Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum scoops Soane Medal

Marina TabassumFile photo

Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum has been honoured with the prestigious 2021 Soane Medal presented by Sir John Soane’s Museum in London on Tuesday.

Marina was honoured with the architecture award – which celebrates a leading architect’s career and body of work – for her work in designing low-cost temporary homes for refugees and victims of climate change.

Introduced by Sir John Soane’s Museum in 2017, the Medal “recognises architects, educators and critics who have made a major contribution to their field through practice, history or theory.”

Before Marina, the founder and Principal Architect of Marina Tabassum Architects (MTA), the award was given to Denise Scott Brown, Rafael Moneo, and Kenneth Frampton.

The Bangladeshi architect, who is also a pioneer of “the architecture of relevance,” appeared in a live digital event at the museum and made a speech upon receiving the honour.

“I am 52 years old. Unlike the giants who preceded me to this lectern, I consider myself a work in progress: the search is still on,” she said.

Her notable works include the minimal, sun-dappled Bait-Ur-Rouf Mosque, opened in 2012, the Independence Monument of Bangladesh and the Museum of Independence.

However, Marina’s most recent work appears the diametric opposite of these monumental structures.

She is now working in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, and designing mobile modular houses for ultra-low-income people in the country’s coastal areas, working with the cheapest and easiest materials, corrugated metal and bamboo, materials that could be moved if they needed to be.

“My current work is focused on the twin crises of Bangladesh: the plight of refugees, and the heightened threat to our population of flooding, exacerbated by global warming,” Marina said.

“Both factors have led me to focus on prototyping low impact, mobile housing which can be delivered at the lowest cost possible for those in need.”

Bruce Boucher, jury chair and director of Soane Museum, said: “Marina consistently demonstrates how architecture can improve lives and her work with Rohingya Refugees at Cox’s Bazaar showcases the potential of architects to contribute to solving the problems society faces today.”

“From building Bait-ur-Rouf Mosque to Dhaka’s Independence Monument, Marina has created buildings that bring communities together and foster a distinct sense of place. All her work is underpinned by a focus on sustainability and she is truly leading the conversation about how architecture, people and planet interact.”

Marina’s practice focuses on designing buildings in tune with their natural environments – in particular, working with local materials and communities – while also embracing the design challenges of sustainability, the environment, and our collective impact on the planet, said Sir John Soane’s Museum.

The Soane Medal, established by Sir John Soane’s Museum in 2017, is awarded to honour practitioners of architecture in culture and society.

The award recipient receives a replica of the original gold medal presented to Sir John Soane as an award by the “Architects of England” in 1835.