As you stand on the red brick courtyard in front of the Mirza Bari or the Mirza residence, you might feel as if you were teleported to the 15th century Granada, up on the ground of the Alhambra. While not as intricate, the red brick structure and rounded archways with curved facade provide a rich atmosphere. The large glass panels used on windows give it an airy character.
But once you step inside, it seems like a different world. The modern industrial couch, sharp-edged rectangular coffee table, dining chairs and square cushions contrast the round archways. And if you notice carefully, you will find certain components that break up these structured heavy items, such as oval rugs, round-edged bed headboards, wall paintings and clay pots.
Located in the suburban neighbourhood of Balijuri Bajar, Madarganj, in the Jamalpur district of Bangladesh, the 'Mirza Bari Village Home Refurbishment & Retrofitting' project is an amalgamation of modern contemporary interior with an Islamic architecture-inspired facade.
The 3,400 square-foot residential abode was redesigned and completed in 2022 by architects Nabila Ferdousi and S M Rumman Mashrur Chowdhury, who co-founded the design collective 'Plural Works' in 2021.
The residence has been retrofitted, renovated, and redesigned keeping in mind the needs of the client for their ancestral home – a sophisticated, contemporary yet earthy abode.
"We intended to blend an ancient classical style with contemporary design to provide the client with the feeling of living in his ancestral home in the modern day," said architects Nabila and Rumman.
Warm, earthy brick with airy glass and metal structure
The heavy brick facade and courtyard structure doesn't feel heavy, as the architects incorporated see-through glass and metal sheets to break the monotony. The warm earthy tones of brick and the green plants don't appear to fight with the glass panels, iron grilles or metal sheets on the roof.
Monsoon brings new life to the three-storey structure enveloped with green planters, and transforms the mood of the residents. The vestibule, the raised curved plinth in the stairs, and the metal structure above the stairs, with a contemporary outlook, provide comfort and shade to the visitors.
The extended metal slabs are retrofitted as balconies on the first floor and it has been made heat resistant with the use of cement reinforcement on the slab. The outcome generates a contemporary outlook and provides comfort and shade to the visitors – all of which represent thoughtful attention to detail.
"We extended retrofitted slabs on the west and south, considering the essential climatic conditions of the sun, wind, and rain of our region. The extended shades act as verandas that adapt to the ever-changing monsoon climate," says Architect Rumman.
The architects used light hues for the interior so that it may remain well-lit even with the low light it receives from the north and east.
Returning to brick, which is produced locally, is an attempt to offer a sense of belonging to the home while imparting a timeless aesthetic eminence. The use of wooden texture with the white tones of the interior walls provides a calming essence to the internal atmosphere.
"Brick, a timeless building material that has stood the test of time, has an inherent playfulness with the sun. Its warm, earthy tones and rough texture create a delightful interplay with light and shadow, giving rise to a myriad of visual textures and patterns," shares Architect Nabila.
Since the client had already built the washrooms on the north side and the eastern side had an adjacent building, the architects advised them to keep the remaining area on the north open for use as the back verandas. Frosted glass was used to ensure privacy as well as allow natural light to pass by from the south and west to enter the two bedrooms.
The only two sources for adequate lighting and ventilation in the house's double-height living room, dining room, and family spaces, were the provision of huge openings to the south or the west. So the architects incorporated an opening in the load-bearing structure of the dining area to accommodate ventilation.
Rumman adds, "We converted the extended slabs on the west and south into usable large common shaded verandas with a scope for plantations, where the buildings and their inhabitants come alive both in the sun and in the rain. The sound of the raindrops enjoyed from the veranda with the smell of petrichor is like a symphony, a haunting melody that lingers long after the storm has passed."
Refurbishing - a sustainable solution
Refurbishing or retrofitting architecture refers to any intervention to modify, reuse, or improve a building to meet new circumstances or requirements. This is a sustainable way to conserve architectural structures while implementing new interventions.
The "Plural Works" firm, since its beginning, has intended to be sensitive towards the cultural and economic backdrop of this part of the globe through all of their projects. The architects tried to combine formal, planned, and contextualised architectural addition to the informal, unplanned intervention already done to any old building, a much-needed necessity in the current situation of developing nations like ours.
"This village home project is an example that might inspire others, to help them realise that it is not always necessary to demolish an entire structure and build a new one. Rather, minor adjustments with a delicately crafted touch by an architect in accordance with fundamental climatic and contextual considerations can create a solemn atmosphere for both the clients and surroundings, achieving a larger sustainability scale," says Nabila.
Initially, the clients Mirza Md. Golam Rabbani and Nasrin Jahan had their doubts about the project. They are used to the typical design morphology of suburban areas where the buildings are mostly destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up, leaving no physical reminder of their previous existence. However, once they looked at the finished project, they were more than happy with the design.
"The exterior outlook, the interior details, and the creative use of natural light and openness incorporated in the house are very satisfactory. We are glad that our home was rebuilt in a new way with even more delightful features to embrace," shared Mirza Rabbani, after the project handover.