“Architecture must address space, culture and time”
No testimony is required to dispute the authority of Nayyar Ali Dada, an architect, environmentalist, an activist and above all a great brain whose services in the field of architecture is acknowledged beyond any doubt. “The environmental problems of the world have compounded because of the negative effects of global warming which is mainly because of the fact that we have deviated from the course of nature, by going against it and violating the norms in the course of time,” says the man who is visibly antagonised by the present workings of the world.
In an interview with The News on Sunday Nayyar Ali Dada sheds light on the various facets of present and past architecture, new trends and the issues of environmental impact on architecture in present times; a topic which seems to be closer to his heart.
By Rubia Moghees
The News on Sunday: What are the basic elements in designing a building and how does culture and environment affect architecture?
Nayyar Ali Dada: Architecture should not be dealt like engineering which is a more technical field; rather it is broad-based planning. It deals with community and human existence as we are shaping up lives. If the architect is not aware of human emotions and behaviour and is not sensitive enough to comprehend the core principles, one can never counter the problems. Basically the elements that we have to address are space, culture and time. For instance, Lahore has its own identity and so does Karachi. The culture, customs and behaviour of the people as they represent character and identity of a place also plays an important role along with the time factor. Things that were relevant a few years ago may or may not be suited for 2012.
TNS: What are the architectural trends for this year?
NAD: Architectural trends should not be followed and I ignore prevailing trends. Anything that is aesthetically nice will not expire. It’s not a piece of dress that could be changed every now and then; it has to have a sustainable approach.
TNS: Do you practically use low environmental impact designs for buildings and houses? What role does architecture play in minimising the effects of power disruptions?
NAD: As an environmentalist and an activist, we are trying to observe heat insulation systems and keeping the temperatures cool in the houses and buildings which are very important because of the power disruptions. If the houses are naturally cool, the design elements and planning is carried out along with energy conservation systems, a lot of benefits can be reaped. As far as doing any work for the poor is concerned, I must admit that rarely anyone has come up with a plan to benefit the lower class. We have constructed houses for the flood victims in Muzaffargarh which are made of indigenous products using bamboo which became quite popular though the idea was rejected by the Punjab Government. The key is not to import dandy stuff from abroad but to use our own resources to maximum potential. The mass housing schemes meant for the middle class should be based on being ‘practical’ and ‘economical.’
TNS: How would you define the upcoming generation of architects in the country? Are they aware of environmental effect on architecture?
NAD: Sadly, I don’t see a bright future as people are talking more about trendy designs but the real aspect of architecture is over-looked most of the time. Town planning is a total disaster based on ad-hoc policy pushed by money-oriented mafia and developers. Our cities have become perfect examples of bad planning and it is nerve-wrecking to travel on roads because of pathetic transport planning. The blame solely lies on ad-hoc development and commercialism along with powerful political lobby and the architects who don’t advise their clients properly.
The involvement of community is also missing as they keep quiet and do not protest over wrong kind of development as the areas marked for forestation and agriculture are being filled with concrete. Unless the decision making is shifted in people’s interest, the nonsense will go on and we will keep making blunders.
TNS: Other than your own projects, which buildings in Pakistan would you say are excellent examples of environmentally safe architecture designs?
NAD: My favourite would have been from the British period; Aitchison College works perfectly for environmental conditions as there is a sense of innovation and continuity in the building whereas the developments of today have to reflect the demands of time and budget.
TNS: Has environmental change led to new architectural designs in Pakistan? Can you give examples?
NAD: We ensure that environmental impact assessment is carried out before initiating a large project. We need lungs in the cities; developments of parks are essential in this respect. The F-9 Park in Islamabad which is designed by me is a perfect example. Open places are being threatened by massive development which has to stop. Lahore’s Expo Centre and Alhamra are not borrowed versions from the west yet we try to address the issue by not copying old or western architecture.
The concept of Expo Centre is that the foreigners visiting the place for fashion and music shows should feel the essence of being in a vibrant city. Lahore is not Faisalabad or any other place; it is a city of character and identity. The key is to reach to the grass-roots level and having a purity of expression.
TNS: Do you think that the old buildings like the Badshahi mosque and the Fort, etc catered to the environmental factors of the Indian subcontinent?
NAD: Yes, they do. The use of jharokas, chhajjay, fountains and the huge gardens were used to minimise the effects of hot weather. The technology of those times is still workable but the local conditions need to be evaluated; the trend is shifting towards the use of less expensive alternate methods like ‘solar energy’ as global warming has taken its toll on the environment of the world. A lot of research work is needed to come up with solutions.