Marina Tabassum is a Bangladeshi architect and educator who has received numerous international recognitions in the field of architecture. Her process of work that includes research, teaching and practice is widely recognized as the twenty first century model of practice of architecture. Her pursuit for the ‘Architecture of Relevance’ has won her various international accolades such as the Soane Medal from United Kingdom, the Gold Medal of the French Academy of Architecture, France, Arnold Brunner Prize from American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is a member of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and is an honorary Royal Designer of the Industry (RDI).
Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1969, Tabassum’s formative years were in Holy Cross High School and College. Her father Professor Mohammad Abdul Hai is one of Bangladesh’s prominent oncologists who has dedicated his services to the nation. Tabassum attributes her successes to her mother Tahamina Hai, a home maker, for her relentless pursuit for education. Tabassum received her Bachelor in Architecture from BUET in 1995 with First Class. She received Habibur Rahman scholarship from BUET for her excellent academic achievements. She was awarded with Honorary Doctorate from Technical University in Munich (TUM) in 2020.
Tabassum was trained in the profession of architecture by Uttam Kumar Shaha in Nandan Architects before founding her partnership practice URBANA with Kashef Chowdhury. In 1997, URBANA won the national competition to design the Independence Monument and Museum of Independence of Bangladesh in Suhrawardi Uddyan, Dhaka, a dream project of the Honorable Prime Minister. The project commenced construction in 1998 and was completed in 2013. During this time Tabassum worked closely with Architect Muzharul Islam, the first Bengali modern architect of the country who served as an advisor to the project. Tabassum was immensely inspired by Islam and his ideology to transform the love for the country into deeds and actions that help create a better life and living environment for all.
Marina Tabassum founded Dhaka-based Marina Tabassum Architects (MTA) in 2005, after ending her ten-year partnership in URBANA. In her work, Tabassum seeks to establish a language of architecture that is contemporary yet reflectively rooted to place, always against an ecological rubric containing climate, context, culture, history. Tabassum’s practice remains consciously contained in size, undertaking a limited number of projects per year. Her project Bait Ur Rouf Mosque is distinguished by its lack of popular mosque iconography, its emphasis on space and light, and its capacity to function not only as a place of worship but also as a refuge for a dense neighborhood on Dhaka’s periphery. The project was listed among the top 25 post war buildings of the world by New York Times. She received the coveted Aga Khan Award for Architecture for Bait ur Rouf Mosque in 2016. She was also awarded the Jameel Prize in 2018 from the Victoria and Albert Museum that celebrates art and architecture of the Islamic World.
Tabassum is currently the Gehry Chair at the University of Toronto. She is a visiting faculty in various prestigious universities of the world. She has taught in Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Technical University Delft, Netherlands, University of Texas and BRAC University. She held the position of Academic Director of the Bengal Institute from 2015 to TUESDAY, January 10, 2023 2021. Tabassum was the member of the Steering Committee of the Aga Khan Awards for Architecture from 2017 to 2022.
Tabassum Chairs the Executive Board of Prokritee, a fare trade organization that promotes crafts and provides livelihood to more than 5000 women artisans of Bangladesh. She received the Top Ten Women of Bangladesh award in 2004. Her office MTA has built several women friendly spaces and women led community spaces inside the Rohingya Refugee Camps in Cox’s Bazar. In order to facilitate women farmers with market linkage, her office has built several aggregation centers for women in Teknaf, the bordering town in Bangladesh with Myanmar.
In 2020 Tabassum was listed third among the top 10 thinkers of the Covid era by Prospect Magazine, UK. Tabassum’s contribution in creating buildings in tune with their natural environments and embracing the design challenges posed by the environment has earned her this recognition. Marina Tabassum is the founder and chairperson of Foundation for Architecture and Community Equity (FACE). The imminent crisis due to the sea level rise induced by climate change is a major focus of the foundation. Research on the effects of climate crisis and preparedness for the marginalized vulnerable population through architectural and environmental interventions are priorities of the foundations agenda. FACE is working with the communities to build mobile modular housing in various geographically and climatically challenged locations in Bangladesh.