The meaning-making walkthrough of Shahi Hammam

Photo credits: Interior views of the conserved Great Hall

Text | Ar. Mehwish Abid (ULIV) (MPCATP)
Visuals | Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan

Mehwish Abid (ULIV) (MPCATP)
Assistant Professor [School of Architecture, Design and Urbanism (SADU) at Institute for Art & Culture, Lahore]
Principal Architect [Studio for Architecture, Research and Design (SARD)]

Walled City hosts many buildings, bazaars, monuments, public spaces and even squares of high cultural value due to its rich history of being the center for the Mughal Empire. The urban fabric rehabilitation and infrastructure up gradation of Shahi Guzargah began in 2007 by the Government of Punjab in association with World Bank. The walled city of Lahore Authority has been the force behind further projects of renewal and conservation since 2012 along with Agha Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP) as their technical support. AKCSP has won a number of prestigious awards and is widely recognized as premier organization in the field of cultural heritage in Pakistan.

Mughal era Shahi Hammam stands out in its urban fabric with its pre-colonial features inspired by Persian and Turkish influences. It was subjected to encroachments due to its central location in walled city of Lahore. The structure has gone through many changes especially it being reused over the years as boy’s primary school then it was converted into a girl’s vocational school. Later it was rehabilitated as a dispensary and as an office for government. It changed in space utilisation multiple times. The Shahi Hammam had gone under massive deterioration especially on its façade and interior. For this particular project, it is important to note the structure’s versatility for adaptability. As Heidegger suggests that buildings are the ethos of the people living in them, the Shahi Hamman resides in itself various tales from different times. According to the report by AKCSP, though the building was declared as a cultural asset in 1955 but the structure was severely altered to adapt to its countless uses over the years. The report also suggests that in 2005 Hammam was used as a restaurant and T.V set. It was decided in 2012 that instead of adaptive reuse it should be restored to its original form as bathhouse. The conservation process of excavation had led to the discovery of Hypocaust systems, which created its urgency for the site to be formed into a museum for public.