Amidst the hullabaloo of the Tongi industrial area, the Beximco Pharmaceuticals Limited Learning and Development Center is a spectacle of its own. This 9,700 sq ft project is an extension project of the existing Beximco Pharmaceuticals Limited Production building in Tongi. And unlike a traditional concrete structure, the project features stunning lightweight architecture.
The elaborate yet light structure was designed by Dehsar Works - by lead architect Rashed H. Chowdhury, and his team.
Rashed says about the project: "From an ecological, social and cultural perspective, lightweight structures have never been more contemporary and necessary than today".
In an interview with The Business Standard, Rashed spoke about the entangled relationship between society and architecture - our architecture or any other aspect of culture is strongly influenced by the economy and social structure. As our society is developing economically, slowly but surely people's ideologies will become more diverse. According to Rashed, with this growing characteristic of a temporal dimension of society, Bangladeshi architecture will become more mendable, and it was this idea that conceptualised this project.
Deshar Works has embraced this technology and these concepts in a number of their projects such as the Ajo idea space, the Blues Communications, and the Abul Khair Marble and Granite showroom.
The perfect amalgamation of concept and form
The basic needs of the project were to accommodate a training office, lecture theatre, library and an archive. As the base building had been built a while back, it was difficult to trace the structural alterations and original capacity. After a lot of deliberation, the team decided to go with a lightweight structural solution.
Instead of casting another heavy concrete floor, they decided to go with an exoskeleton - to use the roof and use it as a pavilion with metal frames to give support.
Rashed said he wanted to have a light structure that used steel sheets and glass panels, instead of concrete and brick. As there were no internal columns, he thought of a semi-circular ceiling. The design incorporates a semi-circular ceiling made of poly-carbon sheets on steel frames. The frames rest on the peripheral end of the existing building to support the new structure.
But there is an interesting twist here - there is a light aperture or a slit on the roof to maximize the use of daylight. As the site is situated latitudinally, the amount of heat gain after building the extension may affect the environment of the building. Therefore, to ensure an ambient lighting condition, a slit was incorporated in the roof structure.
The interior was kept quite minimal, yet functioning, to complement the airy architecture. Keeping the same thought in mind, the colour palette is quite neutral, with basic colours such as white, off-white, black and grey, with a pop of primary colours here and there.
For internal lighting, the team used white pendant lights hanging from the high ceiling. This creates an illusion: as if the lights are floating in an airy space.
Instead of separate enclosed rooms, the space is separated with glass panels and designed in a way that allows the users to experience being in a different space while being on the same floor.
The furniture used matches the internal colour palette - with off-white meeting and office desks and chairs. The lounge area has a combination of white sofas, and mid-century modern lounge chairs, all arranged in sections. The lecture theatre consists of rows of desks and chairs, where each desk is set with two chairs.
And in between, you will find red armchairs to break the monotony of the colour palette.
The entire structure is made mainly with steel frames and sheets, glass panels, steel mesh sheets and wood for the floor.
As the architect says, "Every material has its own characteristic that we can feel. For example, steel gives a cold vibe, while brick or wood gives a certain warmth and a cosy atmosphere. And as the space is on a rooftop facing latitudinally, we needed to tone down the temperature. Hence - steel."
Clear glass is a crucial element here as it allows sunlight to enter the space. And steel mesh sheets are used to eliminate the temperature and allow only the light to pass.
For lightweight structures, the materials have huge significance, Rashed says. He points out that lightweight structures can usually be disassembled and their elements are recyclable. Therefore, they are superior in meeting the requirement for sustainable development.
He further explains that in the typical lightweight structure, the flow of forces is visible, 'rustic' as we may call it. Such structures with their aesthetics can solicit sympathies for technology, construction and engineers.
Rashed Chowdhury foresees a future where lightweight architecture and building engineering is going to become an essential part of our building culture as they will be more sustainable and functional, and may help us to escape the monotony that we see in today's structural engineering.