A building that can fall back into the ecosystem

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Designed by internationally renowned architect Marina Tabassum, the Montoliya Aggregation Center is an innovative two-story bamboo structure that was built to bring together smallholder farmers and potential buyers and retailers.

September 27, 2022, 10:30 a.m.

Last modification: September 27, 2022, 10:26 a.m.

Rain was falling, but that did not deter people from gathering around the recently opened assembly center in the Montoliya area of ​​Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar.

Sayed Ahmed, Amir Hossain, Mohammad Yasin and the people who gathered around the center were either nearby local shop owners or traders. They come here on Saturdays and Sundays to buy various vegetables, eggs and chickens, which are then resold in their local shops or bazaars.

“The vegetables you get from here are fresh and contain no preservatives or pesticides,” Sayed Ahmed said. “We also get a better deal for everything we buy here. Everything is four to five takas less than market value.”

Montoliya Aggregation Center is one of 26 centers built by the UN World Food Program (WFP). All the centers were built to bring together smallholder farmers and potential buyers and retailers, to improve the incomes of Bangladeshis living nearby and affected by the Rohingya influx into these areas.

The building allows the ground floor to be used as a publicly accessible floor where farmers sell their fresh produce. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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The building allows the ground floor to be used as a publicly accessible floor where farmers sell their fresh produce. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Designed by internationally renowned architect Marina Tabassum, the Montoliya Aggregation Center is an innovative two-story bamboo structure. The design incorporates passive cooling and uses renewable materials in its construction.

The ground floor is used as a publicly accessible floor where farmers sell their fresh produce. It also includes an office and toilets. The upper floor is a private space for the farming community to interact with each other and has a space for children.

“We chose borak bamboo for the main structure, steel nodes as connectors, muli bamboo for the facades and sheet metal roof. The building sits on a shallow brick foundation,” said Marina Tabassum.

“We used mostly natural materials for the building and the reasons are many. This is an example of how we can achieve a great sustainable building using locally sourced eco-friendly materials and design. ”

“We hope to change the perception of bamboo as a temporary/vernacular material. In the era of climate crisis, we must reduce the use of man-made materials and promote the use of natural materials,” she added. .

The locations of the assembly centers were established based on geographic convenience for farmers. The Montoliya Center site was chosen because it was determined to be the most central point in this community and easily accessible to both farmers and shoppers.

Inside, fresh produce was sold only by women. Among the vendors was Elmun Nahar. A mother of two children, she mainly earns her living as a local craftswoman; she works as a freelance seamstress and also sells the nakshi kanthas she makes.

After her husband’s death, however, she became the sole breadwinner of her family. Elmun grows various crops to feed his family. Its surplus is sold at the centre.

The aggregation center includes a bathroom, a dedicated room where the children can stay and the women can feed them in complete privacy. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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    The aggregation center includes a bathroom, a dedicated room where the children can stay and the women can feed them in complete privacy.  Photo: Noor-A-Alam

The aggregation center includes a bathroom, a dedicated room where the children can stay and the women can feed them in complete privacy. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

“In the past, we had to go to local bazaars to sell our excess production. It is not easy for women to sell their harvest in the bazaars. Many of us have children to take care of – it becomes difficult for us to breastfeed our children. babies in this environment and we don’t have dedicated toilets either,” she said. “The aggregation center includes a toilet, a dedicated room where our children can stay and where we can feed them in privacy,” Elmun said.

Similar comments were echoed by another beneficiary of the center, Sabina Yasmin.

“If we go to the bazaar, I have to pay a tax. I need a ticket to go there and we also have no place to sit. I have a young boy who I cannot breastfeed if he’s hungry,” she said. .

“At the aggregation center we don’t need to pay tax and we have lots of facilities – we are given a tomtom rickshaw for transportation, we have a bathroom we can use and we can look after the needs of our children.”

A community building

This particular aggregation center was a community building. Consultation meetings were held with the local community (particularly women farmers), where objectives were shared and participants were asked to give feedback.

The impacts of climatic shocks in the region were also heavily considered when determining the appearance of the structure.

Marina Tabassum specializes in environmentally friendly structures. The idea was to create a building that was sustainable, environmentally friendly and, above all, operated as a safe space for women farmers in the region.

“We prioritized process-oriented design. We included the beneficiaries, in this case women farmers, in the process from the start. The center program was developed through the engagement of the farming community and local artisans,” she said.

The design uses local natural materials like bamboo for construction. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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    The design uses local natural materials like bamboo for construction.  Photo: Noor-A-Alam

The design uses local natural materials like bamboo for construction. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

“We held hands-on building workshops with local builders to get them to understand the new building techniques we introduced. There were a lot of new design ideas, so the one-day workshops and community engagements have been very productive in giving people a sense of ownership of the buildings,” added Marina.

“The design uses local natural materials like bamboo for construction. We developed a new system in our office at MTA (Marina Tabassum Architects) where we use structural bamboo with steel connectors that create the main frame of the building. It’s structurally sound and durable.”

“Bamboo is a centuries-old vernacular building material. Through technological knowledge and innovation, we can utilize its potential as a structural material and elevate its capacity in new sustainable and appropriate building techniques as a climate response” , she added.

A building that sinks into the ecosystem

Smallholder women farmers have little or no access to local markets due to cultural or religious restrictions. They can, however, sell their produce locally and at WFP Fresh Food Corners at e-voucher outlets in central Rohingya camps.

The center is open to local beneficiaries and buyers on Saturdays and Sundays. The market opens at 7:00 a.m. and closes between 10:00 p.m. and 12:00 p.m. The price of the products is slightly lower than the market price.

“We are among the marginalized in this country. Most of our husbands are fishermen and are away during the day. They work on fishing boats and we lose a day’s income if they go to local markets to sell our products “, said Topura Begum. , another beneficiary of the center.

The top floor is used by the women farmers as a community space where they hold their meetings and hold trainings. With the help of the WFP, they organized workshops in sewing, making nakshi kanthas, various jute-based crafts, etc.

The workshops are designed to teach the local community skills they can then use to earn a living.

The top floor is used by the women farmers as a community space where they hold their meetings and hold trainings. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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The top floor is used by the women farmers as a community space where they hold their meetings and hold trainings.  Photo: Noor-A-Alam

The top floor is used by the women farmers as a community space where they hold their meetings and hold trainings. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

The land for the aggregation center was donated by the community. Part of the construction costs were borne by the participants, while the bulk of the costs were borne by the WFP.

“The two-storey building is a knock-down system using steel joints that allows mobility when changing location. Our idea is that the farming community can move the building to a new location when their agreement with the owner expires after five years’ time.

The two-tier structure allows for a compact footprint. As such, the open space surrounding the building can be used for landscaping and small-scale farming by the community,” Marina said.

“Environmentally sustainable designs reduce the carbon footprint. The process starts at the beginning of the design, the sourcing of materials, the construction, the use of the building. The way a building falls back into the ecosystem also makes part of the sustainable design process. It needs to be a circular process,” she added.

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