Urban River Spaces
Jhenaidah, Bangladesh

Recent urban expansion in Bangladesh has seen its originally river-facing cities become road- and land-focused, their watercourses reduced to backyards and dumping grounds. One such is Jhenaidah, where architects Khondaker Hasibul Kabir and Suhailey Farzana grew up. Keen to enhance the quality of life here, they moved back from Dhaka in 2015 and instigated a participatory initiative to enable low-income communities to build their own houses, followed by an extensive series of “Co-Creation Workshops” engaging citizens to rethink the city’s public spaces. Putting the resulting visualisations into action has produced the Urban River Spaces, which so far comprise two ghats (steps leading to waterside platforms) plus adjacent walkways and access pathways – reconnecting the city to the river. All visible surfaces are in local brick.

By far the larger of the ghats, the 115-metre-long “public ghat” has two plateaus linked by various stairways and a ramp for the disabled, the lower plateau remaining at least 3.7 metres above the water. People of all ages and backgrounds, including some from nearby towns and villages, regularly come here to walk, sit, meet, or engage in sport, cultural or recreational activities. The upper retaining wall serves on the lower plateau as a vertical surface for public exhibitions, and on the upper one joins with a parapet that meanders around the pre-existing trees – some over a century old – to create semi-enclosed, shaded areas where people can sit facing each other. This ghat can also serve as a two-level auditorium for theatrical performances given on a floating deck or on the opposite riverbank. 

The smaller “community ghat” is directly connected to the water’s edge via a few steps. Intended for and used extensively by one of the city’s largest low-income communities, where the majority are Hindu, it caters specifically to their needs in terms of bathing, washing and practising religious rituals, with a changing room and benches provided. 

Mobilised by the community’s enthusiasm, Jhenaidah Municipality employed local craftspeople to execute the project, the architects providing pro-bono consultancy services. The mayor reports that representatives of over 50 municipalities have visited to learn from these community engagement programmes. 

Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Jhenaidah, Bangladesh
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Associated Names
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Occupancy 2019
Site area: 4, 267 m²; Built area: 1,632 m²
Building Usages
urban design and development