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.
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
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
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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