Louis Isadore Kahn and iconic Bangladesh Parliament complex

Louis Isadore Kahn

Louis Isadore Kahn (born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky) (February 20, 1901 - March 17, 1974) was an American architect, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. After working in various capacities for several firms in Philadelphia, he founded his own atelier in 1935. While continuing his private practice, he served as a design critic and professor of architecture at Yale School of Architecture from 1947 to 1957.

From 1957 until his death in 1974 he was a professor of architecture at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania. Influenced by ancient ruins, Kahn created a style that was monumental and monolithic; his heavy buildings do not hide their weight, their materials, or the way they are assembled. Louis Kahn's works are considered as monumental beyond modernism. Famous for his meticolously built works, his provocative unbuilt proposals, and his teaching, Kahn was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. He was awarded the AIA Gold Medal and the RIBA Gold Medal.

Architect Louis I Kahn designed the Bangladesh Parliament complex, one of the largest legislative complexes in the world, comprising of 215 acres of land. A oasis of calm in a capital with 20 million people.

The building was featured prominently in the 2003 film “My Architect”, detailing the career and familial legacy of its architect, Louis Kahn. Robert McCarter, author of Louis I. Kahn, described the National Parliament of Bangladesh as one of the twentieth century's most significant buildings.

There have been nine national elections in Bangladesh. The first and second Parliaments used the Old Shangshad Bhaban, which currently serves as the Prime Minister's Office.

The construction of the present Parliament complex began in 1961 by President Ayub Khan, the then President of Pakistan as a permanent building for the federal legislature of both West Pakistan and East Pakistan. Its inauguration took place on 28 January, 1982.

Previously, the then government had appointed Muzharol Islam as the center's architect, but Islam deferred, instead recommending Alvar Aalto or Le Corbusier. When those architects were unavailable, Islam enlisted his former teacher Louis Kahn as the architect. Throughout the project's design and construction, Islam assisted Kahn.

Kahn's key design philosophy optimizes the use of space while representing Bangladeshi heritage and colture. External lines are deeply recessed by porticoes with huge openings of regolar geometric shapes on their exterior, shaping the building's overall visual impact.


In the architect Louis Kahn's own words:

In the assembly I have introduced a light-giving element to the interior of the plan. If you see a series of columns you can say that the choice of columns is a choice in light. The columns as solids frame the spaces of light. Now think of it just in reverse and think that the columns are hollow and much bigger and that their walls can themselves give light, then the voids are rooms, and the column is the maker of light and can take on complex shapes and be the supporter of spaces and give light to spaces. I am working to develop the element to such an extent that it becomes a poetic entity which has its own beauty outside of its place in the composition. In this way it becomes analogous to the solid column I mentioned above as a giver of light.

It was not belief, not design, not pattern, but the essence from which an institution could emerge...

The lake on the three sides of the Bhaban, extending up to the Members' hostel adds to site's aesthetics and also portrays the riverine beauty of Bangladesh. The assembly building received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1989.


The Main Plaza

The most important part of the Main Plaza is the Parliament Chamber, which can house up to 354 Members during Parliamentary Sessions. There are also two podiums and two galleries for VIP visitors. The Chamber has a maximum height of 117' with a parabolic shell roof. The roof was designed with a clearance of a single story to let in daylight. Daylight, reflecting from the surrounding walls and octagonal drum, filters into the Parliament Chamber. The efficient and aesthetic use of light was a strong architectural capability of Louis Kahn.

The artificial lighting system has been carefolly devised to provide zero obstruction to the entry of daylight. A composite chandelier is suspended from parabolic shell roof. This chandelier in turn consists of a metallic web, spanning the entire chamber that supports the individual light fixtures.

Upper levels of the block (that contains the Chamber) contain the visitor and press galleries, as well as communication booths, all of which overlook the Parliament Chamber. The block also contains:

  1. at level one, a library
  2. at level three, MPs' lounges and
  3. at the upper level, party rooms


The South Plaza

The South Plaza faces the Manik Mia Avenue. It gradually rises to a 20' height and serves as a beautifol exterior as well as the main entrance (used by members during sessions) to the Parliament Building. It contains:

  1. controlling gates
  2. a driveway
  3. a main mechanical plant room
  4. a large car parking space
  5. a telephone exchange
  6. offices of maintenance engineers
  7. equipment stores and
  8. an open plaza with steps and ramps leading directly to the main building


Presidential Plaza

The Presidential Plaza lies to the North and faces the Lake Road. It functions as an intimate plaza for the MPs and other dignitaries. It contains marble steps, a gallery and an open pavement. Other information

  1. Completion date: 1982
  2. Function: civic
  3. Construction cost: US$32 million


The Bangladesh Parliament building an iconic national building.