Actors and Vehicles of Architectural Criticism (3)

A Journal and a Newsletter: Criticism and Provocation in a Developing Nation
Ishraq Z. Khan
North South University, Dacca

In 1977, the first journal of architecture in Bangladesh- Environment, was produced by the first school in the country, BUET. Set up as part of US Technical Aid to East Pakistan, the school’s agenda to direct the trajectory of the discipline in the region, extended to the journal. Ten years later, the publication changed its name to Protibesh (Bengali for environment) and articulated its editorial intention to ‘generate discussions, promote interest and provoke thought’, shaping the architecture culture of Bangladesh in response to its rapidly evolving socio-politics. While its constituent research articles in the 90s, on passive cooling or low-cost housing schemes struggled to keep up with its heavy editorial intent to address the local, a much smaller scale publication, a newsletter produced by a non-academic entity, argued for the same causes with eloquence, filling in where Protibesh left off.
This newsletter was produced by the independent architecture research group Chetana (Bengali for conscious thought), headed by the foreign trained, Marxist architect, Muzharul Islam, operating outside academic circles, having designed most of the local institutional buildings by the end of the 80s. The newsletter easily accomplished some of the same aims of Protibesh, publishing articles in English and Bengali and addressing the critical notion of place and identity in architecture. Ironically, even while it declared its intention to draw funding from foreign entities, the newsletter was able to retain its originality better at times than Protibesh, struggling to discard the biases of a school with a generic development orientation. While Protibesh was filled with scientifically weighed hypotheses, Chetana was populated with the more direct language of opinion pieces.
The paper compares the trajectories, strategies and agenda of the two publications, dissecting the role of each within its unique set of limitations, Protibesh within institutional biases and Chetana from the lack of a more formal framework. It attempts to understand the coexistence, at times symbiotic and at times dialectical of the two publications, addressing the broader question of the role of both academic and non-academic publications as vehicles in establishing and perpetuating a critical architecture culture of a developing country.

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