Dhaka, like most metropolises in which the control of capital and land is hotly contested, is a socially and spatially heterogeneous place.

Within the urban theater that is Dhaka, six morphologies define the city, each representing a certain social, economic, and environmental destiny:

1) The old city
This is the original settlement that grew along the river Buriganga with its jostling mixed-use buildings, narrow, winding streets, and mohollas— traditionally organized neighborhoods characterized by a social cohesion enabled by a particular spatial fabric. The old city is coming apart at the seams, no longer able to sustain its morphological matrix against the onslaught of commercialization and densification, and the adoption of alien building typologies, such as generic apartment buildings.

2) The so-called colonial quarter
This area, the site of new governmental, cultural, institutional, and residential buildings in a bungalow and garden typology built by the British from the 1900s onwards, first heralded the move away from the river.

3) Post-1947 developments
These regulated and planned residential areas, and pockets of commercial and institutional growth, still define the nature of urban planning, although the principles that informed their development are largely discredited.

4) The National Capital Complex
This complex, known as Sherebanglanagar, represents the American architect Louis Kahn's vision of an exclusive government and civic complex in a deltaic urban landscape. The construction of Sherebanglanagar was a catalytic event that gave a new impetus to the civic and economic life of Dhaka, and provided an urban anchor for the city as it grew beyond its older areas.

5) Semi-Planned City
These vast, amorphous areas of semi-planned or unplanned growth, often with inadequate infrastructure, are a symptom of urban planners' failure to address successfully the city's increasing demographic and economic pressures.

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