Lambert David: Refuge-ground
University: École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs
About You: I recently completed my Master of Architecture / Interior Architecture from The Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs of Paris. During my studies, It was important to me to specialize myslef on architectural computer-generated images and fiction. Today, I use storytelling and illustrations to think about our current living environment, depict imaginaries and alternative realities, and bring subversives architectures to life.
Refuge-ground : Towards habitable offshore salt platforms
Through a speculative story, this metaphorical project is about the elaboration of a radical architecture, which aims to push our relationship to nature even further, beyond the simple revegetation of our cities; to link the ecosystem and the architecture in an endogenous evolution.
As you may know, Bangladesh was once landlocked in between some isolated Indian provinces of West Bengal and the Independent Republic of Assam, former Burma. To sum up the geographic situation of Bangladesh, which was considered at the time the most fertile and prosperous area of the Indian subcontinent; the delta, and in particular the rich biodiversity which goes with, has been gradually disintegrating during the 21st century.
Historically bordered by the Indian highlands to the south, and Burmese to the east, Bangladesh was a flat country, only about 5 meters above sea level. Located at the confluence of the three largest rivers in the world, the Ganges, the Bramaputra and the Megna, also crossed by more than three hundred rivers, the border between the land and water did not really exist.
Bangladeshi people have quickly tamed the local river system, to the point that ultimately as a society, they became dependent on the natural water system for every aspect of life. As a source of food, of course, but also as a means of transportation and economic development. Monsoons and cyclical floods were, for example, taken into account to irrigate lands, fertilize arable crops, fisheries, etc.
But this positive aspect was tempered by another reality of water, less friendly and more coercive. With 85% of the land prone to flooding, Bangladesh had its feet in water. Human activities were constrained by submersion cycles, which generate substantial logistical and humanitarian problems over time.
Bangladeshi people were familiar with the bipolarity of water, as two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, water is Barsha, generous and conciliatory. By fertilizing and nourishing the land, water was essential for growth and abundance of life. But on the other hand, water was also Bonna, impulsive, destructive, who comes cyclically to tear apart infrastructures, harvests and cause untold suffering, even death.
For centuries, the balance between Barsha and Bonna was maintained, both by regulation mechanisms of the ecosystem itself, and also by good human understanding based on common sense and the special connection with the ecosystem. But the situation has changed in recent decades. Despite the resilience of Bangladesh populations, the virtuous cycle of water has gradually transformed in depth, the territory, and the country has had to submit to the violence of the natural elements.
Of the twenty biggest storms of the last fifty years, seven took place in Bangladesh. These numbers have a real and disproportionate cost; more than five hundred thousand victims in ten years, according to the latest report of the World Climate Institute. This same report estimates that between 1980 and 2023, more than four hundred natural disasters took place in the Bangladesh region, causing many casualties and impacting the lifes of hundreds of millions of people in the this area. Cyclones alone caused the death of two hundred and forty thousand people, just for the year 2042.
Facing soil and water salinization, Bangladeshi farmers have been forced to reconvert their old paddy fields into fish and shrimp farming. If the economic consequences for the country have been positive, and the adaptability of the local populations must be duly noted, it should be remembered that this metamorphosis has had a price, the biotic transformation of this green and fertile country into a vast salt marsh dedicated to industrial shrimp production.
After centuries of resistance, Bangladesh has been renamed the 'country of mad rivers'. Caught between the massive shrinking of Himalayan glaciers and the rising waters of the Indian Ocean, most of the Bangladeshi coastal area is now submerged. Salt water flooded hectares of arable land. Agricultural land became unproductive, and built infrastructure was little by little destroyed or submerged and finally abandoned.
In 2043, according to the eustatic forecast of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Bangladesh has lost nearly 17% of its territory, and 40 million of its inhabitants have seen their standard of living fall below the precarious floor; homeless, landless, and without means of subsistence.
On those observations, the state and civil structures of Bangladesh have put in place a series of measures that have emerged in the first half of the 21st century. It is a real "return to the territory", in the search not for a fight against water, which recent history has proved to be vain, but rather in a sort of synchrony between the aquatic elements and humans.
This re-territorialization revolves around a major axis, which is the use of water. By reinterpreting the local heritage, by questioning the place of water in the former everyday life, they have decided to use an element, present in the water and until very recently, depreciated: salt.
The technique, named electrodialysis, separates salt from water thanks to a continuous electrical current. At some point, when the crystallogenesis limit is reached, the salt saturated solution, is transformed into a growth material. The sodium chloride present in the water passes from a disordered liquid state to an ordered rigid material.
Thereby, salt, once responsible for the biotic transformation of Bangladesh and the disappearance of good soil, is being used in the development of an artificial, hybrid nature of architectural elements and rocks salt. A new refuge ground takes shape above seawater, by agglomeration of crystalline salt.
Thanks to this new architectural concept, 25,000 shelters have been built on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, giving shape to a network of habitable offshore salt platforms raised above sea level. These human groups are gradually reconquering abandoned sectors, sheltering new forms of lacustrine societies, allowing life to emancipate in this vast salt water ecosystem.
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