“Architecture is always in a chiasm, that is its irresistible inevitability despite our habitual thinking of the autonomy of architecture.” With that dictum, penned in the 1990s, Ashraf has oriented his work towards the intersection of architecture, landscape and the city. Working between speculative design and reflective writings, he has authored books and essays, conducted research and design projects, mobilized programs for the public realm, and taught and practiced architecture in Bangladesh and the US.
At Bengal Institute, working with a dynamic multidisciplinary team, he has established a premier centre for research, academic and design investigations on the question of the “large-scale”: the city, the region, settlements, and landscapes. In an anxious time like ours, the architectural agenda, Ashraf argues, needs to go beyond problem solving and form creation, and extend its sights to the intellectual, ethical and creative issues facing the futures of human habitats. A new “architectural intelligence” is needed that should be more about “place-form” than spectacular objects. The question of the large-scale translates into uncovering the original intimacy between architecture, habitation and landscape. Writing in the upcoming anthology “The Mother Tongue of Architecture: Selected Writings of Kazi Khaleed Ashraf,” Balkrishna Doshi notes that “Vastu is not only an environment and not merely an object but has an all pervading soul, and this is what I believe Kazi conveys through his travels and experiences.”
Ashraf’s writings have covered diverse topics, from architecture in India and Bangladesh, past and present; the work of Louis Kahn, especially his landscape operations; and, the city of Dhaka, and the future it should choose. There are also writings on special topics: “The Hermit’s Hut: Asceticism and Architecture in India “ (2102) explores the deep presence of an ascetic impulse in architecture and culture. His edited volume for “Architectural Design,” “Made in India,” won the Pierre Vago Journalism Award from the International Committee of Architectural Critics in 2007. Among the exhibitions he organized, “An Architecture of Independence: The Making of Modern South Asia,” curated with James Belluardo for the Architectural League of New York, exhibited the work of Balkrishna Doshi, Muzharul Islam, Charles Correa and Achyut Kanvinde for the first time in five cities in the US (1997). His publications on Bangladesh have provided a theoretical ground for understanding both the historical and contemporary forms of architecture in that region.
Born in Dhaka, and growing up there, that city has been the focus of abiding investigations in speculative design, written reflections, and public exhibitions. His written and design work on Dhaka has advanced that city as a “theorem” for understanding urbanism in a deltaic geography. His work, and that of his team’s, at Bengal Institute has established new norms for thinking about deltaic settlements, and their present and future. His book “Designing Dhaka: A Manifesto for a Better City” (2012) remains a necessary source for anyone preparing to work on Dhaka. Writing in Dhaka newspapers since the early 1990s, his columns have established a special discourse on the city.
Ashraf received his bachelor of architecture degree from BUET in 1983. Later he received a Masters from MIT, and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Before heading the Bengal Institute beginning in 2015, Ashraf taught at the University of Hawaii, the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and Pratt Institute in the US.
He is also a co-founder of the popular Bangla humor magazine Unmad, established in 1978, in which he contributed as a caricaturist. His editorial drawings have appeared in The Nation, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The New York Times.