Friday, October 8

‘Foreign influence is shallow’

Shaukat Nawaz Raja says, just as there is a ban on pornography, stop bad architecture as well

As told to Aamer Waqas Ghaus Chaudhary

In October, 1988, with 11 years of Post-Graduate education and professional experience in France and seven years of extensive experience in Architectural, Planning and Engineering Consultancy as Principal Architect, PEPAC and Director RIST Consultants (Pvt.) Ltd. in Pakistan, Mr. Shaukat Nawaz Raja established, in common accord with his parent team Atelier d'Architecture of Paris, an independent office at Lahore Pakistan. He says:-
“It will not be an exaggeration to aver that at the outset of the 3rd millennium, we are living a rather singular and particular moment of history in a multifaceted even contradictory political landscape where an ever-growing number of pressing and paradoxical issues are affecting every segment of contemporary life. With the tremendous advancement in conventional and new sciences, we witness the emergence of novel non-linear theories, quantum physics, fractal geometry etc. strutted by the fast evolving computer technology, all profoundly challenging our previously stable and unimpeachable logo-centric world, thought and reality. Media techniques are fast changing and helping revolutionise our perceptions of the world creating ‘real virtual realities’ blurring the limits between fact and fiction. All such changes have a profound effect on culture, architecture and urban environment. Architecture and more so urbanism have new definitions and extents evoking a new social, cultural, philosophical ethics and aesthetics. The city is a stage where social, political and intellectual powers interact–a theatre of all such conflicts.
“The act of building in the protected areas or the older parts of the city is one such paradox. A sensitive response to the existing environment should nonetheless allow the city to grow under new pressures and enable a ‘new world of tomorrow’. Building is an active process, affirmative and positive. Architecture is a quest for order in that process. For the proposed project, the plurality of the site, times and our concept draw strength from prevalent dichotomies marrying the old with the new, the open with the closed, work with leisure, and above all tradition with modernity.
“Our present state of affairs is deep-rooted in lack of education. We need to educate our generation, which don’t have a baggage of positives and carry a luggage marring their creativity. Architecture is a creative act, which ought to have a purpose and should be useful for the society. They don’t pay attention to details, and don’t respond to physical and emotional needs of their clients. There should be a sincerity of purpose instead of raising ‘dressed up’ buildings.
“We are trying to minimise foibles in the syllabi. The short-coming in education is that pupils are half-taught by half-educated teachers. Moreover, decline in education and architecture is a reflection of society, which is in a constant flow. The same is happening to architecture.
“Remember! The present genius of Mughal architecture is not an outcome of a few years. The Mughals must have constructed so many buildings, and out of that large number, only a few are famous today. Probably, these constructions will stay, as these are great buildings.
“We are also a society where we have shot-term heroes. Shortcut is a national trait, which is also reflected in architecture. 'Riazat' (practice) is not valued here. Essentials and plans are not clear to most of the people. It is a situation like ‘I am quite clear that I am not clear'.
“My exposure at Gora Gali, University of Engineering and Technology, and France (non-Anglo-Saxon culture) helped me in incorporating the entire package in my work. I learnt from France as a 'Hungry sponge', and I am using that baggage in my present plans. Instead of indulging in loud architecture, I emphasise on utility and detail keeping in mind climatic conditions along with spirit of sight and time.
“Our time is rapid, but the construction grammar and planning is significant as a house helps you in living your dreams. On the other hand, we should be climate conscious, and the indigenous material should be given due importance. Look at the Colonial architecture, it was responsive to our climate.
“International influence is shallow and extremely cosmetic. It was to happen and will continue if rigorous bylaws are not applied, which has never been scrutinised. This cancerous trend should be deliberated. Interestingly, an architect's planning goes to town planners, which should be examined by architects ideally.
“Plazas are commercial ventures and a response to financial wizardry, who are least bothered about electricity failures and ventilation. Consequence of this is the present architecture. The question is: should we allow it to go on or cause a stop? Instead of individual statements, there should be a master planning with proper scheme development followed by a through process of scrutiny. Future vision should be there and we ought to be time conscious because we have to live our time.
“There is a detail paucity and liberal attitude. A few huge plazas have come up with windows towards west. I believe, as there is a ban on pornography, ban worst architecture. Buildings should be keenly designed sans functionality compromised. If it happens so, then these must be destroyed. Look! Architecture is like a body. The more your build, the more you freeze your options for future development. Fresh graduates should not be allowed to work independently initially, and work under stringent environment. Detailing, construction and supervision are weak though they are good at computer skills and presentation. To them, architecture should be a service from designing to completion.
“Identity in architecture is as wanting as in people. It has to be developed, and groomed. We are in a mutation (raula), which is understandable. It is a passing phase. We have a sporadic growth sans any planning. We must identify the crisis and educate everyone. Lahore is eating up localities in its vicinity and it should to be curtailed. There is no comprehensively planned development. Community should do a lot in this regard. Sensitivity is there though we might lack in technical skills. We have a better future.”

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