Muzharul Islam – Designer of Enduring Landmarks

Seen as the pioneer of Bengali modernism and architecture, Bangladeshi architect Muzharul Islam has designed many notable buildings at various locations in Bangladesh. His early works include the Art Institute in Shahbag, the Public Library and National Archives, all located in Dhaka. He designed the housing at Azimpur Estate in Dhaka, and was involved with the design of other landmark buildings in the city including the Headquarters for the Agricultural Development Corporation, the BCSIR Laboratory Buildings, and the World Bank Office Buildings, as well as Chittagong University and the Jahangirnagar University. This talented and innovative Bangladeshi architect collaborated with American architect in the design of polytechnic institutes in the cities of Rangpur, Pabna, Bogra, Sylhet and Barisal.

Muzharul Islam studied at the University of Oregon in the United States, graduating with a Bachelor degree in Architecture before receiving a scholarship in 1956 to further his studies at the AA School of Architecture in London. In 1961, Islam completed post-graduate studies at Yale University where he had been taught by American architect Paul Marvin Rudolph. It was here that he met up with architects he would later collaborate with, including classmate Stanley Tigerman and Professor Louis Isadore Kahn.

Two of the very first buildings to be designed by Islam in 1955 were the Dhaka University Library and the Art Institute in Dhaka. In 1959, President Ayub Khan of Pakistan directed that Dhaka should be the second capital of what was then Pakistan. Islam was given the task of designing the National Assembly Building (Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban) and he invited his previous teacher, Louis Kahn, to collaborate with him on the project. The two architects worked as a team from 1965 until Kahn passed away in 1973.

Islam also invited Stanley Tigerman and Paul Rudolph to join him in Bangladesh, where a number of new projects were being planned. The three architects, and close friends, came to be referred to as the American Trio, and between them they designed a multitude of high profile buildings, as mentioned at the outset. In addition to designing many of the buildings of Dhaka, Israel was the designer of the Dhaka city master plan.

Among the many awards received by Muzharul Islam were the Bangladesh Gold Medal from the Institute of Architects; the Honorable Fellowship from the American Institute of Architects; and the Independence Day Award – the highest award issued by the government of Bangladesh. A documentary film called Tini (The Architect), was made by Enamul Karim Nirjhar in 2000 detailing the life, career and works of Muzharul Islam, who has been quoted as saying: “The love of one’s own land is the eternal source of creative power, which in turn, makes a proper architect.”