Skip to content

Arcadia Education Project


Saif Ul Haque Sthapati, Dhaka, Bangladesh

2019 Award recipient - Arcadia Education Project


“At a time of rising sea levels, this modest bamboo school illustrates how to build an affordable and viable solution with locally available materials... Though simple and compact, the project resolves complex issues – of buoyancy, anchoring against the river current and waste management.”

After four decades of teaching in the United Kingdom, Razia Alam returned to Bangladesh where she established a school for underprivileged children, using her pension funds.

General view of the building during the dry season.

The site is flooded by monsoons for four months each year but the structure floats.

When the lease on the premises expired, Ms Alam purchased a riverside plot which, it turned out, is submerged in up to 10ft. of monsoon water for a third of the year. Rather than disrupting the ecosystem to create a stabilized mound for building on, or erecting a structure on stilts that would have been too high in the dry season, the architect devised an amphibious structure, anchored to the site, that could sit on the ground or float on the water, depending on the seasonal conditions.

The building footprint was leveled using retaining walls of sandbags with sand, earth and local brick infill, and used tires fixed atop for cushioning. Built of three types of bamboo, they are kept afloat by substructures of used 30-gallon steel drums within bamboo frames.

Chosen for its lightness and durability, the bamboo was purchased in neighboring villages and drifted along the river to the site. That used for the substructure, anchoring posts and roof, was chemically treated to remove any material that could rot. All other elements were waterproofed liquid by applying made from boiled local gaab fruit – a traditional Bangladeshi method. Most of the joints use a rope-tie technique rather than steel wire, which would corrode. The classrooms’ bow-arched bamboo roofs allow the spaces to remain column-free. Aside from a few battery-powered drills, only hand tools were used for the construction.