RISING STARS 2017 COHORT
Project architect, co-founder, trustee, Mannan Foundation Trust and architect Proctor & Matthews
Part 2: 2008 Part 3: 2011
People respond to adverse events in different ways. For some it’s a moment to retreat and reflect, while others find it gives them strength to take on challenges that they might not have otherwise. Tumpa Fellows is definitely one of the latter. After her father’s death, in 2011 she, her mother and her three sisters took over his charity, the Mannan Foundation Trust, which helps disadvantaged people in the remote, low-lying village of Rajapur in Bangladesh where he was born.
As the architect of the family (two of her sisters are doctors), Fellows decided to use her professional skills to create a permanent home for the charity’s teaching and healthcare work. This has become the Rajapur Women’s Literacy and Healthcare Centre. The aim of the centre is to empower local women by providing income generating and literacy skills, as well as free healthcare.
The project started in 2013 and went on site in 2014. While employed full-time at architecture practices in London, Fellows organised the fundraising and designed the building, making it as economical as possible to fit a £20,000 budget. It is intended to be resilient to the area’s challenging climate, including annual flooding and temperatures that can reach 45ºC.
A kind of Francis Kéré in the making, Fellows spent a lot of time in the community, observing how it builds and how existing methods could be adjusted to improve the quality of the spaces in the centre. For example, to tone down the noise of rain on the metal roof, Fellows inserted a thin layer of foam insulation underneath.
Constructed from rammed earth and bamboo, the building sits on stilts over a natural ditch so it benefits from evaporative cooling through its special perforated blocks.
For the build Fellows led a team of volunteers offering professional services and employed local people for labour. The community was involved from the very beginning through workshops and by the adoption of simple building techniques with the aim of instilling self-sufficiency.
The project also tackles social issues, including the fact that most girls in rural Bangladesh do not continue education beyond the age of 11. Fellows tried to encourage the women to engage with the work on site, but a strict code of cultural practice restricts them from working in public, side by side with men. To solve this, she set up a system whereby women built rammed earth wall blocks at home, allowing them to be central to the construction process.
Overall, the judges praised Fellows for ‘having it all’ – natural leadership, a collaborative mindset, energy, social awareness and a hard-working attitude. Mark Skelly thinks she demonstrated a lot of drive in picking up her father’s charity, while Mary Duggan says she is simply incredible.
What would you most like to improve about the industry?
The industry should do more to address gender inequality by ensuring that both males and females receive the same opportunities to take on responsibilities. It is the initial opportunity that female architects lack which causes them to fall behind compared with their male equivalents, resulting in pay inequality.
What existing building or place would you most like to tackle?
I would like to pioneer the use of architecture to improve the lives of disadvantaged people in Bangladesh and the surrounding countries. I believe one way is to help people learn the value of their village amenities/resources by instilling confidence to encourage them to take ownership through collectiveness and community projects.