Principal Architect Ar. Shafique Rahman’s interview with Showcase Magazine

Ar. Shafique Rahman

Photograph: Shahriar Mahmud.

During 10 years of instance affiliation with Architecture as a student, researcher, educator and practitioner, architect Shafique Rahman has designed and involved with a number of projects in Bangladesh and Australia. Among his professional years he worked with Crawford Architects in Sydney, where he worked alongside numerous international professionals, while taking up opportunities to work in a number of Housing Projects. Shafique Rahman studied Bachelor of Architecture at the Architecture Discipline of Khulna University and he completed his Master’s Degree on Sustainable Design from the Faculty of Architecture Design and Planning, The University of Sydney, Australia. Amongst his many noteworthy achievements in the field, there is his acceptance of the “Academic Design Award” (2009), shortlisted in “The Dwelling Unit 2062” and special mention in “IATA 2013”, and he is also the author of numerous published research papers on Luminous Environment, Thermal Comfort, Building Material and Environmental Sustainability. Apart from being a Dhaka-based practicing Architect, he is also currently working at The Department of Architecture, Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology as an Assistant Professor.

  • What is so special about natural light and airflow/ventilation?

In any indoor space the finishing material used to coat furniture and the paints used on the walls are  consistently releasing complex gaseous chemical components into the indoor air, namely Volatile Organic Components (VOCs). Moreover, inhabitants living within that space are ofcourse releasing heat and carbon dioxide through their natural biological processes, which can further add to the rise in internal temperature and air pressure. Therefore, the indoor air quality of the space becomes greatly contaminated and the presence of such toxic gases can be severely hazardous to health, specially if allowed to build up within closed spaces.

Indoor spaces not being adequately ventilated have proven to be the source of several illnesses, such as eye-irritations, nasal congestion, hypersensitivity, throat soreness, sinus congestion, skin irritations, headaches, lethargy, or even fatigue and difficulty in concentrating. This phenomenon is called BRI (Building Related Illness), which is a heterogeneous group of disorders whose etiology is linked to the enclosed environment of modern airtight buildings. Simply ensuring mechanical ventilation cannot prevent this phenomenon completely. To achieve a healthy, comfortable and safe environment suitable for living,  ensuring natural ventilation is the only way to efficiently vent out polluted air.

When it comes to natural lighting, why must we choose to use artificial lighting for our homes and workplaces, when we have ample natural light available in the daytime? Artificial lighting depends on the consumption of electricity, and generating electricity is still a fossil fuel-based industry which has been identified as a key factor for the decaying environmental state of our planet. Not only that, it is also expensive. Making use of freely available and natural daylight to replace the use of fuel-based electricity for lighting purposes is an easy step to achieve a sustainable environment. 

  • What are some ways to ensure sufficient presence of natural light and air?

An architect is solely responsible to ensure the supply of sufficient light and ventilation within a space designed by him/her. A well-organised use of space, and the proper orientation, placement, size and  design of openings installed within a site can ensure sufficient presence of light and ventilation. The abundance of proper natural amenities in individual spaces can be achieved if the floor plan is constructed with care. 

As an additional feature, intelligent use of indoor finishing, color, shading and texture may help to accentuate the lighting condition to be better suited for trapping adequate natural light in the indoor environment. 

  • Does room orientation have anything to do with the airy or spacious feel?

 Room orientation is extremely important to achieve an ideal cross ventilation system. Primarily, the architect must be aware of the direction of air-flow. If the location of the building dictates that air flow is stronger and more abundant from the south-east direction, how would one achieve adequate ventilation by placing a window facing the south-west side? These are the type of questions architects must work with during every project. However, apart from the placement and orientation, the size of the windows also has a significant impact on air flow. The window size can be determined through the application of certain mathematical calculations to achieve maximum natural ventilation. When there is cross ventilation, the space will definitely feel well aerated and less congested. However, to truly make sure the site feels spacious, there are more factors to consider- the physical size, internal volume, use of light and shadows, and the choice of shades and colors must be decided based on their correlation with the air flow.

  • How can light and airflow be maximized in smaller rooms?

If there is a possibility to allow direct light and cross ventilation, it should be given the highest priority by an architect. However, if there is an adjacent building blocking the path of light and airflow, or excessive external noise coming from traffic in the streets surrounding the location, or harsh climatic orientations which do not allow the usual lighting solutions to be applied, there are alternative solutions.

For example, high windows can be added to the design plan to allow more light to enter, and using semi-reflective glass can ensure indoor privacy and heat reflection at the same time. Double glazed  windows can prevent the road noise from disrupting the natural serenity within the space, all the while continuing to allow sufficient sunlight to pass through. Louvre or other fenestrations can be used for reducing the entrance of excess solar radiation, while allowing ample light into a space. There could be the use of indirect lighting, roof lighting, perforated walls, slit openings and many other ways of maximizing lighting and ventilation in a space.

  • What can be done for rooms with fewer openings or openings on wrong sides?

In the case of fewer openings, if there is any scope of increasing the size of the openings, that alone would be the best possible way to create a more suitable indoor-outdoor exchange of air and light. Lighting can be enhanced with a bright interior color.

Effective ventilation can be achieved by appropriate integration of passages, doorways and openings within the room designs. If any specific room has a lower provision for ventilation, better air flow can be achieved by cross ventilation through other rooms.

  • If it’s not possible to have enough natural light and airflow in a room, what are (if any) some alternate ways?

If there is no scope of natural ventilation and lighting, one must have to depend on mechanical ventilation and artificial lighting. In that case, it is the responsibility of the designer or the inhabitants to choose alternatives that are the least energy consuming, and fixtures to mitigate energy consumption. 

  • While designing for more light and air, what facts should be considered to not overdo it?

Every specific purpose of a building or space has a specific quantity of lighting requirement. Before designing, the architect must understand the purpose of the space and design accordingly. Large openings without considering the purpose of the space is never commendable. Unfavourable glares of light due to these impractical openings may cause eyesores and distractions which could in turn reduce the work performance of the inhabitants of the space. On the other hand, in terms of natural ventilation, the inclusion of openings within the design should be encouraged, but only if placed correctly. Inviting more ventilation could also mean having to allow traffic noise, dust and insects as well. Noise and dust control must be a prime concern for the architect, specially in our country. Therefore, the openings should be designed carefully with special focus laid on this optimum need.

  • What would be your advice for the newer and fresher architects and interior designers?

How far ahead you can get in the field of Architecture or any other creative work revolves around your passion for the craft. If someone takes architecure only as a profession, without feeling any passion towards it, it would truly be difficult to break out of the conventional boundaries and design something new or out-of-the-box. For any architect, be it a young student of architecture or a well-experienced professional, it is a necessity to know that creativity and innovation can only grow out of passion and love for that art, and success can only result from true determination, and blind sincerety.  

  • Do you consider maximum utilization of natural air and light to be more environmentally efficient?

Natural lighting and natural ventilation are two extremely significant factors amongst many other design strategies to construct an environmentally efficient building. Personally, as an architect professionally trained to specialise in Sustainable Architecture, and also as a lover of nature and an environmentalist, I find it to be of utmost importance that I keep these factors into consideration for all of my projects. Apart from the use of ventilation and lighting features, there are many other strategies that I incorporate into my designs to ensure environmentally, economically and socially sustainable architecture.  

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