by Anmol AhujaAug 17, 2021
German architect Anna Heringer has won the Obel Award 2020 for the Anandaloy project in Bangladesh, succeeding Juniya Ishigami, who received the honour in 2019 for his Water Garden project in Japan. The winner was chosen by an international jury that included Martha Schwartz, Louis Becker, Kjetil Traedal Thorsen, Wilhelm Vosskuhl and Xu Tiantian.
The Obel Award was initiated in 2019 as a new, international prize for architecture that honours recent and outstanding architectural contributions to human development all over the world.
Anna Heringer has always believed that architecture is a tool to improve lives. Expressing her gratitude on the win, she said, “I think there is a lot of good-looking architecture around, but I think that good-looking architecture is not enough. It has to bring meaning to people. I am so grateful for the Obel Award. When I talk to my students, they say, ‘How can I make a living making ethically sound and sustainable architecture?’ I always tell them, ‘Just follow your heart. If you do something that is in favour of life, of social justice, a healthy planet, just trust that life will also support you on your way’.”
The chairman of the jury, Martha Schwartz, who is a landscape architect, urbanist, and artist, said the entire jury believes Heringer’s Anandaloy is an outstanding project. “It is an original piece. It is not in the style of; it is not imitating something else. I think Anna is absolutely dedicated to what she is doing, which is what you see when you see a good piece of art: that there is a good, focused intent behind it. Anna manages to integrate all of her values: she is building sustainably, using the materials that are there, having people involved, so that they can learn to build for themselves, and creating more opportunities for women and for people with disabilities. You can feel that she has a real respect for the culture, for the people, for the land,” she added.
Anandaloy, which means The Place of Deep Joy in the local dialect, is surrounded by lush green paddy fields in northern Bangladesh. The structure serves as a therapy centre for people with disabilities on the ground floor and a textile studio on the top floor, producing fair fashion and art. The unconventional and multifunctional building has been created out of mud and bamboo with a huge ramp that winds up to the first floor. Below the ramp are caves that provide either a fun place to move around or a quiet space if one needs a moment to feel protected and embraced.
Talking about the building, Heringer said through this building she wanted to transmit that there is a lot of beauty in not following the typical standard pattern. “Anandaloy does not follow a simple rectangular layout. Rather, the building is dancing, and dancing with it is the ramp that follows it around. That ramp is essential, because it is the symbol of inclusion,” Heringer was quoted in the official statement. It is the only ramp in the area, and as the most predominant thing about the building, it intends to trigger a lot of questions. In that way, the architecture itself raises awareness of the importance of including everyone. “Diversity is something beautiful and something to celebrate,” added Heringer.
Dipdii Textiles was launched by Anna Heringer and Veronika Lang with the NGO Dipshikha to support local textile traditions and to improve work opportunities in the village. Located on the first floor of the Anandaloy building, the setup empowers women to work in comfortable conditions.
“The top floor of Anandaloy is also very special to me, because besides the architecture, we are also responsible for the programme, the content. Normally, as an architect, you build the vessel, and what goes on inside is not your business. But for us, it is very much our business. The project pushes the boundaries of my work. I see myself very much as an architect but also as a social worker and as an activist,” Heringer further explained.
The architecture of Anandaloy explores the plastic abilities of mud. With a particular mud technique called ‘cob’, no formwork is needed, which means that curves are as easy to make as straight walls. With its curves and complex geometry, the Anandaloy building breaks out of the mould. The building shows that it is possible to build a modern two-storey house with simple resources. She believes in the power of mud as a building material of high quality that one can use to build not only small huts but also large engineered structures and even public buildings. She believes in the architects’ creative task to take an old material and make something modern and appropriate to contemporary uses, needs, and aspirations.
Working with mud also makes it possible to include users and clients directly in the building process. “Clay is a material that truly enables inclusion. We had everyone working on site: young and old, healthy and with disabilities, men and women. It was wonderful to me that the workers built the structure on their own. Normally, they would wait to be told what to do, but with the construction of Anandaloy, they were completely engaged in it, finding their own solutions. It is not an easy building with difficult geometry, but they did it, and when they showed me around the site, they were radiating with pride. For me, that is the biggest reward: when the architect is no longer needed, and the techniques and know-how are embedded locally,” said Heringer. The Anandaloy construction site was managed by local contractor, Montu Ram Shaw, and the team of mud and bamboo workers from the village, including people with disabilities. Because mud is available for free, and the bamboo was bought from local farmers, the biggest part of the budget remained within the community.
The architecture of Anandaloy is a result of many years of hard work and projects through which Anna Heringer has developed her personal philosophy of architecture.
The building brings together local materials, local energy sources, and global creativity. It is inspired by not only regional architecture of Bangladesh, its façade has a Vienna weaving pattern, because the workers loved that design and it was easy to apply on the local bamboo. Anandaloy has been built to someday return to dust. “I want to make decomposable buildings; I don’t want to leave waste behind. We can never foresee what the coming generations need — but what I believe needs to remain is the knowhow,” concluded Heringer.
Location: Rudrapur Village, Dinajpur, Bangladesh
Typology: Community centre, Workshop
Size: 253 sqm
Creator / Team: Studio Anna Heringer
Client: Dipshikha Bangladesh