Architecture is a field that is still in its infancy, a fact that many tend to forget while pointing to the lack of development within it
Pakistan has its fair share of architectural marvels that inspire awe, be it remnants of the Mughal era, such as the Badshahi Mosque, colonial masterpieces, such as the Lahore Museum and the Frere Hall in Karachi, or post-colonial structures, such as the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. Yet, chances are that were you to step out of your house and look at the city around you today, you would encounter a motley crew of designs and structures with no unifying theme and diminishing aesthetic value. Is one, then, to believe that present-day Pakistan lacks a distinct architectural identity?
Eminent architect, Kamil Khan Mumtaz, while making a clear distinction between traditional and contemporary architecture in the country, is of the opinion that the latter is certainly in the throes of an identity crisis. “Contemporary architecture in Pakistan is confused and chaotic, and lacks a distinct character; its only identifiable feature being that it is aping the West. We are producing buildings like those in Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, and Manhattan without the resources and the technical know-how of these countries. The results are poor imitations at best.”
With glass towers and glitzy high-rises starting to dominate the urban landscape, it is hard to disagree with Mumtaz. Yet, the blame does not necessarily lie with the creative minds (the architects in this case).
According to Fauzia Qureshi, one of Pakistan’s best-known female architects, many of the lapses in judgment and aesthetic are, in fact, demanded by the powers that be. “We are often forced to give in to the whims and fancies of the client and every so often, form takes precedent over function. Take the recent trend of erecting glass towers, inspired by cities, such as Dubai and London. Environmentally, ours is not a country or climate suited for buildings made of glass; yet they continue to pop up, mistakenly thought to be signs of progress and modernity.”
It is a field that is still in its infancy, a fact that many tend to forget while pointing to the lack of development within it. “Post-partition, Pakistan inherited a very small pool of architects,” explains Qureshi. “There were only two schools, one in Lahore and one in Karachi, that were producing architectural assistants, not fully qualified architects, from 1947 to 1963, which is when the University of Engineering and Technology was set up that offered proper architectural studies.”
This could well explain why, when the newly-established country set about building its capital in the shadows of the Margalla Hills, its custodians had to turn towards the West in search of the architects who could lay down the foundations for Islamabad and its prominent buildings. The city’s master plan was designed by Greek architect, Constantinos Doxiadis, while American architect, Edward Durrell Stone, designed the President’s House and the parliament building.