Architecture

From Culture Halls to Shopping Malls

Societal shifts dictate architecture. Changing social norms and life pattern directly affect the functionality of a public building. Community in contemporary time is a duality where at one end it has vast compendium to it’s meaning and at other times the understanding of the word itself is blurred among the stake holders and inhabitants of contemporary times. This duality has created a dichotomy that is not only painful to comprehend but is the reality of today’s fast paced life.

There is a continuous diatribe on cultural characteristics be it evolution or changing dynamics in the society. In architecture as well a conscious effort is engineered to root the project culturally as opposed to the globalization trends by some of the professionals. But an acute void is felt in the active dialogue of understanding the derivatives of cultural impacts in an environment by or through architecture. The study is largely unfocused but a general enquiry of the study is: “an environment that reflects a particular regions life style of its inhabitants or adheres to the norms of the society living parameters”. Is that communal architecture? Did the concept of a community center exist in the society post partition? Does it still prevail?

The study reflects on one of the major cities of Pakistan and clearly the shifting paradigm in the socio-cultural intervention in society can be reflected in other major cities if not the small town.

So oxford dictionary defines community as: the people of an area or country considered as a group. For Google maniacs it is ‘…used or shared in common by every one in a group, by or belonging to the people of community, shared or participated in by the public.’ The question is what is communal architecture and what is its relevance in our society today. It will be unjust to borrow examples from the west and compare notes to our conservation society norms that prevail and act as a catalyst in the formation and usage of our built environment. The fortunate active use and exposure to the west notion of Community Halls, intrigues me not because of any particular interest in the edifices but because their manifestation and working provokes me to question the absence of the presence of a communal space in our society. Or maybe the lateral shift in the understanding of communal space in contemporary times has created its own derivative.

I turn to history; the mention of some buildings has no chronological order but is used as examples in this study. Khaliq Deena Hall built in 1906 was conceived for the purpose of community building for literary and recreational buildings as informed by its Trust members. The idea was never largely realized and met its natural demise when the government nationalized such properties during Zia’s regime. The building has a historical significance as before partition this is the same structure where the leaders of the Khilafat Movement were tried. The building on its façade bears the testament of a library, and has a capacity of holding a gathering of 600 people. After partition it was a major city center where important gatherings and events took place and was used by Karachi Municipality for their official meetings. Today it is a silent spectator to the ever-increasing vehicular traffic, smog and neglect. The dustcovered books await its readers while the masses throng other avenues of cultural centers.

never took off and soon they were converted to marriage halls. None of these buildings were true in communal context as they catered to a society heavily divided in ethnicity. These buildings were particular to their ethnic groups and one was not welcome or could participate even if you resided within the proximity of the building. Other structures also can be scrutinized within the same context; the likes of Hindu Gymkhana, Karachi Gymkhana and other clubs that mostly responded to the elite segment of the society Architecture is political and creates social divide based on the have and have-nots; all gymkhanas and clubs are a paid membership and totally inaccessible for the middle and the lower strata of society. Structures like Empress markets and Soldier bazaar enclave have outlived their hey days and were once a lively gathering place for all and sundry. The die-hard fans of Sunday Bazaar that was shut down some three years ago was patronized by a certain class and group from the elite area of Defence. Today the inhabitants of the same area find their solace in the current venture ‘the farmers market’. Parks that not only act as the lung of the city but also are pronounced open spaces for communal gathering are either predominantly locked or are used for political communion or Eid prayers; Nishtar Park is one such example. Though political voice has now found a new sounding place, its no more the Hyde Park, it’s the main arteries and major congested streets that are used for “dharnas”

So where are our museums, libraries and art galleries? There are plenty dotting different areas of the city more so in the southern district of the city. Frere Hall, a grand edifice of the British Colonial era was constructed in 1865. Originally planned as the city Town Hall, since post partition it has been used as an exhibition and library space periodically. The galleries are places that are frequented by a certain sect of people and are not reflective of the mammoth population of Karachi. So where do we as community meet? The ‘chai – khanas’ in old Saddar and M. A Jinnah road district that had shut down eons ago was predominantly a male domain where politics, literature, current affairs and anything under the sun was an open discussion. But then again that was the population that survived

Post partition also saw the openings of many community halls associated with societies such as Rangoonwala Hall, Tipu Sultan Hall, Alhambra Hall, Gulistan Hall and many such others, that empowered vocational training, some recreational facilities, library etc. The culture of these buildings never took off and soon they were converted to marriage halls. None of these buildings were true in communal context as they catered to a society heavily divided in ethnicity. These buildings were particular to their ethnic groups and one was not welcome or could participate even if you resided within the proximity of the building. Other structures also can be scrutinized within the same context; the likes of Hindu Gymkhana, Karachi Gymkhana and other clubs that mostly responded to the elite segment of the society Architecture is political and creates social divide based on the have and have-nots; all gymkhanas and clubs are a paid membership and totally inaccessible for the middle and the lower strata of society. Structures like Empress markets and Soldier bazaar enclave have outlived their hey days and were once a lively gathering place for all and sundry. The die-hard fans of Sunday Bazaar that was shut down some three years ago was patronized by a certain class and group from the elite area of Defence. Today the inhabitants of the same area find their solace in the current venture ‘the farmers market’. Parks that not only act as the lung of the city but also are pronounced open spaces for communal gathering are either predominantly locked or are used for political communion or Eid prayers; Nishtar Park is one such example. Though political voice has now found a new sounding place, its no more the Hyde Park, it’s the main arteries and major congested streets that are used for “dharnas”

So where are our museums, libraries and art galleries? There are plenty dotting different areas of the city more so in the southern district of the city. Frere Hall, a grand edifice of the British Colonial era was constructed in 1865. Originally planned as the city Town Hall, since post partition it has been used as an exhibition and library space periodically. The galleries are places that are frequented by a certain sect of people and are not reflective of the mammoth population of Karachi. So where do we as community meet? The ‘chai – khanas’ in old Saddar and M. A Jinnah road district that had shut down eons ago was predominantly a male domain where politics, literature, current affairs and anything under the sun was an open discussion. But then again that was the population that survivedthe partition calamity and is a fast disappearing segment of our society. Today both male and female frequent the chai-khanas the latest pedigree in the name of café. It is the current fad; the question would be how long will it last.
Today generally we meet at a place where there is a commercial edge. Food, games, kids entertainment, groceries, shopping, banking all get answered under one roof – THE MALL. Congregating and connecting with other people has always been an important function of architecture, but the ideologies of public and private spaces are changing to reflect a greater desire for shared experiences and environments. The essence of shopping are timeless, where as in Karachi post partition it was the Saddar area and then the later upcoming affluent area of Tariq road were strong mandates of shopping activity. Arranged on a strip mall concept bounded on both sides of the street, these areas were thronged by the masses from all strata of the society. It is within this area that shopping mall concept evolved. Mall being a hi-rise building that housed many shops at all levels. It was a pragmatic approach since horizontal development in that area had reached its peak, hi rise construction had to take place just like everywhere in the world after post industrial era.

The first Mall in Karachi came up in Tariq Road – Glamour One, a vertical arrangement of fashion shops that was a rage in its time of the early 1990’s, many followed in its footsteps such as Shalimar Center, Rabi center and many others. In a decades time Dolmen Center the very first air-conditioned environment was launched first in Tariq Road and then later in the northern part of the city. This was a trend setting environment as soon we saw the influx of shopping centers in various parts of the city such as Park Towers, Millennium Mall, Ocean Mall and Forum designed by important architects of the country.
The game changer however, conceived on the Dubailike pattern was the Dolmen Mall that opened in 2011. The biggest and the grandest of mixed use development, predominantly shopping constructed on international specification by the sea changed the dynamics of the masses meeting, greeting and eating habits of the city permanently. A 100,000 sqft of retail space, an entire level of food court with major restaurant chains, kids entertainment, banking, utility stores and others - there has been no looking back to what these security controlled and air-conditioned environment can house. Another major important factor to its success is the presence of international brands, approximately one third of which is British, making it one of the most expensive retail space in the country. Karachi with a population of 195 million people and counting, the footfall in The Dolmen Mall keeps breaking its own records with upcoming events.

The mega success of Dolmen Mall saw a flurry of big Malls opening from the north to the south of the country; Centaurus in Islamabad, Emporium and Packages Mall in Lahore and Lucky One in Karachi. They are the prime properties, that house Cinemas, gymnasium, facilities, international brand names in retail, international eateries, kid entertainment and so much more. The covered areas get bigger, the retail outlet numbers get higher, the eatery outlets and food courts spread themselves to more then one level and activities are all that you can imagine. With this fast paced evolution of eating and entertainment that continues to grow rapidly; these are the places and spaces that we identify with as major city centers, as places where the population wants to visit. This under-the-one-roof concept for the entire family works and keeps the members entertained.

The polemic cultural landscape of Pakistan is changing, is dynamic, its positive and experimental. Architecture in the current times is an evolution of a form that alternates the interaction between humans, between built and un-built between open and built and everything in between. The sensibilities lie in the response towards environment and climate change and we are the change-makers since changes of values in society reflect on architecture.
Categorically today, the hangout place is – the MALL!