A couple of years ago, as a fresh university graduate, I was bothered by a question - why do we study specialised subjects like medicine, architecture, or even journalism? Later that year, as I was interviewing an architect for a story that I was working on, coincidently I got the perfect response to that question from him – problem-solving is what inspires architecture and that's the reason we study different subjects.
I thought to myself that this makes perfect sense.
Years later, as I sat before my desktop, scrolling through the construction plan and design of the new Desco (Dhaka Electric Supply Company) head office in Dhaka, I found that the concept of problem-solving as well as a commitment towards the community and environment is what inspired the design of this project.
Still at the construction phase, this ongoing project is designed by Roofliners – In Quest Consortium, while the National Development Engineers Ltd (NDE) is taking care of the construction part.
The very first thing that caught my attention is that in the design, the building is divided into two volumes - meaning two vertical buildings built around a courtyard and connected with bridges and green terraces.
I thought, instead of keeping that void in the middle, they could have simply designed a big voluminous building that would accommodate more people. Then why did they decide to waste that much space?
Architect Monon Bin Yunus, one of the architects from the team gave an explanation. He said, "When finished, the building is going to stand on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway, which will cover the view for the residential zone behind. Splitting the building into the middle creates an aperture, which will still provide light and ventilation for the community."
According to the team, this is something that comes from the commitment towards the community.
This is not the only feature that I found interesting. Desco, being the client, wanted this building to be energy-saving and environment-friendly.
Where it all started
Desco is a public limited company which distributes electricity to the northern parts of Dhaka city corporation area and was established in November 1996. Since then, they have been operating in a rented building in the capital's Nikunja-2 area.
Md Zakir Hossain, the project director of Desco head office, informed us that it was around 2013 when the company decided to have their own place and in 2014 they got the land alotted from Rajuk (Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha) to build the new head office on the adjacent plot.
The company intended to build a 12-storey commercial building for their head office. But what kind of building did they want?
Mr Sayeed said, "The plot stands right on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway and very close to the Shahjalal International Airport. Which means our office is going to be among the first few structures the visitors will see. So we wanted to make a bold statement with the structure, a physical entity that would be a corporate icon."
With the idea of finding such a design, Desco along with IAB (Institute of Architects, Bangladesh) arranged a two-stage open architectural design competition in 2016.
Six designs out of 69 submissions were selected for the final stage and the design submitted by Synthesis-Roofliners Consortium (which is now Roofliners – In Quest Consortium) emerged as the winner.
So, the final design is a 12-storey commercial building with six basement floors. The construction started in June 2021 and the expected completion year is 2024.
The estimated budget of the project is 300 cr (approx).
The features of the new Desco corporate building
The design evolved around a central courtyard - a common place for the people to gather and enjoy the dramatic horizontal arrangements above - which connects the vertical staggering, free-flowing space.
The changing mood of daylight and its various patterns throughout the year have been an integral part of the composition of the main building façade and shading device.
While developing the design, there were three different scales that came into play. The first one is the urban scale around the plot. The building is going to stand on a busy highway and the Shahjalal International Airport is very near. This means there is going to be a lot of noise around and also, this building is going to be one of the final structures people see before leaving or arriving in Dhaka.
The second is the neighbouring scale, the community that lives around the building, for whom the building, along with its surroundings, is going to be an everyday relationship.
And the third one is the company itself. Desco - an energy-related organisation who wants to be energy-efficient and environment-friendly.
These three scales combined together formed the ultimate design of the building.
This is one of the few buildings in Bangladesh that is going to have so many basements. Instead of digging the entire six floors underground altogether, NDE is following a top-down method.
"Otherwise the foundation of the adjacent buildings can be affected. We are first constructing the second basement and then we will gradually dig deeper and build the rest of the basement floors", said Md Habibur Rahman, one of the project coordinators of NDE who is working on the Desco project.
He said, "Building that number of floors underground is tough. But NDE has modern equipment, so we are able to build this."
He also said, "NDE is on schedule and we have two more years to complete this project. Hopefully we will finish the construction by then."
How the building interacts with the community
Instead of creating a deep volume structure, the design team decided to tear the building into two sections, which creates an aperture in the middle, which allows air flow, light and visual connectivity towards the highway for the neighbouring community.
This splitting in the middle brings abundant daylight and also reduces the cooling load.
And also the void in the middle allows the structure to incorporate multi-level horizontal bridges that connect the two buildings.
Angular corners reduce heat absorption
Instead of straight, 90-degree angled corners, this building has 45 to 60-degree angled corners that allows a wider view for the neighbours and also works as a shade against the sunlight.
Seasonal trees and plants for landscaping
According to the architects, local seasonal trees and plants are being used for landscaping and are designed in a way that every element will age over time and change its appearance.
It's a green building - both in appearance and practise
Being an energy-related company, Desco wanted an energy-efficient and environment-friendly office, which will be a role-model for other corporate offices.
"We have used a double glazed low-e curtain glass system to reduce heat and sound absorption. This glass can resist up to 35 decibels of sound," said architect Monon.
Besides, there will be solar panels which will produce 72,500 kwh per year. The sewerage treatment plant has a capacity to treat 122 cubic metres of sewage, which will treat the flush and recycle the water for further flushes.
The rain water harvesting plant will collect 22 cubic metres of rain.