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A House of Ordinary Stories

Sharmin, Imran Hasan / Bangladesh

Describe a marginalized person you choose.

  • Age   16

  • Sex   Female

  • The person’s major condition you are trying to deal with.

1. Searching for an authorized identity
Munia is a migrant from rural Bangladesh who lives with her family in Karail basti, the largest self-­organized human settlement of Dhaka city. Being an inhabitant of the city, Munia seeks recognition of her existence. However, the city puts a so-called 'informal' or 'illegal' title to them to deny the right to the city resulting in a perpetual tension of being evicted. 

2. Struggle for spatial freedom
Munia lives in a congested settlement where 300,000 people live per square kilometer. Here, personal space and privacy seem unusual. Growing up in such a neighborhood has shaped her life within an introverted environment with conscious outdoor movements. The male-dominated streets and open spaces of the settlement challenge her to explore herself. 

3. Inadequate resources
Despite having all the potentials, Munia has an uncertain future, being an underprivileged young girl of society. She is in need of certain resources and an environment that would give her the opportunities to shape herself as a better human being. She could be the power of society, not a burden. 

  • Describe the design intent for the chosen person.

1. To create a soul shelter that builds a connection to her origin and helps to find her own identity in the city.

2. To design a shelter that is not alien to her by tracing the context of her surroundings.

3. To create a shelter that allows her to transform the space as well as herself. The shelter should give her the opportunity to design her own activities and create a sense of belongingness through self-organization.


4. To design a play space for the soul, crafting memories, dreams, and aspiration.



Design Statement


Karail basti, the largest self-organized human settlement of Dhaka city is a symbol of ‘home and hope’ for around 120,000 urban people, majority of whom are migrants from rural Bangladesh. This settlement is an illustration of inequality and administrative indifference of the country. Although the city runs through their labor, everyday existence here is a constant struggle for the people holding the label of ‘illegal inhabitants’. They represent a marginalized group in our society and we wish to care for a person from this community.

Munia is a teenage girl who lives in Karail with her family. Her parents came here 25 years ago with aspirations for a better life. After birth, Munia lived with her grandmother in the village because her parents could not bear the living cost in the city. Munia lived in the village for 8 years. In 2011, Munia’s parents brought her back so that she can study in a good school of Dhaka. This year, Munia has completed her secondary school education with a brilliant result. Despite the constant threats of eviction, Munia dreams to study more and create a dignified future for herself.

Munia is a representative of many young girls in Karail. She has all the potentials and deserves an environment that nurtures her soul. Hence, we propose a shelter for Munia that would allow her to explore her soul. The primary concept of this soul shelter is to make her realize her ability to transform the surroundings as well as herself. We aim to re-evaluate the power of ‘ordinary stories of everyday life’ that eventually form our habitats. These ordinary stories would help Munia to rediscover their processes of self-organization and redefine her identity with a new perspective of pride and strength. The shelter itself has its own soul and we aim to create a sense of belongingness between the person and the shelter so that both souls can nurture each other.

Design development: The design approach starts from Karail where Munia lives. Considering the imbalanced land- people ratio, it seems logical to occupy less possible land on the ground. The survey findings show that Munia’s room, where she sleeps and study is around 6 sq. meters. We consider this dimension as the base platform of one’s activity. The platform is later separated into 3 parts and floats through the vertical axis. As the platforms are elevated from the ground, it gives the opportunity to have a small garden or simply the touch of earth. The vertical movements add dynamism and a spirit of energy while doing activities. Moreover, the distinct small platforms let the person design or allocate the activities according to her wish. For instance, there could be a platform for resting, a place for drawing, a shed to read books and so on. She will add elements to develop a sense of belongingness with her soul shelter. The vertical expansion provides a breathing space in contrast to her congested living spaces.

The base platform is surrounded by a pathway that acts as a buffer space from the outer shell of the shelter. This outer shell resembles ‘macha’- a structure to support the creepers and plants. The shell gives her protection from outside and marks her boundary. Recycled saris (a sari is women’s garment in Bangladesh) are used as curtains representing the culture and memory of her family.

Material and construction methods: Regarding the temporary and portable nature of the shelter as well as the availability of local materials and techniques, we recommend wood, bamboo, fabric, sari, water-resistant fabric (for the top shade) as the major materials for the shelter. People build their own buildings in the settlements. Local masons and carpenters are our major sources of inspiration.