ADA Dialogue III | Do You Know Your City? – Lahore

ADA Dialogue III | Do You Know Your City? - Lahore

ADA paid a tribute to Lahore with their signature Dialogue series. The dialogue, III in the series, was held at the Alhamra Arts Council on October 5th, 2018 and was aimed at celebrating Lahore and its people through what brings them together – through the lens of creativity, diversity, ethnicity and plurality.

From velvet to rags – viewing Lahore through time and tradition

“I would like to start today’s dialogue with a video to cover the magic of Lahore. Lahore reads like a history book. If you travel from one end of the city to the other, you can easily visualise its journey from pre Mughal era right up to modern times. I have coined a phrase about the city – Lahore is a tapestry of velvet and rags. It began as velvet and is going towards rags,” said Nayyer Ali Dada, eminent architect and recipient of the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture. His rendition set the mood and tone for the entire evening. The audience was enthralled by a presentation with visual narratives, historical references, allegories, anecdotes, humor and musical sensibilities. “The velvet part of architecture is so lyrical,” said Dada, “the music and rhythm overlap the rhythm of architecture,” and from here began a historical, architectural tour of the city.

He introduced the Lahore Museum as an example of “a wonderful piece of architecture imported and produced during Colonial times, similar to the architecture of Old Gymkhana and Quaid e Azam Library.”  The idea of importing Colonial architecture was subsequently rejected by a group of thinkers headed by no other than Kipling himself. The British government was recommended “to carry out their own plans but (also) to talk to native expertise and take their assistance to produce local expression of culture and functionality both.” Nayar Ali Dada compared the raag playing in the background to the visuals. “This architecture has a sense of rhythm just like the raag. Can you notice it?” A regular trio worked together on most of these projects  – Kipling, the thinker, Bhai Ram Singh, the architect and draughtsman, and Sir Ganga Ram, the engineer.

Referring to the Albert Victor entrance near Mayo hospital, he explained how design moved away from the traditional Mayo school of thought as modernity took over. He himself started from the times of modernity, but moved backwards slowly, trying to be more harmonious with Lahore and its materials.  His first project was a concrete building ahead of its times, and it came about as a result of the influence of people like Shakir Ali, Faiz and other luminaries around him. The change in the music is perceptible with evolving scene of architecture.

Moving to the Mall Road, Nayyar Ali Dada showed Sir Ganga Ram Building. The Civil and Military Gazette Office which housed Kipling’s office once upon a time was occupied by a tailor once, and presently under the occupation of a hosiery seller. This was the movement from velvet to rags, commercialism galore in Lahore, where citizens have become consumers. Once upon a time, at the back of Lahore’s great intellect, were luminaries like Iqbal, Faiz, Shakir, and there was (and should always be) a connection between intellect and architecture. Conservation and revival of heritage projects with gusto should also ensure the maintaining of a certain caliber of language, literature and all forms of art. Nayyar spoke about his effort in reviving the arts at his gallery with the help of literary patrons and luminaries who discuss the norms of todays living as opposed to yesteryears. Throughout the narrative, the change of music with each segment was impactful. He explained the deliberation. “You saw a melodious Lahore, and then you saw the discordant Lahore. I believe it is melody that distinguishes between progress and regression while serving as a measure for contemplating on the reasons for this transition. I belong to the pluralist school of thought in my architectural views. I don’t believe that cities can be preserved and made museums, nor do I believe that a city’s past should be forgotten, nor that modernized cities with glass boxes should emerge as expressions of progress and technology. It’s a very subtle balance that you have to achieve.” He emphasized how awareness amongst the entire range of population is required to create and sustain this balance. Cities reflect a society and each one of us leave an indelible mark on it. A city is a homogenous amalgamation of culture and structures and everything in between. History resonates within the streets and alleys; it is the marvels of culture and its interaction that enriches a city its environs and the inhabitants. “One special feature about Lahore has been its luminaries, starting from Data Gunj Bukhsh. One can see how the marvels of culture, the interaction of different cultures, of the gunga jamuna tehzeeb, as it is called, have had an impact on Lahore. However we lost this tehzeeb somewhere, and that has been our downfall in our cultural values and traditions. We have to rediscover the threads of our past and move forward with it.” Remarked Nayyar; he further mentions – “ there is tradition and then there is living tradition. Living tradition is where tradition is enriched with creativity and taken forward, and that is not happening. We have extremists who reproduce old buildings with jharokas and domes and arches or we have modernists who are making glass cubes everywhere. We have to find the middle path somewhere if we want to look after our cities, and Lahore particularly is sacred in this regard.”

Nayyar Saaheb concluded with witty reminiscences about the old Lahoris who were known to each other, sharing anecdotes about them. “For me, more important than buildings are the luminaries, the old characters who used to be part of Lahore…….  And in reply to ADA’s question…..whether I know my city or not,  I can safely say…well, my city knows me!”

The dynamics of heritage and restoration projects in the Walled City

The next speaker was Mr. Masood Khan, an architect and urban planner, attached to the Aga Khan Historic Cities Program, and a recipient of the highest UNESCO Asia-Pacific heritage awards for his restoration works at Shigar Fort. While Nayy ar Ali Dada addressed Lahore’s historical heritage in lyrical, reminiscence Masood Khan’s discourse was more academic, direct, focused on the city’s geographical transition. His visuals were part of his research and presentations, and explained the shift in Lahore’s social structure, cityscape and demographics. His journey began with a map of the Old Lahore, highlighting the old historic core (about 1 square mile), the colonial period Lahore, Mughal period Lahore; why people spilled over from the walled city during the Mughal era and the history of the establishment of gardens and subsequent neighbourhoods cropping up around those gardens.  “Lahore in the heyday of the Mughal era was quite large, inhabiting around 5000 people. This is more or less not even a quarter of what Lahore today is. The 2015 Map of Lahore shows a  progressive expansion of the city; an inexorable expansion of low density but upper income housing all the way down to Raiwind and further south. It is interesting to note that at this point and time, Lahore ate up all the agricultural hinterland, there were no green belts left. There was no deliberate sectioning of the city’s growth into what could have been satellite growths, intelligently connected to the historic core. This is a great loss because other cities, other better planned cities, I would even include Delhi, have found ways to locate their growth in satellite areas which are intelligently connected to the main core. In this pell-mell of “scheming and plotting”, Lahore has just grown and grown, leaving its historic core – the Walled City as well the Colonial period Lahore in tatters, in the rags that Nayyar talks about.”

Lamenting on how little thought has been given to the planning of all the infrastructure that service a large modern city, he said that we were still relying on the locations of Colonial period transportation elements like the railway station. In the 1920’s the first bus terminus of Lahore was established at that point and it moved to Badami Bagh. The area around the Walled City, the Circular Road, is now the transportation hub of a region not just of Lahore but the entire regional economic space of Punjab, as well as the entire country; people come from the northern areas, Karachi and other places in Pakistan to do business in this area. The economic dependence and pressure on this location has ruined, rent asunder all the historic elements, the beautiful structures of the Walled City in various forms that are still contained. Unlike other historic cores of the world, for example in Isfahan and Cairo, where one cannot tell where the historic city and modern day city meet, the most interesting aspect of the Walled City of Lahore is that there is a clear space that separates it from the rest of the city. When the British tore down the wall that existed, they also created a circular road and circular garden which still exists in pieces.  Hence our walled city offers to us the potential of relying on this separation and to emphasize it, accentuate it, remove all the confusion and clutter around it and present it again as a visible entity. This will enhance the structures historical importance and sustain it as an entity, so that when people visit it they can identify it, as another landmark of the Walled City. There are also a few gates (Lahori Gate, Delhi Gate) left from the British period that mark the perimeter of the Walled City.

In his presentation on the historic city district of Lahore Masood Khan further emphasized; the presence of structures in the walled city precinct the  Lahore Fort, a world heritage site, which for some reason was coupled with the Shalimar Gardens some 8-9 km away. There is a plan to propose to the UN that this conjoined status with the Shalimar Gardens should be broken, and Lahore Fort, Badshahi Masjid, Huzoori Bagh and areas around it should be declared a separate world heritage site altogether.  In the fort there has been a wonderful succession of development which more or less echoes that of the growth of the historic city of Lahore. One of the many other ongoing development projects is the digging of “soakage wells” (in the north of the picture wall) for draining water from Lahore Fort into the soil. The idea is also to rely on these wells to help in the recharging of the aquifer from which water is drained out every year. In two of the wells, construction has been discovered 65 feet below the surface. It has to be carbon dated because at this depth to find lime concrete, bricks and potsherd means something – it may confirm the suspicion on the parts of scholars that Lahore could well be a site of the Indus Valley Civilization which has never been tested. These are pieces of evidence, and more and more evidence is now appearing. There is now a need for a strong archaeological project launched in Lahore.

The urban fabric that exists in the Walled City is tightly woven, typical to the fabric of all historic cities in the subcontinent, and similar to the relics of the historic cities in the Islamic world, in the North African region and the Middle East. Lahore does share a tremendous amount of similarities with some great cities of the world. Even today, Lahore has numerous buildings in the Walled City all waiting to be attended to, even though people say there is nothing left there. In 1987, the Walled City suffered a huge shock  – many areas were burned down in a massive episode of violence.  Five years down the road, the Lahore Improvement Trust cleared the area and established the Shah Aalmi Gate Bazar project. Apart from Shah Aalmi, there are many other traditional bazaars on tight linear paths of the Walled City.  Some proper, traditional mandies like Akbari Mandi, Gur Mandi, Baan Mandi, Sarafa and Kasera Bazar and Chowk Jhanda still exist while some like the Choona Mandi have become defunct. Shopping at Azam Cloth Market / Shah Aalmi area is a totally different animal as compared to these bazars on the narrow, linear pathways which have very little commerce as compared to the new style of shopping.  It is deep inside the walled city but it has no relevance to the old city, no empathy and no relationship with the historic core or the historic fabric. It is a behemoth eating away as more and more traders tear down the historic urban fabric to build more plazas, and the economic engine is eating away the historic fabric. These regional markets are very powerful – socially, economically and politically – and it is very difficult to dampen their economic and political energy. Thanks to the Walled City of Lahore Authority, there is now a land use plan and building regulations that are very slowly putting a damper on such structures and activity but it has to be coupled with other modern day encroachments like these markets depend on the transportation networks around the Walled City. “This tiny one square mile of territory is inexorably linked to what we do in the rest of Lahore and how we plan the city as a whole. This is something that must be brought to bear on the minds of all the planners and all the powerful operators. Lahore is now a large city of 12 million people and planning in Lahore including the Walled City itself, must be done with full coordination of all the various levels of forces that are at play.” Masood Khan concluded his presentations by sharing detailed checklists, design philosophies and visuals for all heritage projects undertaken under his supervision and authority, highlighting the challenges they faced along the way.

The future IS ours to see…..

Faqir Aijazuddin Saaheb, OBE and former minister for culture, is a distinguished professional, orator, collector, writer, journalist and historian. He has his finger on the pulse of Lahore and spoke about the city in the light of his personal experiences, sharing some very unique perspectives. “We have to remember that Lahore seems to be more than a thousand years old (referring to the excavation mentioned by Masood Khan), quite likely it could be two thousand, three thousand, maybe four thousand years old. Just think about it. The people who were living then were concerned about the past because they were building on it and they were concerned about the future because that is what they were going to leave behind. That is true of every generation of Lahories, we are not unique in this. It is a responsibility that every generation has felt.”

While Nayyar Ali Dada showed us the picture of a larger Lahore and Masood Khan concentrated on restoration and heritage of the Walled City, Aijaz s narrative consisted of sensitive, eye opening accounts of the “brutalities” the city endured at the hands of its caretakers at all levels. “It’s not about whether we have the resources (for carrying out cerebral developmental work like creating satellite cities in China for example) or not; the fact is we do not have the will for it.” There are examples of many restoration and renovation projects that are being carried out in Pakistan and they need to be applauded and honoured. “What Kamran Lashari has done for the Shahi Hammam was that he revived not only the structure of the hammam but honored and revived its spirit. That is most important – to be able to identify and develop the ethos of the building.” The masses need to be reminded that when they talk about Lahore, it’s not just the Walled City or the Colonial past that we are talking about. It is about the present and the future. What is it and what are we going to do for the future! It is said that doctors bury their mistakes, architects leave their mistakes for everyone to see and politicians leave scars on the face of what was once a beautiful city. He further elaborated “anyone who can remember as Nayyar can, and as I can, for the gracious city Lahore was, we cannot but deplore what has happened to it in the name of modernity, in the name of progress, in the name of easier transportation facility.” (referring to projects like the Orange Line) “We cannot condone what is personal boon and make that an official policy, or worse, make it a permanent act of disfiguration of a city.” He narrated many first hand incidents about the callousness of designated officials towards the protection of heritage landmarks and impacts of new construction on heritage site such as Shalimar Bagh in Lahore.

Roles and responsibilities of societal hierarchies

The talk of Shahi Hammam remains incomplete without the mention of Mr. Kamran Lashari, an illustrious civil servant and a great benefactor of the arts and heritage of Pakistan. It is through his efforts that heritage and heritage projects in Lahore are highlighted and worked on with ease.

“I think cities, no matter what they are because of their building, gardens, markets, essentially and most importantly, they are (cities) because of their people. It’s the people that make cities and not the other way around. The people of Lahore are very interesting people, and I would like especially like to commend the Lahoris and their vibrance. It is very special, very unique,” Lashari Saaheb endorsed the spirit of the zinda dilaan-e-Lahore. “And while trying to understand Lahore, I agree with Nayyar Ali Dada  that on one side, you need to rejoice about Lahore, and on the other side you need to reflect, if not repent, about Lahore.

He further illustrated his remarks on the development “I am thankful to Nayyar Ali Dada for his contribution towards enforcing the theme of using Lahori red bricks from the Mughal times in modern context. This has led to our taking ownership and pride in our great heritage, which we must not break away from. Our heritage is as good as any other, many civilizations are built and have worked towards its growth hence no decision regarding the city should go into the hands of just one or two people in the government, in deciding any changes or structural implementations in the city.” He further emphasized that – “When it comes to decisions that have an impact on the entire city, the stakes are too high to leave it into the hands of one elected representative or one chief secretary or whoever. They may be well meaning people but they may not have that vision or the authenticity of taste or the expertise required in understanding the complexity of a project. In my opinion, a body of the most eminent architects, town planners, landscape architects, historians and if required archeologists should be formed for any big project that impacts the city, and the decisions should be funneled through them, processed through them and their word should be the last word.”

Maria Aslam, Founder and Chief Editor of ADA and Lead ADA Awards brought a closure to the day’s proceedings with a vote of thanks. She reflected on ADA’s ten year journey and the immense archive that ADA has amassed as a publication house and the travel seminars. She announced the launch of the ADA Inaugural Awards 2018-19 and made a call for submissions to the city of Lahore. The dialogue was an immense success, and ADA’s effort to provide such a powerful platform was lauded by all the guests. The profundity of thought and sincerity of each of the honourable speakers was overwhelming, and witnessing their individual renditions was an unforgettable experience.

It was an illuminating evening to have luminaries from Lahore’s professional, social and literary skylines share their experiences, with their fingers on the pulse of Lahore. The audience was treated to a medley of enriching, timeless, diverse yet convergent perspectives of Lahore ‘Do you know your city?’

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