Architecture of Disappearance

Sofia Karim


In 2018 my uncle, photographer and social activist Shahidul Alam, was abducted, tortured and jailed by the government of Bangladesh, in a widely reported freedom of expression case. 

The events marked a turning point in my life and approach to architecture.

During Shahidul’s detention I constructed the spaces I imagined he occupied, in my mind. I wanted to enter these spaces so I could be with him, to hold his hand. 

After his release I built a series of models based on his memories and my imagination.  

In parallel I began developing my theories on “An Architecture of Disappearance”. I began to re-interpret architectural ideals of silence, proportion, truth and beauty. I knew I would never design buildings in the same way again.  

Sofia Karim, Architect, November 2019

Photo by Shahidul Alam


Sofia Karim has practiced architecture for over 20 years at studios including Norman Foster’s in London and Peter Eisenman’s in New York. She has worked on designs for buildings across the globe. 

Her practice combines architecture, visual art, activism and writing. 

Her activism focuses on Bangladesh human rights, artists’ freedom of expression and prison reform. She campaigned for the release of imprisoned artists Dr Alam and Tania Bruguera.

She has staged protest exhibitions at Tate Modern (Turbine Hall) and has appeared on BBC World News, Channel 4 News and Sky News. 

She is the founder of books4jail, a project sending books from artists, writers, and cultural institutions to prisoners. 

She is a visiting critic at Westminster school of Architecture.