Floating Community Lifeboats

Exhibition: Cities | October 5, 2011 by

One-third of Bangladesh floods annually, with increasing frequency in recent years. In the flat, low-lying Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, the most densely populated area in the world, six million people could lose their homes if water levels rose just half a meter (19 inches). Architect Mohammed Rezwan witnessed this firsthand growing up in the country’s northern Natore region. During monsoon season, many children could not attend classes and often dropped out. Rather than design buildings that would be underwater in his lifetime—Bangladesh is projected to lose 17% of its land by 2050—Rezwan used $500 from a scholarship to found Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha in 1998 and designed the first floating school in 2002. Shidhulai currently operates fifty-four floating schools, libraries, health clinics, and a training center for parents, serving close to 90,000 families.

Working with area boat builders, Rezwan modifies traditional flat-bottom riverboats using local materials and building methods. Sitting low in water, they incorporate a metal truss to allow for column-free open spaces, flexible wooden floors, higher ceilings, and waterproof roofs outfitted with solar photovoltaic panels. Eighty percent of Bangladeshis lack regular access to electricity. The boats charge computers, lights, mobile phones, medical equipment, and SuryaHurricane lanterns—low-cost, portable solar-powered lamps made from recycled kerosene lanterns. Rezwan has also designed cluster housing outfitted with cooking facilities and toilets and a three-tier farming structure built on floating platforms. The floating farm’s first tier is a planting bed made of water hyacinth and a bamboo truss for growing vegetables, beneath which fish are raised within net enclosures, while poultry can be raised on the top tier.

Mohammed Rezwan, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha. Atrai, Barnoi, Gurnoi, Nandhakuja, Gumani, and Boral Rivers, Natore, Pabna, and Sirajganj districts, Bangladesh, 2002–present. Community lifeboats: sal and other woods, bamboo, angle iron, iron sheet, flat bar; SuyraHurricane solar lamps:  4 Ah 6 V sealed lead-acid batteries, 5 W high-efficiency compact fluorescent lamp, switch, recharging socket, charge controller, inverter circuit, lantern casing


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