Lahore: Civic issues

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Lahore Scarred by development

The development spree in Lahore

By Shehar Bano Khan


Lahore Scarred by dev’t

Lahore has sustained the ravages of invaders for ages. From the Mughals to the Sikhs down to the most recent history of the British rule, it has managed to write its own character and its own culture. Drawing support from its inhabitants, it struggled to develop into a distinct city, engaging conservatism to exist comfortably with intellectual freedom. All that was before Lahore was proselytised by the builders who robbed it of its essence, replacing ethos with plain old temporal consumerism.

The Lahore of today looks like a disgraceful city desperately trying to meet the architectural standards of the few whose introduction to finesse is summarily interrupted before the lesson can begin. The contemporary architecture of this historically and culturally vibrant city is making the conscious dwellers shake their heads in disapproval at the forceful new face being given to it. A nom de guerre for development, this new face embarrasses sensibilities and insults good taste.

The developmental spree began with flyovers and underpasses which required the felling of trees, eliminating the hallmark green belts, some of which were planted before partition. Taking development a step further, it became imperative for the new city builders to turn residential boulevards into commercial avenues lined with tall, glazed monstrosities called plazas. Their rationale premised on the generation of revenue, pumping up a staid economy by carving a city profile structured to trade on the financial worthiness of land instead of wasting it to upkeep a stub from the past.

“There’s nothing wrong in giving a new face to a city. The requirement of development is to change with time. That’s what our company is trying to do. We’re changing Lahore to suit the present. In another few years time it will be like New York and Dubai!” says an ambitious city builder.

If New York and Dubai are the builders’ development criteria, Lahore just as might bid farewell to the bits and pieces of history left in its architectural expression. Kamil Khan Mumtaz, an architect cringes whenever he takes a walk around his residence on the Upper Mall.

An unsightly and unnecessary underpass constructed near the Mian Mir Road, leading to the Jallo Park has depleted one side of the decades old green belt. The heavy traffic flow since the Dharampura underpass’ construction has reduced the number of people taking a leisurely walk down the canal flowing along this part of the city all the way to India.

“I wonder how long this madness will continue,” comments Mumtaz. “Post modernism has made everything anti-beautiful. We are on an irreversible course to destruction. Architecture is a prime example of the destructive course we are following,” says he.

Once a city known for its magnificent gardens and the Mughal grandiose interpreted in architecture, Lahore is being steadily washed away by the cost-effective mindset introduced by the capitalist paradigm. “We’ve lost our hold on tradition, killing ourselves to impress. Architecture reflects our ego which is constantly seeking to impress others,” laments Mumtaz.

Some endangered historical sites, a structurally decrepit Walled City, and a few colonial style government buildings are all that is left of our heritage here. All these put together cannot compete with the concrete oddities quickly assembled as buildings. Pointing to an alley close to Noor Gulley in Rang Mahal, a shopkeeper of the area identifies to a missing archway of the old Mian Khan’s haveli.

“Mian Khan’s haveli must be at least hundred years old. Now it no longer exists because the local land grabbing mafia stole the ancient bricks and sold them for huge profit. The people living in it were forced to settle elsewhere. It is not the only ancient place that has been sold off for profit. The entire Walled City is disappearing under the latest craze of building plazas and shops without a care for safety rules and how it can be kept warm and cool through construction,” discloses the shopkeeper.

Does that mean Lahore will soon cease to have an architectural history? Is the city’s claim to architectural evolution going to start with the Mughals and end on a colonial note? “It’s not as bad as that. I think we’re just evolving because after 30 years we’ve finally made the people realise that houses should be built according to our socio-cultural values,” says Wasif Ali Khan, an architect who like Nayyar Ali Dada revolutionised the old-style genre to give architecture its contemporary face.

Basing his architectural philosophy on socio-cultural patterns, Wasif Ali Khan argues that the utilisation of available materials, religious and vernacular, forms essential components of architecture. His use of bricks as available material and reverse plans for residential buildings, have made people realise the futility of expansive, colonial style mansions with long driveways leading to a house. “The goras imposed their style on us and took a lot of inspiration from the Mughals. But most of the time they could not decipher the Mughal architecture and decided to go for the simplistic style of columns supporting verandas overlooking huge lawns,” says Wasif Ali.

Dismissing plazas and ostentatious houses as expressions of popular culture, what to talk of structures built to conserve energy, he believes their demise over a period of few years will force the city builders to reconsider the necessity of seeking longevity, functional value and character in architecture. “These fad houses sustain only three to four years and are like cream toppings crumbling if exposed for too long to elements. They don’t have functional or aesthetic sustenance,” comments Wasif Ali Khan.

Easily divided into the pre-Mughal, Mughal, post-Mughal, a brief Sikh period, the colonial era and the present times, Khan believes that architecture is finally coming of age to weave its own pattern. “We’ve suffered the birth pains of this profession. When I graduated from the NCA (National College of Arts) in 1974, people were cautious about trusting a person who would draw lines on a piece of paper and call it a residential plan. They trusted the masons and the artisans who were directly involved in building a structure, than us,” says Wasif Ali.

Architectural study in Pakistan is but very young. In 1958, architecture as a short academic course was introduced for the first time in Pakistan. Among the first batch to graduate was Nayyar Ali Dada, now accredited with bringing renaissance in architecture to Pakistan. His structures were clear and stark, relying mostly on bringing out beauty in horizontal and vertical lines.

Commenting on Nayyar Ali’s style in his book, Modernity and Tradition, Kamil Khan Mumtaz writes: “… Nayyar Ali capitalised on sensitive design… The imposing external form of the Alhamra Arts Council building on The Mall relies on a simple, single, dominant element…..” The Open Air Theatre in Lahore and the Gaddafi Stadium are other sites exemplifying Nayyar Ali’s genius. “Nayyar sahib is the most revolutionary architect who took architecture beyond the Ayub era,” states Wasif Ali Khan.

But even Nayyar Ali Dada’s architectural revolution has been somewhat short-lived. The builders of the ‘new’ Lahore are not interested in authenticating style with culture. Wasif Ali Khan’s optimism in Lahore’s architecture ‘weaving its own pattern’ ends at residential plans and Kamil Khan Mumtaz’s ‘modern paradigm’ takes over. “We are overawed by the West’s success. Imperialism, empirical science and technology are all part of our value system operating to achieve modernity. Look around and you’ll see that not just our country but the entire globe is on a destructive course from where there’s no turning back,” cautions Kamil Khan Mumtaz.

Lahore: water quality

Half of water Samples have faecal contents: Survey of Lahore

By Zulqernain Tahir


LAHORE, May 25: It is shocking but true that about half of the city’s population has been drinking water having faecal contents, and even those living in the so-called posh areas are not exempted.

According to the Institute of Public Health, waste discharged from bowels (faeces) has been found in about half of the drinking water samples collected from almost all parts of Lahore.

The samples tested by the institute were sent to it by different agencies including the city district government during the first two weeks of the month.

IPH’s Epidemiologist Prof Farkhanda Kokab told Dawn that the institute had tested some 92 drinking water samples between May 1 and 15 and found faeces in 43 of them. “The presence of faeces in potable water is very dangerous and alarming. The authorities concerned must take a serious note of it and do the needful,” she said and further maintained that posh areas were no exception in this case. “The best solution to ensure the cleanliness of drinking water is to boil it,” she suggested.

Punjab Environment Protection Department Director (Monitoring) Dr Shagufta Shahjahan told Dawn that the department carried out tests of drinking water samples collected from different parts of the province off and on.

In Lahore, she said, 25 per cent water samples were found ‘unfit’ for drinking in the last survey. She said the department had written to the city district government and water and sanitation agency (Wasa) to chlorinate and clean the water supply lines.

Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr Masood Akhtar said waterborne diseases were on the rise. “During summer the consumption of water increases and people, especially children, are more prone to diseases like diarrhoea and gastronenterites,” he said.

Dr Masood said the public and private hospitals received 30 to 40 per cent such patients during the summer. He advised the people to use boiled water and ‘don’t trust filtered water.’

Wasa Managing Director Pervaiz Iftikhar was not available for comments.

An EPD survey shows that the defective sewerage system is one of the main reasons of water contamination. Due to defective system, sewage mixes with the water supply lines.

The survey suggests that the discharge of industrial effluents into the subsoil through holes should be banned in order to avoid ground water contamination. In rural areas, the practice of raw sewage irrigation is not only dangerous to human health but also causes contamination of shallow aquifer, it says.

It further suggests that all tehsil municipal administrations (TMAs) should prepare action plans for an effective drainage and clean water supply. The authorities concerned should develop their own standards to measure air and water pollution instead of adopting the World Health Organization's standards without tailoring them according to local needs, it proposes.

See also

Lahore: A-E Lahore: F-K Lahore: L-Q Lahore: R-Z Lahore: architectural treasures Lahore: Civic issues Lahore: History Lahore: Parsi cusine Lahore: Protected Monuments Bhai Ram Singh

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