Are today’s architects doing substantial experiments in building houses?
The houses look almost uniform in design in the upper tier areas of this city of 23 million. Tall walls veil the view of the facades of these houses that are for Karachi’s high life. A lot of gray is visible with people tilting towards less use of paints.
The design lines are simpler, less complicated in Karachi compared to counterparts in Lahore and Islamabad. Architecture is definitely evolving in residential Karachi. But the design is controlled by the owner and not the architect. And the purpose of building these grand structures is less about building a home and more about what people will think, leaving Karachi’s architects disgruntled.
“Today’s architecture is just glamorous experiments but nothing substantial is being done. There is no serious architectural experiment in Pakistan presently. It is just gimmickry. People may have become savvier about hiring architects to design the house but a freehand is not given to the architect,” says Mukhtar Husain, a senior architect who feels that most people build houses simply to show off. “It is an activity for noveau riche.”
Renowned architect Arshad Shahid Abdulla’s views are aligned with Husain’s. “We as a nation are dirty. We don’t know how to live well and we don’t build houses with practicality and maintenance in mind. We build houses as showcases. Sprawling lawns are made to impress people but no one sits in them anymore,” he says, explaining why architects are today preferring courtyards and paved areas, instead of lawns in a parched Karachi that receives very little rain.
Luckily, Karachi’s residences are easier to maintain. “Architecture in Karachi basically consists of reinforced concrete. There is no rain in Karachi which makes the maintenance much easier,” says Habib Fida Ali, one of Pakistan’s most famous architects and the man who designed LUMS.
He discusses architecture with zeal, with Zaha Hadid being mentioned as a great personality and Fida Ali’s friend.
While the world celebrates the great Ms Hadid’s work and pays her tributes, Husain sees Pakistan’s architectural scene as pretty stagnant. “No Pakistani architect gets any international awards. It’s not that Pakistani architects are not capable of better works but there is not enough opportunity to do better work when the owner dictates what we design. The signature work of any architect is no longer recognisable.”