Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Workshop III at NED, February 2012

Site-Visit to A Contemporary Project: Mazar of Hazrat Tanbih Ahmed in Sakhi Graveyard, Karachi.

Site Visist to Shahi Mosque at Thatta

Islamic Architecture Workshop at NED, 2012                                        

A 10-day workshop conducted by Taimoor Khan Mumtaz, was organized by the History Group of the Department of Architecture and Planning NEDUET from 6th till 16th February, 2012. This was the third in the HG Workshop series. 

This year’s workshop was special on many counts. In the previous two years the workshops had been mainly focused on learning the vocabulary and drawing methods of elements of Islamic Architecture, ending in fabrication of life-sized elements, but in non-architectural materials – card-board and polystyrene respectively. But this year the focus of the workshop was equally divided into the elements or vocabulary on the one hand and the process and materials of construction on the other.

The premise for this year’s workshop was the observation that in traditional architecture one sees a balance of two key qualities. One set of qualities derives from the art of architecture itself i.e. from sound building practice and building construction solutions according to the material of construction used. The other set of qualities derives from the consistent application of a coherent aesthetic system which aims to achieve harmony and beauty in the spaces and surfaces it creates.  This last is in its turn based on the philosophy of Islamic art which was the third main element of the workshop.

An example of the first set of qualities is the solution to the problem of roofing a square room with bricks. This results not only in domes but also in a variety of ways to solve the problem of transitioning from the cube of the room to the sphere of the dome. Thus the participants saw in their field visit to Makli and Thatta that the whole vocabulary of brick architecture of this region results in part from purely building construction solutions.

One of the aims of the workshop was to focus on this first set of qualities i.e. those resulting from the way a building is put together. An appreciation of this aspect of architecture  is sorely missing in architectural education in Pakistan and is therefore reflected in the unconvincing and 'cardboard' architecture we see so often around us.

The second aim of the workshop was to address the inexplicable absence of the traditional architecture of Pakistan from architectural education. Given the fact that Pakistan is heir to a traditional architecture which is one of the summits of world architecture, the workshop aimed at studying and learning from this tradition.
The workshop was based on the argument that a Pakistani architect should in all logic have some exposure to the basic vocabulary and methods used in the traditional architecture of Pakistan. For it can be argued that a self-confident, convincing and meaningful architecture (or architectures) for Pakistan is only possible if it is rooted in such a knowledge.

Lastly we are also heirs to a long building-craft tradition which again finds no place in our architectural education. Hence the workshop included the active participation of Ustad Javed Chohan a hereditary master-mason from Karachi and his team of masons.