Friday, October 8

‘Following glass box tradition’

Nayyar Ali Dada says architecture is not an architect's field alone, it reflects the community

Interview by Aamer Waqas Ghaus Chaudhary

A name needs no introduction in the world of architecture is that of Nayyar Ali Dada, whose services were not recognised and honoured worldwide rather he is the most famous and widely known architect of Pakistan. He talks candidly about his exposure to the profession of architecture and problems faced by this community. He says:-
“Architecture is always a reflection of time and space. It is an evolutionary process. When we talk about architecture in Pakistan, we observe that things have transformed quite drastically in 57 years, whether they included life styles or socio-political conditions. Architecture adopts the demands of time. This is what has always been happening with architecture internally. Now we have to see the quality of architecture. Over the passage of time, profession of architecture has enlarged, but the bitter fact is that there does not appear to be a qualitative change, which has nothing to do with expensiveness. Architecture has a function to deliver whether it is an office, a house or a mosque. Secondly, architecture is a statement of the state of society. It reflects the intellectual state of the society. For example, the glass box architecture of Dubai reflected that they had no mind of their own and they blindly followed what their British advisors or American engineers told them to go for. Those buildings did not appear to be a part of that region and climate. It is a bad example of architecture. We also share the same kind of attitude because the West has influenced most of our architecture. This is not entirely wrong because the whole world had gone modern and we are also a part of that. I was also trained by American and British architects, who taught us to make forward-looking buildings using latest technology.
“People, like myself, also followed present line in the beginning, but we realised midway of its superfluity. I won't call myself a traditionalist, and I can’t agree with what the traditionalists believe in because the complex requirements cannot be solved by solutions of the past. Simultaneously, solutions of the future are also creating problems because they are not catering to our culture, lifestyle and economy. All borrowed ideas and materials do not belong to our economy. If some ultra rich (just one percent) are building such stuff, that is not Pakistani architecture because the majority has certain limitations. Our family system still needs some privacy, which is reduced by the modern lifestyle.
“Sadly, architecture is being inspired by magazines and skin deep trendy manners while it is a far more serious matter than following trends. Even trends in dressing up are replaced by a new one after 2-3 years, but buildings are supposed to last very long and deliver a very serious function. A building should perform its function for at least two centuries and becomes heritage for tomorrow, which is a continuous process. Immediately, it has to discharge its purpose. Some 15-year-old architecture of Dubai–now showing up some quality work–is so outdated that they are about to demolish it.
“When we talk of architecture, we see plazas of few crores; and when people think, they talk of posh localities, that is the elitist architecture, which is just 0.5 of Pakistan’s architecture. If we just see purely architectural and design expression and not go into more subtle parts of socio-economic angles, then we are stuck with two extremist attitudes–traditionalist and cosmetic. They design a modern building and then declare it traditional after giving a touch of Islamic or cultural element. That is not much different from the glass box tradition. Architecture is a pursuit of finding suitable structure. Sticking things up together is also cosmetic. In case of present traditional architecture, it is mostly of this kind. Architecture is not an architect's field alone, it reflects the community. Consumer has to be sensitive as well in order to bring out a sensitive work. Most of the clients ignore the architects' advices. It happens because of lack of awareness regarding architecture. People are dazzled by the glossy magazines of the west and also those talking about culture do not really understand the depth of our culture and they also use it superficially.
“Most of the professionals are also dominated by commercial attitudes and most of them have to do a lot of work to survive. The position of the profession is not very good. You cannot convince a cold-blooded businessman and talk culture to him. His whole purpose behind that architecture is to make money out of it. Same is the case with institution buildings where there is an attitude problem of the decision-makers. We need to find solutions ourselves, that has begun recently in academics. The institutions have revised the syllabi.
“This trend could be modified through awareness. The consumer should be aware of the environment and society where he lives. Civility is part of client’s intellect. Unless the climatic conditions are not there, then students would never be conscious of what they are getting. Present architecture is getting focused now. Prior to this, it was all confusion. Third factor lies with the decision-makers–whether politicians or bureaucrats–they need to improve their understanding, and should respect experts’ opinion.
“We are facing problems regarding our architectural identity. I have produced modern architecture, but subconsciously, I remained well-grounded in my country. I believe that architecture should be modern because it has lot of relevance with the present times.
“The continuity in art comes from your breeding and background. Due the confusions of partition and pre-colonial impact, we have lost our traditions. That confusion reflects all our attitudes and architecture is also a victim of that confusion. We should use modernity as a tool not to be borrowed as a solution, then we can create modern architecture. Alhamra for that matter, is modern architecture of its time. Its structure is a minimalist modern architecture without any decorations. Just because it has been built by using local material and it has got gardens in the centre does not declare it a traditional architectural piece, but this is in the right direction. Various influences affect the architecture. It is not necessary that the entire sensitivity is copied, you can work in under tones too in any field of art.
“All the fields of art affect our heritage side by side. You cannot declare architecture as your heritage alone. Our sense of continuity has been damaged by our disconnection with arts. Where the educational institutions are producing a large number of remarkable bankers and computer experts, on the other hand the number of architects produced is very low. We lack a balance in this regard in case of architecture where the syllabus of architecture carries just two pages of traditional architecture and 2,000 pages of European architecture.
“We are looking into the matter of producing some textual work on our own traditional architecture, but that also requires us to make traditional designs, that would help the students to use it as an inspiration. They would not imitate it. As a student, when I observed the structure of the Arts Council, and I had a very strong reaction to it, there were many things in it that were not need there like the arches that resulted in echo and so was the case with the dome. But the present Alhamra Art Council was made under serious space and financial constraints, however, it is still one of the better buildings of the modern era. I could take the inspiration from the Colonial structures, and could emulate rather than imitating them. Unfortunately we make second rate copies of the architecture we are inspired from. Tradition cannot blossom when you keep on copying the old things. There can be diverse ways of deriving inspirations from the tradition. The need of the hour is to give life and spirit to the syllabi. If we would not balance commercialism, then such cities would come out that would not be having identity and they would be poor cities in terms of architecture.
“I used to design modern buildings, for instance, ultra modern auditorium in NCA amongst the old buildings. That is what I thought was right and that is what I practised. But then I somehow shifted to finding our own solutions. And in that evolutionary process, now I feel that the entire architectural statement has found its place in my work. However, now it is getting difficult to do good and quality work because the clients do not have complete knowledge and aesthetics of architecture. Here the architect appears to be helpless. The basic principle of architecture, whether we go few centuries back or ahead, will always be measured by thing like whether the building belong to the place. If it belongs to the people that use it and if is delivering the purpose for which it is built and if it looks nice from the inside and outside. All the good buildings should fulfil these questions. If they don't, then they cannot be declared a great architecture.
“I have produced certain architecture that is internationally recognised, but over all I find my work mediocre. I have mostly been a very frustrated architect. I was capable of delivering better buildings that I have done. This is what frustrates you and also it is very difficult to deliver quality architecture because all the odds are against you from day one.
“The time when I designed Alhamra was a period of superior intellect in all fields of art including drama, poetry etc. Attitudes representing commercialism were not seen in a great number. The state of art at that time cannot be found nowadays. Art is a reflection of the society itself. Now, the problem lies with over synchronisation, that is, the whole of Pakistan is two and a half cities–Karachi, Lahore and half of Islamabad. The mistake that we have been making is that there is no balance in all the cities.”

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