SHANAZ RAMZI

The recently held Expo 2017 at Astana (Kazhkstan), a first of its kind exposition focusing on the theme of Future Energy, had an unexpected participation of 115 counties and 22 international organisations. The aim of the exposition was to create a global debate among countries, non-governmental organisations, companies and the general public on the crucial question – how does one ensure safe and sustainable access to energy for all while reducing CO emissions? It hoped to arrive at innovative and practical energy solutions and effectively demonstrate their impacts. The emphasis was on making all structures conform to low/zero carbon footprint so as to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and the discharge of carbon dioxide.

Among the 115 countries that participated was also Pakistan, with the Trade Development Authority, Ministry of Commerce, Pakistan having been directed to develop the pavilion to represent the country. It must be said though that this time, unlike the pavilions normally put up at trade shows where nothing out-of-the-box or ground-breaking is ever exhibited, Pakistan’s Pavilion was refreshing in that it had taken the initiative to put up a display that was not only relevant to the theme but also thought-provoking, unpretentious and yet ingenious.With the concept of energy for all; nurturing the past for a sustainable future, Pakistan’s Pavilion, was perhaps the only hand-crafted one in Astana, and aptly addressed the sub-theme of ‘Solutions for tackling humankind’s greatest challenges’.

Keeping in mind social, economic and environmental challenges faced globally, TDAP took the wise initiative of seeking help from experts in this particular field -- Heritage Foundation of Pakistan-- for the concept, the structure on an honorary basis, and the Astana Village in Makli, and together with the help of Mesa architects who did the designing and architectural planning of the pavilion, managed to set up an impressive Pakistan Pavilion that perhaps drew the most visitors.

The visual presentation of bamboo roofs, water features in Pakistani architecture, concept of water as in Shalimar Gardens, wind catchers, Pakistani chulah, miniature model of Pakistan’s solar powered National Assembly, films on Pakistan’s new energy mix and initiatives in renewable energy, the interactive display of truck art and pottery, not to mention the local musicians and dancers collectively did the trick for Pakistan.

But far more than in its visual appeal, the pavilion was noteworthy for a number of other factors. Taking the best indigenous practices of energy conservation to show how modern buildings can be made beautiful and yet have a zero carbon footprint, the Pavilion was designed to reflect Pakistan’s concern in reaching out to marginalized sections with pioneering, low cost solutions for reduction in quantum of energy usage, along with use of clean renewable energy sources for the well-being of low income populace.It may be noted that Heritage Foundation, Pakistan has already constructed over 40,000 such units in flood and earthquake affected areas of the country. In fact, thanks to Heritage Foundation, Pakistan has implemented the largest energy efficient Zero Carbon Footprint shelter programme in the world.

It is common knowledge that a major part of world energy is known to be used for building construction; hence it goes without saying that reduction in the use of industrialized materials in buildings, including, large scale shelter programmes for climate change migrants, would lead to a reduction in harmful gases that are released into the environment.

Therefore, the Pakistan Pavilion used cane/bamboo, and ever-present earth/clay in the traditional chullah with minimal waste stream, along with low energy lime, offering them as materials and forms that are suitable for contemporary construction and are both environmentally beneficial and ecologically advantageous. The building waste was recycled to create a beautiful mosaic, depicting Pakistan’s desire to protect our flora and fauna.

Textiles and camel skin were used to create the façade of the pavilion and to depict how a roof can become a cooling device in a warm climate by compensating for air flow, as part of Pakistan’s vernacular tradition.  Also shown were how traditional wind catchers can be used to catch wind, which can cool off houses or provide a channel for energy extraction inside industries.

The scientifically designed earth chullah also on display, was built with mud brought from the great river Indus itself. As is known, most of the energy used by the underprivileged, particularly women, is for cooking and heating. Large-scale use of biomass in open flame stoves adds to environmental degradation and adversely affects the health of women and children. The exhibits depicted traditional, low-cost fuel efficient methods for cooking. Pakistani chullah is a unique concept, which uses age-old principles where women can create their own stoves which are hygienic and use half of the fuel of open-flame stoves. Already over 40, 000 such chulahs are in use in Sindh. The pavilion reflected the resolve of Pakistan for devising ways for efficient use of limited energy available to achieve a better quality of life for all sections of society. What’s more, everything in the pavilion was sustainable and reusable.

Many aspects of energy usage for the poor are derived from methodologies found in Pakistan’s own heritage and vernacular traditions. The pavilion and the exhibits were designed to impart the importance of culture in our lives, exhibit essential linkages with the past and drive home the importance of nurturing the past for a sustainable future.

What’s more the impact of this exhibition was felt not just in Astana, but at home as well for the preparation of the bamboo/cane roof was undertaken near Pakistan’s World Heritage site of Makli, Thatta by Heritage Foundation and local artisans. This was a unique component of the process. Normally, international pavilions are built by high level sophisticated contractors where the marginalized sections are hardly involved. The setting up of Astana Pavilion Village brought the project in close proximity to the local community thus becoming a source of regional pride as well.

Taking on the commendable task of transporting the entire bamboo roof to Astana 5000 km away, as well as a 40 ft mosaic from Karachi, also provided opportunity for women to participate in simple construction activities related to layered lime, mud dwarf walls and preparation of the crafts, particularly, the pottery on display in the pavilion.

The Pavilion offered every Pakistani one of those rare moments to feel proud of their country, heritage and culture, for it demonstrated how one can nurture the past to pave the way for a greener sustainable future where there will be clean and affordable energy for all.