BRAC University

WOHA’s floating university campus integrates ecology and social space

BRAC University

WOHA’s floating university campus integrates ecology and social space

BRAC University’s new inner-city campus aims to transform a polluted lake in Bangladesh’s capital into a bio-retention pond surrounded by accessible urban green spaces to unite local communities.

Commissioned by the educational arm of BRAC (Building Resources Across Communities), an international development organisation, the project offers solutions to rectify the degradation of Dhaka’s biodiversity and urban networks due to poorly managed growth.

The inviting and inclusive public concourse sits next to ponds that detain rainwater and are habitats for aquatic biodiversity.

WOHA’s masterplan presents a new model for urban regeneration, one that uses bioremediation and tropical design strategies to develop a campus for over 10,000 students.

The ground floor brings together water, greenery and social space.

The stratification of main program areas over 13 storeys allows for a subtle division between public spaces in the lower levels and academic facilities on top. Upper blocks will be hoisted atop podium columns to increase ceiling heights beneath.

The schematic section of the campus’s breezeways highlights different ventilation methods used in the project.

The lower layer contains the campus park, galleries and an auditorium. Entrances to the park will be linked to street nodes from surrounding neighbourhoods to embed this public space into the larger urban grid.

Above ground, the academic strata will consist of interconnected rectilinear blocks arranged as a “city within a city.” The campus’s rooftop will host gardens, recreational spaces, a sports field, running track and water sports areas.

The campus park and public spaces on the lower levels are connected to local neighbourhoods by street nodes.

Laid out with fruit trees of several species, the rooftop plane will be the biggest open surface on-site by a considerable margin. It is a critical component in the creation of a multi-levelled habitat for local flora and fauna.

A campus that “breathes”

The building is not hermetically sealed and taps on multiple cooling measures for thermal comfort. Breezeways and sky gardens open up the academic blocks to catch winds and facilitate cross ventilation through hallways and classrooms.

These voids also delineate interactive social spaces of varying scales that visually bridge programme areas across levels.

Breezeways and voids in the academic blocks allow air and light to flow through the building.

The envelope makes use of brise soleils to reduce solar gains. Vertical greening will adorn the podium columns on the lower levels and parts of the upper facade to provide shade and improve air quality.

Resource conservation and biodiversity renewal

The campus park, vertical greening and rooftop green spaces will also improve urban biodiversity, attracting pollinator insects, birds and other animals to foster thriving habitats. In total, the green surfaces add up to nearly 127% of the site area.

Concurrently, the water gardens near the lake will revive the area’s ecosystem, providing clean water sources for plant life to flourish.

The breezeways are bridged by connectors that link teaching blocks.

Rainwater trickles down past the plants in the vertical greening. On reaching the ponds below, the water will be clean enough to be fed into the larger river ecosystem.

Simultaneously, recycled grey and black water will be used in the landscaping and toilets, thereby reducing dependence on supply from the city grid.

The building form is divided into five teaching blocks separated by breezeways and capped with a roof that has a recreational field, swimming pool and running track under a photovoltaic solar canopy.

An array of solar panels on the roof will cater to approximately 18.5% of the development’s energy needs. When paired with passive design strategies, the campus’s energy demands will experience a reduction of 58.5% compared to a reference building.

Material-wise, the design favours a mix of precast and cast in-situ concrete for its structural frame. Locally sourced bricks, timber and terrazzo, implemented by artisans from the region, will impart a vernacular touch.

The project broke ground in 2017 and is slated for completion by the end of 2023. It received the Holcim Award Bronze Asia Pacific 2017-18 for its ambitious regenerative design goals and strategies that befit Dhaka’s challenging conditions but could also address those of other cities in the developing South.

Read more about BRAC University on the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction website. You can also check out Ecogradia’s season 1/episode 1 and season 2/episode 10, featuring WOHA’s co-founders Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell.

Post sponsored by the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

A frontline project is holistic, net-positive and integrative. It protects or regenerates social, ecological and economic systems, aiming for a ‘greater-than-sum’ outcome.




Fact Sheet

Disclaimer: Location provided as reference only. Exact site may differ.

Bir Uttam Rafiqul Islam Avenue Merul Badda, Dhaka, Bangladesh

BRAC University

Under the Köppen climate classification, these are ‘A’ climate types. Tropical climates have warm, moist conditions year-round, with high precipitation and narrow diurnal temperature swings. These climates occur typically between 15° N to 15° S latitude. Here, the available net solar radiation is large and relatively constant from month to month resulting in both high temperatures (generally in excess of 18° C/64° F) and a virtual absence of thermal seasons. In many locations, annual rhythm is provided by the occurrence of wet and dry seasons.

Building envelope
40% reduction in energy demand

Onsite power
6,900 m2 of photovoltaic solar panels (1,600 kW) on roof contribute 18.5% of the energy required

Overall energy savings
58.5% reduction compared to the reference building
(Grey/black) water recycling and rainwater collection result in a 46.5% reduction in mains use

Green areas
Equals 127% of the site area

Social space
250% of the site is occupied by social interaction spaces accessible to the neighbourhood


Associate architects
J. A. Architects

Transsolar Energietechnik
Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl
Arup (Singapore)

Recommended blog posts

Can architecture heal our planet? In this bonus episode, we delve into the power of regenerative design. From restoring existing structures to rethinking material ownership, find out how sustainability and healing go hand in hand.
All the noise around sustainability can be dizzying. In this episode, Bjarke Ingels returns to discuss BIG’s Plan for the Planet. Can a global framework based on real-world strategies help us achieve better individual solutions?
Follow us on

Post categories

Recent blog posts

Recent podcast episodes

Recommended blog posts

Recommended podcast episodes

All the noise around sustainability can be dizzying. In this episode, Bjarke Ingels returns to discuss BIG’s Plan for the Planet. Can a global framework based on real-world strategies help us achieve better individual solutions?

Leave a comment

Before posting, please review our comment policy here.

0 0 votes
Rate this post
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments