the-south-asian.com July / August 2006
Page 3 of 4
Kamil Khan Mumtaz
- The Grand Master
Traditional & Green Architecture in Pakistan
Salman Minhas in Lahore, exclusively for the-south-asian.
Lahore Development Authority [LDA] & City Planning
SSM- In your work in the Lahore Master Plan, what sorts of influence were you able to exert over the major decision-makers? Do they listen to your ideas, or is your work regarded as one of the many ideas floating around?
KKM. In small ways perhaps, but not in really meaningful ways. When we were working on the Lahore urban development and traffic study [project sponsored by the World Bank-WB] Ė we were constantly being told by the bureaucrats Ė why do you want to save this stinking mess, this old city Ė pull it down, bulldoze it, build some new skyscrapers, this sort of thing. At first I thought they were not being serious, but then it got a bit sickening. Eventually at one presentation, I actually presented them with the cost of doing exactly that Ė and of course the cost was astronomical. I said if you are prepared to give that sort of money, we could do it.
So that shut them up, and I didnít hear that opinion again. The World Bank agenda was just environmental improvements, in water and sanitation and solid waste. But right from the start, we were aware of this cultural treasure and heritage that it represented, so we kept plugging for a conservation plan. Of course the World Bank resisted our effort, and said they were not in the business of historic towns. Eventually by the end of the project they came around to supporting conservation efforts and planning for the walled city. So that was a minor success.
In terms of urban expansion and planning principles, what we gave the LDA was not a master plan, but what we call a structural plan, which is a set of policies, guidelines, which we use for action planning as and when we take up a particular area. This was based on precisely this notion of self-contained communities, centred on employment as the focus; we call this areas of opportunities but the idea was that one should not continue to think of dormitory towns as housing but as integrated communities When we presented these reports, about the only comment that we received from the LDA was Ė OK this is all right but where is the master plan? They wanted a plan where we could start building roads. So they actually missed the whole point and apart from some very simple ideas of circulation, they havenít really understood the principles that we were trying to get across.
SSM- Are there any serious urban planners, [qualified] within LDA?
KKM Ė Oh yes, there are a number of qualified urban planners, but as to the seriousness of their concerns and the understanding of the issues, I donít think they are trained for that. They donít understand the first thing about planning.
The Sun also rises:
Traditional Arts & Architecture in South Asia - Pakistan
SSM Ė Recently, there seems to be a resurgence to protect old monuments in the old city, about 250 houses were destroyed in the recent rains. Now this issue of the Lahore High Court building; Do you see this as a passing fad?
KKM- The conservation movement, though young, is gaining ground. Awareness in increasing; more time and space are being given to these issues in print and electronic media. Yes indeed.
SSM Ė In terms of teaching architecture in various institutions in Pakistan, have you been able to actually make a pitch for your ideas of the traditional approach versus the modern approach.
KKM ĖSo far it hasnít had much of an impact. An interesting development has taken place at the National College of Arts. In 1999 I pleaded for an institution where one could study traditional arts and architecture. There is none, there is no institution in Pakistan or India or Sri Lanka anywhere in the region; you have to go to the MITís or PRASADA [Leicester, UK] or VITA [Prince of Wales Institute]. I tried to plead for a centre for traditional arts, and I suggested the National College of Arts was best placed to initiate such a move because of its history and background and so on; and if not an institution of traditional arts, then at least a department, or at least one course in a department; and of course no one would hear of it; I was just rejected and told that this was just useless retrogressive, reactionary talk. But it is interesting that in the four years since then, the National College of Arts has started an Institute of Musicology for classical music; they have started classes in Calligraphy, under Ustad Gauhar Kalam; they have introduced a course on traditional arts in the Mastersí programme and as a result one student last year, this year maybe more, has decided to take up art practice within the traditional framework. There is now also a course in traditional Fresco painting. I also hear that they are going to start teaching Kathak. So this is wonderful. An institution that had rejected outright the very mention of tradition, is gradually turning into exactly what I had been calling. I donít claim any credit for that. I think this has happened independently.
SSM- do you have any lectures or seminars that you organize within your practice here?
KKM- Yes in the "Anjum-e-Mimaraan" [Society of Architects- a non-profit society] we are constantly taking up projects for documenting our heritage, we have a program of colloquia in which these ideas are discussed, debated & presented; we then hold exhibitions, seminars on major topics which then are published.
Fusion of Vastu, Feng Shui, Gandhara & Traditional Architectures
SSM- You talk in terms of maintaining traditional styles but within this south Asian context there are 2 or 3 major traditions /practices -one being the Buddhist -The Gandhara, then Muslim and of course the Hindu periods. When you talk of tradition are you referring primarily to Islamic tradition?
KKM- No, when we talk about tradition, we mean tradition in its broadest sense; and this is not to be understood in terms of time in the sense of past or present, not in terms of any materials and indeed not in terms of any specific religion. We maintain that all traditional cultures are rooted in a common understanding of what is real, what is the place of man in this cosmos, what is his destiny and so on.
SSM Ė A hypothetical question. If a client came to you and said I want a house built in the Gandhara or Mughal architectural style, what would you say?
KKM- I would say exactly the same as I said earlier when you mentioned a combination of Vastu, Feng Shui. While each of these traditions is valid in its own right, if we are to get anywhere, it is best to choose a path.
SSM- So each of these design traditions is far too alien/foreign to be merged with the others?
KKM ĖEach of these traditions/principles cannot be separated from the rest of those traditions. Itís like American ladies doing Yoga. Traditions have to be understood and practiced as an integral part of a larger tradition so we cannot pick and choose. It is very fashionable nowadays to indulge in Hare-Rama, Hare-Krishna, Yoga, Zen Buddhism, Sufism - as a subject. Traditions are to be integrated into a complete way of life, a complete worldview, and complete with all of its rituals and practices. So I think thatís an absurd notion, that one can pick and choose like a dilettante.
SSM- Let me ask you about the traditional house for example that one sees in Northern Punjab letís say; it always used to have a courtyard; that design, that basic design of having a courtyard, what was that? Did that come from within South Asia or was it imported from Islamic influence? Or Hindu influence?
KKM - It is on the one hand an obvious and natural response to the climate. Mohenjo Daro and Harapa houses were based on courtyards too. A courtyard is very much a part of the North Indian building traditions. I am not so familiar with the Hindu and Buddhist domestic architectural traditions so I canít comment on that.
SSM- But these "Havelis" [villas] around in the cities/towns, all belonged to the rich Hindu business class.
KKM- There is not much of a difference in fact. It is also an example of how ideal forms become the basis for architecture and art.
SSM- Is that form coming from some ideal? Which ideal?
KKM- Sure, in Buddhism the form is the Mandala; in Hinduism the Yantra, and in the Islamic traditions "the Hasht Behesht [eight Paradise], all of these are kind of cosmic diagrams. They are diagrammatic representation of everything, the whole universe.
SSM- What is Hasht Behesht?
KKM - The Hasht Behesht [Eight Paradise] is an arrangement on a plane of nine squares, the central being unique in that is the courtyard & there are eight around it. This is the model that is the basis of many of these houses.
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