site Area: 9.3 Acres
Principal Architect: Architect Ali Imam and architect Bayejid Mahbub Khondker
Landscaping: Ar. Shahidullah Faruq, Ar. Rabiul Islam Rabi
Interior: Design Works Group (DWG), Mukta Dinwiddie MacLaren Architects (MDM) and Journeyman
Lighting: Platform Solution
Budget: Around Tk640 crore
Time: Almost 5 years (from March 17, 2017 till January 6, 2022)