KARACHI - Karachi is a city of rich heritage which dates back to the 19th century. Communities need to join hands to initiate a dialogue between all the stakeholders to preserve Karachi’s built heritage and environs while elevating formal and functional contribution to the richness of city life.

This was connoted by participants of seminar titled Preserving Karachi’s Heritage: Challenges and Opportunities.

The event was organised by the Institute of Architects Pakistan – Karachi Chapter (IAP-KC) in collaboration with TPL Properties at a local hotel on Tuesday. Leading architects, civil society members and activists participated to discuss and highlight the plight of Karachi’s heritage and act for its preservation.

“A long neglect has brought this city on the brink of disaster since it is growing with rapid pace but without any direction. There’s need to initiate dialogue and learn from peers all over the world in order to contribute to the urgent task of bettering this city,” said Amir Chaudhry, Chairman Institute of Architects Pakistan (IAP), in his welcome note.

He added that Karachi was developed as a transit gateway towards Central Asia. “People are now more concerned with necessities rather than heritage. Real estate development threatens historic and natural environment,” said Amir.

Chairman IAP further said that there is low priority for heritage in our agenda and budget while education and technology is pushing for urban Karachi. “The situation is of despair but not everything is lost. We need to keep documenting heritage sites,” said Amir Chaudhry.

In his speech, Henry Squire, who is partner at Squire & Partners – a third generation Architectural Practice in London, United Kingdom, has said that in modern day Karachi heritage and modernity is working together.

“Context is most important thing in architecture, so if I am designing a building in Karachi it will be different from designing a building in London,” said Henry.

He added that this way it becomes a manuscript of different periods of time over to visible to the next generation and I think this is heritage architecture is about. “Dealing with old buildings you have to look in evolutionary way not in revolutionary way,” added Henry.

The event comprised of three sessions, each consisting of a speech followed by a panel discussion.

First panel discussion was on “Heritage – International Context”. Moderator Hameed Haroon said that Henry works in a city that has structure but we have rounded up institutions. “Karachi’s context is that here heritage areas are facing huge commercialization, so the context is collapse of unity and abandonment of old heritage aspect,” he added.

Hameed said that if you talk about culture, there are communities still exist but they are rapidly shrinking, and rehabilitation of any sort is not possible under pressure of commercialization. “Three things are very important: scale, public space, and texture,” said Hameed.

Henry added in the discussion that you can build new heritage for Karachi for next 200 years and for that even you have to take things from other cultures. “There are some wonderful historical buildings in Pakistan and next generation can look back and say that the past generation did amazing thing,” said Henry.

Arif Hasan added that flexibility has to be there and unfortunately most of the architecture of Karachi is poor since quality of architecture is important. “At the moment courts are flexible and heritage is under attack. The government played cat and mouse games and disaster is in the making in last two years,” said Hameed.

He added that we need to think clearly, we’ve to be practical and save what needs to be saved. Arif Hasan said that to save heritage in such an unsympathetic environment is a big issue. “Karachi’s heritage areas are constantly undergoing major land-use and social changes leading both to degradation and increasing interest in heritage buildings by neighborhood individuals,” said Arif Hasan.

The second panel discussion was on ‘Heritage – Karachi Context’. The session was moderated by Tariq Hasan and panelists included Dr. Noman Ahmed, Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari, AR. Fazal Noor and Agha Maqsood Abbas, DG SBCA. The panelists pondered upon the fact that despite city’s heritage situation is in despair, still a lot is left.

“Economic viability of heritage sites is very crucial. Bigger question is how to reuse the heritage buildings of city as economic viability is very important,” they added. DG SBCA, Agha Maqsood was of the opinion that controversies between successive provincial and local Governments have resulted in delays of projects.

The third panel discussion was based on ‘Prevailing laws for Heritage Buildings and Districts’. Moderated by Ramiz Baig, panel included Arif Hasan, Dr. Noman Ahmed, Marvi Mazhar and Haider Waheed. The speakers highlighted the rigidity of laws and lack of stakeholders’ involvement during the process. They added that there should be more flexibility and choices when it comes to laws of preservation.

They also emphasized on the need to motivate people for preservation of heritage buildings. Steps could include likes of relaxation in property taxes. Dr Noman Ahmed, Department of Architecture and Planning NED University, said that heritage cell is working in NED’s architecture department with an aim to facilitate preservation and conservation initiatives.