Life

Architectural Education in Pakistan, today…

Part 1

Text: Ar. Shahid Sayeed Khan

The author is the CEO of Indus Earth an NGO which is in continuous experimentation of mud housing and has revitalized thousands of lives and reinstated the sustainable aspects of mud architecture. Apart from other forays Shahid Sayeed Khan is also a part-time faculty at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture and has presented papers on many platforms both on the local and international scene.

I studied at a school of Environmental Studies attached to an Art College in the UK. My 1st year was the normal foundation course with all Art subjects inclusive of an extensive Liberal Arts input.

From then on it was Architecture, Landscape Design and Town Planning combined as a subject called Environmental Design. I received a diploma in 1972 and elected to the RIBA in 1973.

I have had extensive experience both in Private Practice and Government Institutions in UK and Pakistan and have taught at the IVSAA and Karachi University for many years.

So where do we; architects and students, stand today in Pakistan.

There are several directions that can be taken and have been taken by the fraternity. I am not here to argue which is the right direction and which is not. That is up to every individual's creative thought process. What I want to ask is whether an architectural institute should have a ‘philosophical direction’ or whether it should be a ‘free for all approach’? And if this approach were to be followed would it curtail a student’s ability to find themselves and their creative spirit? What are the lessons we can learn from history? Is there such a thing as an Architectural Identity reflected in different countries and are those architectural languages different from each other? Was the ‘language’ a culmination of cultures that spoke of different parameters? Do historical architectural spaces differ from each other?

Indeed is this thought process worth pursuing today in our ‘Global Village’? Do we in Pakistan, have any identity that we can call our own? (apart from truck art). Or have we become so complacent and numbed to external influences that we really are not interested anymore, and asking too many awkward questions, to which we actually do know the answers, is too complicated and in the end why bother, when the status quo is jogging along quite happily.

The architectural gems of centuries past and in the Golden Age of various civilizations had one redeeming factor above all else; that was the natural control of indoor comfort zone. This naturally was by the understanding of external climatic conditions of heat, cold, hot desert air or freezing Tundra winds. Today this application of natural climatic control is not considered appropriate when it can be done artificially and create a more comfortable internal environment. But some architects, are learning that this is not appropriate anymore. The energy needs are too demanding and onerous on the environment. The planet cannot sustain this incessant depletion of its resources to allow wealthy Homo erectus to live comfortably, almost oblivious to the earth’s cry for help.

Whether we accept that our greed far exceeds our needs or not, the planet will force on us its verdict and is doing so now. Climate is changing with its devastating message, which we in Pakistan have experienced and will continue to do so for many years to come. Unfortunately, we are taking the brunt of those nations that have created this but we must learn to adapt and not continue as if it were business as usual. Our institutions must direct its students to change course and concentrate on our needs of today, in a country that has been systematically raped both by its occupants and now nature.

This is a mammoth task, for if we look at the Golden Ages we see a just, civil society protecting its citizens by astute and visionary governments; so that its citizens were free to create in a conducive environment, be it the sciences or the arts. However, that time and those individuals are not here. We have a very different ethos to contend with. This all affects the mind, especially in the arts. (Carpets are being made in Afghanistan with Kalashnikovs as the pattern).

My argument may appear to be one that is going “backward” and not “forward”. It is of great concern to me that we in Pakistan emulate cities such as Dubai as a panacea to follow. A city, which is labeled as the most unsustainable on the planet; it has used up earth’s resources without any recourse to the future generations and unfortunately that attitude of mind of glitz and glamour is part of our psyche.
This attitude has to be changed but explained with an argument. Surely, our young need to be shown an alternative, for it is them, that will really take the consequences of our ill planet unless we get together to find and apply the cure.

The cure is there. The answers are in front of us. We need to move forward and make decisions that will alter our lives.

To be continued…