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Karachi University complex architecture

Karachi, June 18(The News): The architecture of the University of Karachi (KU) provides a lesson for architecture students as well as for professional architects in Karachi and can be followed as a model, says Arif Hasan, well-known architect and urban planner.

Hasan is deeply inspired by the university's architecture and believes that it is the one and only complex of buildings in Pakistan in which the buildings are not only beautifully proportioned but are climatically appropriate and energy conserving.

The architect gives the credit for this 'brilliantly and carefully worked out' complex of buildings, to Michel Ecochard, the French architect who actually designed the KU master plan and its buildings. The KU buildings, he feels, are the only buildings in the whole of Pakistan that were designed according to the principles laid down in the theory of proportions that was developed by the master of modern architecture, Le Corbusier.

Delving into the history of KU's design, Hasan revealed that Ecochard was the most outstanding student of Le Corbusier; therefore he designed the KU buildings according to his teacher's architectural views. Ecochard has many other university campuses to his credit and some of them are protected heritage. He also did a lot of restoration and renovation work in Damascus. The KU buildings were built in the vocabulary of modern architecture but the landscaping was all meant to be in accordance with the traditional, indoor Muslim model. The tradition of Muslim landscaping was also never carried out, although the details of it were all available in the original plan, according to Hassan.

Ecochard also did a very detailed study of the climate of Karachi which is why these buildings are climatically suitable and extremely student friendly, says Hasan. "They do not heat up in summer, there's a constant flow of breeze through them and they are not cold in winters," Hasan says, adding, "I don't think we have such energy efficient buildings anywhere else in Pakistan."

However, Hasan claims that the people who have been responsible for managing the extraordinarily beautiful building complex have subsequently ruined it due to their lack of culture and understanding of architecture.

For example, many of these buildings' elements were in rough concrete. Those who were given the task of looking after these buildings plastered and painted all over them, without keeping in view the worth of its concrete surfaces. The surfaces were originally in pastel colours but today there are no colours at all.

Hasan said that the university was meant to be a haven for pedestrians according to the master plan but "today it's a pedestrian's nightmare" because of the roads that have been built and maintained in an inappropriate manner.

In 1965, when Hasan was studying in Paris, he had visited Ecochard and found that the designer was quite angry at Pakistan and Pakistanis for having mauled his designs and layouts. He accused them of lacking an understanding of the modern movement and as well as incompetence. "He said terribly nasty things about Pakistanis because he believed they had destroyed his architecture," confided Hasan.

Ecochard's master plan also laid down the directions for the expansion of the university. But today that master plan is being completely ignored and extremely ugly buildings are being built that have no relationship with that master plan. Not only are the structures ugly but they also functionally deficient.

Hasan is also extremely disappointed with the aesthetics of the recent additions to the campus. The new buildings being constructed at the university, he believes, are climatically unsuitable, functionally inefficient, and aesthetically disproportionate. "They are in an undefined language that neither beautifully contrasts with Ecochard's work nor reflects it in any way," he claims. The buildings are placed in an ad-hoc manner that pays no attention to the original plan. "What could be worse for a university if it caters mainly to the automobile and not to pedestrian requirements?"

None of the new buildings that have been built are related to the master plan, says Hassan stressing, "When I say 'related' it doesn't mean it has to be identical but there has to be a link between the master plan and the construction." There has to be a philosophy of architecture on the basis of which they should expand.

He agreed that until the early '70s, the buildings were located and styled very much according to the master plan. But the brute, rough concrete that Echochard had given was plastered over as far back as in 1956-57 because people at that time didn't like it that way. Since then, Ecochard constantly disagreed with those who were responsible for building those buildings.

In spite of the mauling, Arif Hasan believes the architecture of KU is without doubt far superior to anything produced in Pakistan to this day and is of an international standard. "This is a world heritage, it's not only Pakistan's heritage," Hasan says. Architects who come to Pakistan from abroad are completely aghast over this matter and ask why Pakistanis cannot do something to save their heritage.

Arif Hassan has written to the heritage committee and has strongly proposed the university to be listed as heritage under the Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act 1994. He recommends that an all-Pakistan architectural and planning competition should be convened to save this universal heritage from destruction. "First of all, the university needs to accept that this is something required and, after that, they should hold the competition." It's a national project and extremely important. There should be an international jury for this competition the work should be awarded on the basis of that competition.

Ecochard's archives and all his drawings and thinking that went into the buildings of this complex are currently with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) in Geneva. On Ecochard's death, his wife gave these archives to the AKAA. "I have looked at them and they are really exceptional," Hasan says.

He suggests that the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners (PCATP) can hold the national competition in association with the Institute of Architects (IAP) and perhaps with the involvement of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

It is the responsibility of the architectural profession to protect the physical built-environment and the rapidly disappearing heritage of Pakistan in general and of Karachi in particular.
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