Setbacks are a mandatory part of any building in the Dhaka city, according to the Bangladesh National Building Codes (BNBC) as well as the rules and regulations implemented by the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkho (RAJUK). The term may sound new to the uninitiated, but it is simply the mandatory leftover/free and open spaces that hem in any building from all sides.
In a densely populated city, property owners generally loathe giving up empty space. When the BNBC first stipulated that a ten-storey high-rise has to at least keep 10 feet of empty space as setback, there was much hue and cry from property owners. But do you really need to leave setbacks as it is, or can it be put to use in a way that does not infringe upon building regulations?
This is where modern architects come to the rescue. Setbacks are nowadays used to account for many necessities of modern architecture: light, ventilation, lack of congestion between edifices, rain drainage systems and beyond. Around the world, there are even more innovative uses of setbacks, which actually augment your living experience in ways you would have never imagined possible. Let's take a look at some of the ways a setback can altered to make the best use of the space.
Love thy neighbour: Break the barrier between neighbouring setbacks
There is no reason for any building's setback to be Spartan and sparse. There are many directions you can take it. If you have been in the residential side of Gulshan 2, you can spot a number of recent multistoried apartments, where setbacks have been innovatively integrated with green in the partitions of duplex building. While you may not be living in one of those expensive duplexes, if you are a landowner and have a good relationship with your neighbourhood, why not bring the wall separating your property down and building a green open space that allows for leisurely walks, acts as a natural heatsink and just imparts the feeling of a green oasis in our brick and mortar jungle.
This is the best case scenario for residential buildings and could be the bar we all strive from.
Architect Bhuiyan A.R.M. Tareque, Principal Architect of Kendrik Architects says "Let's forget about what type of building we are talking about for a second. If I have ten feet of setback space and so does my neighbour, we could come to a mutual agreement and leave that space open for our children. It does a world of good in terms of ventilation and light, especially in a city as congested as ours."
With just a bit of forward planning and natural assessment one can truly turn a setback into either fun or functional facilities in an edifice. Unfortunately, over the years, the culture of 'loving thy neighbour' has gone out of fashion, and not many people are brave enough to take that step.
"Neighbours do not want to pool and share their spaces. You can call it a security concern," says architect Sultana Hoque, Principal Architect at Sthapothik Nirman. "Most of our clients want to use up all their space. It is hard to convince them to create a shared space, or even purposeful negative space with landscaping and greenery," she says, adding "this is a problem especially for commercial buildings."
Open Air Arena
Tejgaon is the industrial part of the capital and thus is obligated to have the setback spaces that are appropriate and utilitarian. The setbacks in an industrial edifice, such as a factory, must have enough setback space that allows for fire escape routes and assembly points in cases of emergencies.
Teach for Bangladesh, an NGO working for educational equity in Bangladesh, in Tejgaon breaks the mould by having a decent sized open air amphitheatre that can be used in a myriad of ways.
Teach for Bangladesh, designed by Architect Mohammad Moniruzzaman of Studio Dhaka, generally uses the space to hosts events such as talks, seminars etc. If you control a commercial space like this, turning it into an arena for meetings for cultural events, is one option.
If that is not your thing, you could also convert your setback into an open air dining space. The restaurant, Ajo Idea Space in Uttara has built such a space, which catches most of the daylight and is perfectly oriented to allow proper airflow. It was designed by architect Rashed H Chowdhury of Deshar Works.
In fact, it is so well done that its patrons are no wiser to the fact that they are paying to enjoy and relax in a part of a building that's most of us term as an "opportunity cost space". This is both a lucrative and correct use of a setback, the only thing you must ensure, to avoid breaking regulations, is that you don't put a roof over it.
Most of us, by hook or by crook invariably live in apartment complexes. We, as a city and culture are heavily dependent on our support staffs: drivers, security guards and helpers.
Architect Sultana Hoque rightfully opines "Most people just ditch trash in those spaces and we leave it to our support staff to clean it up and its upkeep, when most of us don't lead by example."
If the setbacks were configured to their functions and comforts, the owner and users of the building would both benefit from a happier support staff who would assuredly take better care of their surroundings and it also imparts a sense of homeliness towards guests of the building.
Architect Saima Sonali, Partner at Kendrik Architects, added that setbacks in multi storied residential apartments can be a part of the reception at the ground floor from which you can go to enjoy the green space designed in setback areas.
There is no reason for only hotels and office buildings to have foyers. You can have one too, all you need to do is will it into being.
You can build a foyer along any of your setbacks and provide a place for brief meetings and introductions. We are notorious as a culture for taking our sweet time when exiting a guest's house. Many farewell exchanges happen with apartments doors ajar.
Take it to the ground floor, have space specifically built for that, and see your guests off with some class and a touch of homeliness outside your home.
Keep an eye on the rules
As you start integrating what you just learnt above, remember that there must be a minimum space allotted. It is important to note that according to guidelines and laws that setbacks cannot be covered with any form of permanent structure within or on top of the setback space. Functional, weatherproof furniture and a natural integration with greenery are perhaps the cheapest and most utilitarian modes to revamp your setback.