Dialogues

The Future of Heritage Conference

ADA – Architecture Design Art – in collaboration with Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) Education Programme held a one-day seminar “The Future of Heritage” on 18th October 2019 in the Aga Khan University Auditorium, Karachi. The seminar, divided into three portions, examined the current situations of multiple built heritage sites in Pakistan; assessed the challenges of preserving them, keeping in mind the importance of the intangible heritage surrounding the sites; explored the potential adaptive reuse of the city, keeping the culture and life intact.

The day began with opening remarks from Maria Aslam, curator of the seminar and editor-in-chief of ADA. She described intangible heritage as the memories, and personal essence, while the tangible is the historic and political development of the city – a byproduct of the masses that made the city. Expressing her gratitude to the people attending and participating Aslam then invited the education director for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), Yudhishthir Raj Isar, to introduce the Trust and inaugurate the seminar. As an educator, Isar believes that the invested youth will be the flagship of change in the coming age of heritage preservation, as such was happy to see the number of students in the crowd. The Trust (AKTC) has pioneered many projects in multiple countries, one of which is the Historic Cities Programme whose is to prerogative foster deeper awareness of the importance of historic cities and their heritage as well as working towards revitalizing the urban landscape for the citizens living in those historic cities. Isar hopes that the AKTC is instrumental in initiating revitalization programs to Karachi.

The first session introducing AKTC’s Historic Cities Programme officially began with Shiraz Allibhai, Deputy Director of the AKTC. His presentation titled Rupture and Memory, spoke of the instances where a people were ripped from their culture, and how the memories of the people of the culture contribute to the identity of the people. Allibhai stated that the purpose of the Historic Cities Programme is to provide a better quality of life to the inhabitants in historic cities by connecting them to their past and instilling a sense of pride in them. Continuing on, Masood Khan, senior consultant for the Historic Cities Programme for AKTC, elaborated upon the framework the Programme practices for its development work using the example of the Walled City of Lahore. He demonstrated that by including the public in negotiations, one could reclaim encroached upon and private facades to bring into the public domain. The key is then to involve your citizens into the decision-making and encourage them to connect with the heritage and rehabilitate it while simultaneously protecting it.

This paved the way quite clearly, for Seif El Rashidi, an architectural historian, who spoke of his work in Cairo for the Programme and AKTC. His intention was to make the city work for the people, not to enshrine it as an artefact but rather to incorporate the cityscape into the sociopolitical fabric of the city. He places importance on trust and participation in heritage preservation; participation between the municipalities, to provide for the citizens; the citizens, to cater to their needs and wants; and the organizations implementing their works.

Attiq Ahmed Zaman, activist and urban planner, presented on his recent work on the Lahore Metro, titled Orange Line Metro Aur Aap. He dove into the issues with the Lahore Metro that has run through many informal housing settlements, a school for the disabled, a temple, and is too close for comfort to buildings of historic value causing partial damage. Zaman believes that much of the problem lies in independent oversight and that the cost to the people of the city is officially downplayed and hidden.

Following the presentations, the session headed into a discussion moderated by Raj Isar with presenters: Shiraz Allibhai, Masood Khan, Seif El Rashidi, and professionals: Arif Hasan, Yasmeen Cheema, Gulzar Haider. Arif Hasan, a renowned architect and activist, gave an interesting insight that the old ideas have reached their end. Now we need a new, more affordable intervention for the citizens. Professor Gulzar Haider, of Beaconhouse National University, added on by saying that in this line of work extreme patience is required to be successful.

The second session proceeded into the challenges of preservation in the Pakistan context. Beginning with Kaleemullah Lashari, member of the Advisory Committee of Sindh Cultural Heritage, Heritage Laws and Adaptive Reuse, stated that while we may have ‘rules’ on heritage, they are unlikely to be implemented because of the loopholes of the system. Arbitrary decision-making by the government allows projects to begin but are abandoned in the middle. Adding on with her own presentation Heritage Enlistments in Sindh, Dr. Anila Naeem, architect and academic, stated that the key to heritage conservation is enlisting the site into the list of heritage sites so that they are conserved accordingly. Unfortunately, the process of enlistment does not benefit property owners who are using these spaces as they need to. Dr. Anila specified that enlistment is not the end goal, but the first step so it is important for it to be efficient and mutually beneficial so there is no resentment in the community about it.

Continuing the session was Arif Hasan with his talk titled Love & Affection and the Larger Karachi Context. Hasan claimed that while we may love and have affection for our city, there is little respect for it. Hasan made the distinction between justice and legality, that not everything legal is justice; speaking on the Empress Market project he said that removing these people may have been legal, but it was not justice to them who have made their livelihood there for years. Fahim Zaman expanded on this in his presentation Fading Heritage! Is It Merely a Land Issue? A relevant question as the land and buildings being wrongly used is no longer the concern, it is the legality and the system of doing things that seems to need rectifying.

The session led into a moderated discussion with Commissioner Karachi, Iftikhar Shallwani; Deputy Director of Communications at K-Electric, Noor Afshan; and Senior Architect at AKTC, Wajahat Ali; moderated by Dr. Noman Ahmed. The Commissioner stated his goal for Karachi to make it a tourist spot and to do that he encourages better preservation of the heritage and making difficult decisions. Noor Afshan, stated that enlistment processes would help K-Electric understand how to develop their plans so that they can provide steady assistance to the areas of heritage sites.

The third session of the day explored the people’s perspective, stories of tangible and intangible heritage and their conservation models. The first presenter, Shahid Abdullah, one of the founder of Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS,) spoke of the IVS building, which was an older building, relocated from Kharadar to Clifton as a unique preservation methodology and adaptive reuse of a structure that otherwise would have been turned to rubble. His presentation, Architecture of Happiness, stated that prioritizing emotional impact over a built environment is more important in heritage preservation and in claiming something as heritage. In contrast to the IVS building, Faryal Sikandar, a professor of adaptive reuse and architecture, spoke on the Story of the Mukhi House. A lavish mansion in Hyderabad, claimed as a heritage site but remains non-functional that leads to disrepair and underutilized because of flaws in the system that disables people from visiting it. Architect Yawar Jilani, highlighted the importance of looking back to know where to go from the present and implored that AKTC should give Karachi a chance just as they have revitalized Lahore.

Marvi Mazhar, conservationist and activist, spoke of the restoration of old Karachi, Pakistan Chowk rehabilitating it for the use of the people inhabiting the area. Following which Dr. Asma Ibrahim, archeologist and architect, mentioned her work in restoring an old imperial building, into what is now known as the State Bank Museum. Two contrasting reuses of heritage sites. Shahrukh Noman, architect and academic, and Tania Ali Soomro spoke on the issues and challenges regarding such reuse and conservation projects, and the challenges ranging from lack of technical support, setting priority to issues in public awareness and consequent environmental problems.

Thanking the participants and speakers once again, Maria Aslam brought the seminar to a restless end. The anxiousness felt as the participants exited the building was perhaps a prelude to what is to come through these exciting discussions, an inspiring time for both the practitioners and the citizens involved. It was an ever so hopeful moment that one is forced to believe – with so many great minds and intentions around – perhaps there is hope for the future of heritage.

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