Gallery TED Fellows

Dhaka in pictures: a city of culture, opportunity and deprivation

Posted by: Alex Gallafent

Nurur Rahman Khan was born and bred in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A practicing architect and university lecturer, Khan alternately marvels at the city’s convivial culture and bemoans its economic and structural deficiencies. He’ll brook no debate over the quality of Dhaka’s food, though: It’s miraculously good. Here’s a taste of Khan’s Dhaka, photographed by Mohammad Tauheed, a TED Senior Fellow, architect, designer and technology consultant.

This wasn’t your regular photoshoot. Tauheed was hampered in his task by the tense political situation. Earlier this month he wrote, “We just faced around six days of hartal [strike]. Vehicles were torched, crude bombs exploded and around eight people died across the country. In Dhaka there were no cars in the street, only rickshaws and bikes. I was running errands on my bike with a camera for the photos, and a few locations were just a bit too dangerous to cover.” As we post this, another 48-hour strike is under way nationwide, as the country gears up for parliamentary elections due to be held in early January. Such tumult is a visceral reminder that democracy is very much a work-in-progress — and our sincere thanks go to both Tauheed and Khan for working with us even as their daily life is upended regularly.

Dhaka looks peaceful from the water. But it’s a messy and chaotic place, a heady mixture of culture, opportunity, and deprivation. Salvador Dali would not have found success in Dhaka, says architect Nurur Rahman Khan: "The city’s already surreal."

Dhaka looks peaceful from the water — shown here, the Gulshan 1 area, one of the city’s upscale residential and commercial districts. But it’s a messy and chaotic place, says architect Nurur Rahman Khan, a heady mixture of culture, opportunity and deprivation. Salvador Dalì would not have found success in Dhaka, says Khan: “The city’s already surreal.” See Gulshan on a map of Dhaka.

Read the profile about Nurur Rahman Khan and life in Dhaka »

Karail Slum near Gulshan.

Look carefully at this photo and you’ll see a pair of eyes, part of the Inside Out Project, started by the 2011 TED Prize winner JR. The eyes loom over rooftops in Dhaka’s Korail slum, home to thousands of rural migrants, and they were installed on September 13, 2013. As the project’s blog describes, the eyes represent those of Bangladeshi garment workers, and they “look up into the high-rise lofts of two of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the capital.” See the Korail slum on a map of Dhaka.

Read the profile about Nurur Rahman Khan and life in Dhaka »

At the heart of the city is Ramna, a central district that’s home to some of city’s key institutions, including the University of Dhaka. This picture shows Sohrawardi Uddyan in Ramna, a vast green park in the middle of the concrete jungle. According to Tauheed, “it connects many neighborhoods around it, and its historic significance and proximity to Dhaka University makes it a popular destination for hangouts and big festivals.” See Sohrawardi Uddyan on a map of Dhaka.

Read the profile about Nurur Rahman Khan and life in Dhaka »

Opened in 1982, the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban (National Assembly Building) is extraordinary, a colossal floating palace that seems to have equal heft and weightlessness. Dhaka’s modernist jewel, it was the final work by American architect Louis I. Kahn. Bangladeshi architect NR Khan has lectured widely on his near-namesake's work, at universities including Yale, Columbia and Harvard.

Opened in 1982, the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban (National Assembly Building) is extraordinary, a colossal floating palace that seems to have equal heft and weightlessness. Dhaka’s modernist jewel, it was the final work by American architect Louis I. Kahn. Khan has lectured widely on his fellow architect’s work at universities including Yale, Columbia and Harvard. Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, Mohammadpur, Dhaka. See the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban on a map.

Read the profile about Nurur Rahman Khan and life in Dhaka »

Like other megacities around the world, Dhaka is blighted by heavy traffic. Many residents travel by rickshaw, motorized and not, or by private car. And those with cars often make use of drivers -- if you’re to be stuck in traffic, why not work?

Like other megacities around the world, Dhaka is blighted by heavy traffic. This is a common scene on most major streets, this photograph taken near Farmgate over Kazi Nazurl Islam Avenue. Tauheed comments, “It can easily take two hours to go around 11 km from Dhanmondi to Gulshan during rush hour. Bikes are much faster than cars.” See Kazi Nazurl Islam Avenue on a map of Dhaka.

Read the profile about Nurur Rahman Khan and life in Dhaka »

Curzon Hall at Dhaka University is among the few mixed-colonial buildings in the big campus. It offers plenty of open spaces for students and visitors to kick back and relax.

Curzon Hall at Dhaka University is among the few mixed-colonial buildings in the big campus. Curzon Hall, High Court Street, Dhaka. See Curzon Hall on a map of Dhaka.

Read the profile about Nurur Rahman Khan and life in Dhaka »

The smell of food pervades Dhaka, not least in the oldest parts of the city. Here, and most everywhere, you may find smoky kebabs, plump dalpuris, and other snacks. Dhakaites, says NR Khan, are "big foodies."

The smell of food pervades Dhaka, not least in the oldest parts of the city. This is a typical scene on a typical street in Old Dhaka (when the city is operational, that is). Here, and most everywhere, you’ll find a frenetic melting pot of pedestrians, street food vendors, porters carrying goods to and from the nearby river port and thousands of wholesale shops, rickshaws, push-carts, bicycles, and motorbikes all packed into the narrow streets.

Read the profile about Nurur Rahman Khan and life in Dhaka »

In Dhanmondi, a residential area west of Dhaka's center, the pace of life slows just a little. Still, architect NR Khan reports that many of the city’s parks are in a state of disrepair. In general, he says, Dhakaites don’t tend to seek much in the way of quietude. "People don't see a need for personal time."

In Dhanmondi, a residential area west of Dhaka’s center, the pace of life slows. Dhanmondi Lake is the go-to public hangout, filled with amazing street foods, restaurants, lush green, water and boats. Still, architect Nurur Rahman Khan reports that many of the city’s parks are in a state of disrepair. See Dhanmondi Lake on a map of Dhaka.

Read the profile about Nurur Rahman Khan and life in Dhaka »

The residents of Dhanmondi are among Dhaka’s most fortunate. "It's a great area," says Khan. "People are on their feet, or on rickshaws, doing their shopping." The district is also home to a concentration of art galleries.

The residents of Dhanmondi are among Dhaka’s most fortunate. “It’s a great area,” says Khan. “People are on their feet or on rickshaws doing their shopping.” The district is also home to a concentration of art galleries. Here, the cafe of the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, a popular place to see exhibitions and hang out. Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, House No. 42, Road No. 16, Sheik Kamal Sarani, Dhanmondi, Dhaka. See the Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts on a map of Dhaka.

Mohammad Tauheed is a TED Senior Fellow, an architect, web and graphic designer and technology consultant. He is the Editor-in-Chief at ArchSociety, and he curates and organizes TEDxDhaka and the World Economic Forum’s Dhaka Hub.

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