A Celebration of Trade and Tradition

The project Integrates the Economy, Society, Culture & History of a self-grown historic business hub and gives direction on how the past can be celebrated while preparing for the future.
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Designer(s) : Umme Tahmina Haque

University : University of Asia Pacific - UAP

Tutor(s) : Mehrab Iftekher, Ziaul Islam, S.M. Ehsan Ul Haque Shwapnil

Centuries ago, the birth of a harbour city with deep connections, initiated the chronicle of trade and traders in this deltaic plain. The city, where the dwellers’ diverse cultures morphed into a unique and inseparable part of its identity, is known as Chittagong, the biggest port city in Bangladesh. The traders entered through the Karnaphuli River via the Bay of Bengal and got into the city through Chaktai Canal.

Since water channels were the only transportation system for trading, the “Ganj”s settled on the banks of rivers and canals quite naturally. The Persian term “Ganj” embodies a place where trade and different public activities/events take place simultaneously. Easier access made the business flourish around these areas and from that very moment, local merchants called Swadagars took over the whole trading system. For business purposes, Swadagars established their shophouses in Ganj which eventually characterized the architectural history of Chittagong around and became an inseparable part of the Chittagonian culture.

Asad-ganj (named after Asad Ali Swadagar) with a portion of the Chaktai Canal near Karnaphuli River was one of the most important business hubs of the 16th century. It is still considered the country’s biggest dry fish market. Asad-ganj has an inherent culture enriched with versatile trading activity, a profound past of Swadagars and some 18th centuries half-demolished shophouses with historic, economic, cultural and environmental values. As time passed by, the lack of insightful planning engendered the area to lose its appeal. As water-based trade has virtually diminished, the historic canal is about to become a dump yard and the people who dwell by the canal today, hardly sense the spirit of the setting or its vibrant past.

“Through my life, I have noticed that cities which separate economic activity from the social activity are the cities where disasters happen”– Jaime Lerner

The design objective is to connect society and the economy while maintaining minimal interventions within the pre-existence. It re-introduces old trade systems and exhibits the glory of the past while being beneficial for the local economy, and lifestyle and strengthening community interests.

Chaktai canal is approx. 5.5 km long. The design idea is implemented within 0.72 km of the canal side. The experience starts from an introductory point with the waiting facility where visitors can get all the information. Demolishing the existing illegal extensions, a pedestrian trail on either side is introduced along the canal with a loading-unloading dock and Ghat for goods and passengers respectively. Old shophouses are preserved by implementing adaptive reuse with newly designed extensions to accommodate the local demand for facilities, allowing urban pockets to connect the urban fabric with the canal. Permeability and usability are ensured to protect the canal from wrong practices. Moreover, vending space, workers’ leisure activity space, garbage disposal point, parking to keep unorganized pulling cart/ loaded truck during heavy congestion and paid parking facility for visitors, and various public amenities such as street lights, seating, drinking water, bean, public toilet, is proposed to complement the project.

The project aims to showcase a self-grown historic business hub and celebrate its versatile activities by designing an experience for the people of the city and beyond that creates harmony among the communities and directs how the past can be celebrated while preparing for the future.