Ambivalent Chittagong: Fluctuating in-between Utopia and Dystopia


Project description 

“...‘archetypal fact’ of twenty-first century architecture and urbanism will be the enclosure, the wall, the barrier, the gate, the fence, the fortress...” Lieven De Cauter, 2004.

A group of capitalists referred to as the “creative destructors,” was in search of new territories to expand their wealth. This group of capitalists rediscovered a territory with abundant potential that could fulfil their dreams. This utopian land was called Chittagong, located in Bangladesh strategically placed on the lucrative trade route. It was already well-known to many for its flourishing ship breaking industry. Chittagong possessed tremendous potential for accumulating capital. It was a dream-come-true for the “creative destructors.” There was a vast amount of poverty stricken cheap labour competing for limited jobs that operated under lenient environmental and labour regulations.

In addition to these attractions Chittagong had established access to world ship breaking market that would provide continuous flow of cash. Of the 700 decommissioned ships sold, 90% of them were disassembled in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Moreover 50% of large vessels were dismantled in Bangladesh.

This ship breaking syndicate seemed untouchable since it directly and indirectly employed more than 300,000 people, and supplied more than 80% of steel in Bangladesh. Nevertheless, this lucrative operation did not come with its predicaments. Various NGOs and international organizations started to discover and report the increasing number of ship breaking industry related labour injuries and fatalities. Not to mention child labour problems, environmental degradations from hazardous materials such as lead paint, asbestos, and biologically toxic substances had become increasingly problematic. The irreversible pollution process slowly but surely started to impact nearby fishing industries and their associated activities. Organizations such as Greenpeace, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, and other international organizations demanded changes in these malpractices. They requested the industry become more responsible under international and national laws.

“Creative destructors” were not prepared to budge to these demands that would eat away their lucrative profits. To sustain and lubricate their capital accumulation, the “creative destructors,” decided to resolve these predicaments through various means. They lobbied the government to declare the coastline as a special economic zone where they would get tax breaks and exemptions from burdensome environmental and labour regulations. One of the member of the “creative destructors” having studied architecture was aware of the effective instrumentality of architecture in serving power, in this case capitalism. Being fully aware of this old disciplinary tradition, they decided to get the help of architecture.

The architect proposed the following steps that could lubricate the flow of capital and maximize their profit:
1. Construct a series of semi-circular 1.2km (4,000 ft) long 60m (200 ft) tall skyscraping wall infrastructure along the coastline. These walls are based on an infinitely expandable 6-meter grid.
2. Continuously expand the divisive wall with recycled steel from ship breaking industry by local labour. Using this skyscraping infrastructural wall, segregate the ship breaking industry workers from the rest of the community.
3. Construct the bottom half of the wall out of local recycled components from the ship breaking industry. Stack ship breaking activities, living quarters for labourers, scrap metal industry market at this lower part, reinforcing socio-economic hierarchy. The horizontal infrastructure extended towards the sea maximizes labourers’ access to ship breaking operation.
4. Construct the top half out of high-embodied-energy luxury materials imported from various locations of the world. Stack high-end offices for government officials, luxury living, and leisure for the “creative destructors” on top of each other.
5. Activate the wall as a flood levee that raises the value of land behind.
6. Activate the wall as a panopticon surveillance platform for the labour supervisors.
7. Activate the wall as a platform for luxury living with coastal scenery.
8. Activate the wall as a marketing space for dark tourists, government officials, and industry investors.
9. Activate the wall as a physical barrier for international NGOs and regulations that protect the industry from public scrutiny.
10. Activate the next wall. It is an infinitely expandable skyscraping infrastructure. A conduit for fluctuating capital and an instrument for amplification of accumulating capital. This infinitely expandable imaginary grid provides a framework for areas of profit to be capital accumulations to be amplified through vertical growth.
Capital and greed is the only limit.

Cauter, Lieven De. 2004. The Capsular Civilization: On the City in the Age of Fear. Rotterdam: NAi-publishers.
Hossain, Maruf. 2006. Ship Breaking Activities: Threat to Coastal Environment, Biodiversity and Fishermen Community in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Young Power in Social Action (YPSA).
International Federation For Human Rights (FIDH). 2008. Child Breaking Yards: Child Labour in the Ship Recycling Industry in Bangladesh.
Sarraf, Maria, et al. 2010. Ship Breaking and Recycling Industry in Bangladesh and Pakistan. World Bank.    

Project team: Dongsei Kim (axu studio), Kangwoo Kenny Chun, Minhwa Lee. Consultants and collaborators: Jana Ašenbrennerová (Photo credit:, and Emily Schlickman (Resewarch).