Anandaloy, which means "a place of deep joy" in the local dialect Bangla/Bengali, perfectly describes the new building completed by Studio Anna Heringer in northern Bangladesh. The building hosts a therapy centre for people with disabilities, combined with a small textile studio to produce fair textiles and art by local women.
Surrounded by lush green paddy fields, the building is located in a small village in Bangladesh. It takes inspiration from its location for its design, use of materials and choice of construction methods. Anna Heringer wanted to create a building that would bring the community together and raise larger issues around inclusiveness in society. The studio challenges this notion through its design and forces people in the larger community to confront it.
"In Bangladesh, having a disability is seen as a big burden from god or as karma from a previous life,” explains Anna Heringer. “There is little awareness among people with disabilities that they can improve their situation through training, massage techniques, and technical equipment. The therapy centre helps them in this respect. Furthermore, having a place to go to, which is their own, gives them a lot of dignity."
The building includes a big ramp which connects to the first floor. It is the only ramp that exists in the area including surrounding neighbourhoods. The design aims to address the issue of inclusiveness and show the importance of managing everyone's need.
Anandaloy building builds upon a lifetime of work Anna Heringer has been doing in this region. The building was completed in 2020, but its seeds were sown two decades ago when Anna Heringer first came to Bangladesh as a 19-year-old, working with an NGO. She continued to return to Bangladesh, and her first building METI, completed in 2004, launched her on the quest to build using local materials and craftsmanship.
The building is built using a mud construction technique called 'cob', which requires no formwork and its easy to construct the curve walls just as the straight walls. This technique lends Anandaloy building its curved shape and the ability to break out of the mould.
The building is built using a mud construction technique called 'cob', which requires no formwork and its easy to construct the curve walls just as the straight walls. This technique lends Anandaloy building its cured shape and the ability to break out of the mould.
The building explores the plasticity of mud and creates a strong local identity through its materials. Mud walls and bamboo are the primary construction materials used in the building. The mud walls seem to dance, twist and turn all around the building. The big ramp winds up to the first floor, and below it are the caves that mould itself to the user’s needs. Working with mud also makes it possible to include users and clients directly in the building process.
"It is important for me to show that it is possible to build a modern two-storey house with simple resources. Mud is not just dirt — it is a real building material of a high quality that you can use to build very exact structures, not only small huts but also large engineering structures and even public buildings. Our creative task is to take an old material and make something modern and appropriate, of contemporary uses, needs, and aspirations. Mud buildings can be healthy, sustainable, humane, and beautiful," says Anna Heringer.
Anna Heringer continues, "Clay is a material that genuinely enables inclusion. We had everyone working on-site: young and old, healthy and with disabilities, men and women. It was wonderful that the workers did the structure on their own. Normally, they would wait to be told what to do, but for the construction of Anandaloy, they were completely engaged in it, ﬁnding their own solutions. It is not an easy building. Its geometry is difficult; but the workers 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. "
The Anandaloy construction site was managed by the local contractor, Montu Ram Shaw, and the team of mud and bamboo workers from the village, including people with disabilities. Because mud is for free, and bamboo was bought from local farmers, the most significant part of the budget remained within the community. This building is truly built by the people, for the people.
"With this building, everything comes together: local materials, local energy sources, and global creativity. First of all, it is important for me to show that you can create something out of existing materials. The material below our feet and the things that grow around us are enough to make something beautiful," explains Anna Heringer.
Through this building, Anna Heringer also wanted to provide a home for the village's female tailors. Dipdii Textiles was co-initiated by Anna Heringer, Veronika Lang and the NGO Dipshikha to find work for women in their village and preserve the local art. It was also the way of addressing the issue of migration. In rural Bangladesh, there are few work opportunities for women. Many of them move to the city to live and work in factories under stressful and inhumane living conditions.
The concept was also to provide treatment for the people with disabilities and provide them with an opportunity to learn and work in that building and engage in the community there.
Heringer continues, "Secondly, Anandaloy is completely run by solar energy, and human labour and craftsmanship were also significant sources of energy in the project. And ﬁnally, the inspiration for the design came from Bangladesh but also from beyond. For example, the façade has a Vienna weaving pattern because the workers loved that design, and it was easy to apply on the local bamboo. I believe that creativity should not be limited, but that knowledge and knowhow should travel and be accessible everywhere."
The building is designed for decay and built to someday return to dust—that's one of the advantages of building with earth. Such structures, at the end of their lives, produce no waste and leave no footprints behind.
"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 want to remain is the knowhow," says Anna.
The building is a significant achievement that addresses sustainability, social inclusiveness, adaptability, and development. It seeks to challenge the perception of materials and mindsets and, in the process, becomes more than the sum of its part.
Project: Anandaloy Building
Location: Rudrapur Village, Dinajpur, Bangladesh
Typology: Community centre, Workshop
Size: 253 sq.m.
Creator / Team: Studio Anna Heringer
Client: Dipshikha Bangladesh
German architect Anna Heringer, born October 1977, grew up in Laufen, a small town at the Austrian-Bavarian border close to Salzburg. Ecology and developmental aid figured prominently in the daily discourse of the Heringers, and at the age of 19, Anna Heringer went to live in Bangladesh for almost a year, learnt Bengali, and got deeply involved in the local culture. She learnt about sustainable development work but also about construction and architecture and the value of using existing, local resources — a strategy that she still advocates many ears later. As an architect and honorary professor of the UNESCO Chair of Earthen Architecture, Building Cultures, and Sustainable Development, she focuses on the use of natural and readily available building materials.
Her diploma work, the METI School in Rudrapur got realised in 2005 in collaboration with Eike Roswag and won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007. Over the years, Anna Heringer has realised projects in Asia, Africa, and Europe. She is presently working on projects in Ghana and a centre for sustainability in Germany.
Anna Heringer lectures worldwide at conferences, including TED in 2017, and has been visiting professor at various universities, including Harvard, ETH Zurich (with Martin Rauch), UP Madrid, TU Munich, and University of Arts in Linz.
She has received numerous honours: the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, the AR Emerging Architecture Awards in 2006 and 2008, the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard's GSD, and a RIBA International Fellowship. Her work has been widely published and exhibited at MoMA New York, the V&A Museum in London, and at the Venice Architectural Biennale in 2016 und 2018, among other places.