The Friendship Hospital in Satkhira, Bangladesh (photograph by Asif Salman, courtesy URBANA)

A community hospital in southwestern Bangladesh, marked by a zigzag waterway dividing the building’s inpatient and outpatient wings, has won the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) International Prize. It beat out a German art gallery designed by David Chipperfield and a vehicle-free bridge in Denmark — both of which had been shortlisted in November — and 14 other longlisted projects to snag the title of “best new building.” 

Located in Shyamnagar in the Satkhira District and constructed from locally crafted brickwork, the structure embeds a number of courtyards that can be enjoyed as spaces of quiet and reflection and endow wards with natural light and views of the surrounding environment. Other areas of the hospital requiring privacy and darkness are shielded with corridors and double-layered arches. The brick used was selected with endurance, climate-resilience, and cost in mind. Together with the small canal, it provides cooling properties, allowing temperatures to remain low even during notoriously hot summers in the region.

A drawing of the Friendship Hospital (courtesy Kashef Chowdhury)

Designed by Kashef Chowdhury and his firm URBANA, the building was commissioned by the Bangladesh-based NGO Friendship to advance the organization’s goal of empowering “remote rural areas.” The Friendship Hospital, as it’s named, was the only shortlisted building from outside Europe.

Prior to development, the site was nestled among grain fields, which were later converted into shrimp fisheries due to rising sea levels. Part of the building’s noteworthy design involves the draining and collection of rainwater from the campus in a tank, which both prevents the oversaturation of water and allows that water to be used. This rainwater harvesting feature is particularly useful in an area that receives prodigious rain during the monsoon season that nevertheless cannot be used when it mixes with salty groundwater.

Openings in the brick walls provide natural ventilation (photograph by Asif Salman, courtesy URBANA)

“In a sublimely important moment, RIBA and the jurors have identified a project from the global periphery to bring to the centre of architectural discourse and be the subject of one of the most important global awards,” Chowdhury said in a statement. He added that the building addresses both “unequal access to healthcare” and “the crushing impact of climate breakdown on vulnerable communities.”

The water channel integrates the hospital into the natural and agricultural landscape that it is part of (photograph by Asif Salman, courtesy URBANA)

The RIBA International Prize is a biennial award recognizing “design innovation, sustainable technologies and meaningful social impact” for architecture outside the United Kingdom. Established in 2016, two other projects have so far been honored with the top award: a university building in Lima, Peru and a school in northern Brazil.

“With the interplay of light, clay, air and water, Friendship Hospital Shyamnagar comes more alive in beauty with the purpose it serves. It brings new hope of a better tomorrow to some of the most climate impacted people on this planet,” Runa Khan, founder and executive director of Friendship, commented in a statement.

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.