The “Barefoot” Architect

The Pakistan Context

Pakistan’s urban population had increased from 6 million in 1951 to over 30 million in 1991. Sixty-five percent of this population lives in informal and/or squatter settlements without de-jure security of tenure and physical infrastructure and formal sector social services. The growth of these informal settlements is over 9 percent per year against a total urban growth rate of 4.8 percent. If this trend continues then well over 75 percent of Pakistan’s urban population will be living in informal settlements by the year 2011.

The formal sector provides only 180,600 housing units per year in the urban sector against a demand of 428,000. This is a conservative estimate. The annual deficit of 257,400 housing units is taken care of by the creation of squatter settlements, postponement of replacement or through increased densities. The delivery of land, credit and advice for housing, transportation, generation of jobs, physical infrastructure and social sector facilities are all provided by the informal sector. In most cases this sector operates in defiance of state rules and regulations. In addition, its technical, marketing and managerial expertise does not benefit from qualified advice, research, monitoring and evaluation. Its artisanal skills are substandard and its credit systems excessively exploitative. But this is all that is available to it as the state’s inputs into urban development and management are not compatible with the sociology and economics of contemporary urbanization trends in Pakistan.

Trade and commerce, spurred by green revolution technologies, industrialization and consumerism, has increased by over 3,200 percent in the last 40 years. This increase has been absorbed mainly by the city centres where the old markets were located and which house the architectural heritage of these cities. This has resulted in major environmental and social degradation, destruction of our heritage and the development in the city centres of ugly warehousing, manufacturing units and support structures to the services sector in transportation.

Similarly, in the rural areas, due to the collapse of the effectiveness of the feudal system and the development of a cash economy, the hereditary artisanal system and village self government has ceased to exist. These two factors were responsible for the development and management of rural settlements. They controlled community lands and resources that made expansion of settlements possible. Contrary to popular belief, homelessness in the rural areas is increasing more rapidly than in the urban areas.

The architect in Pakistan plays no role in the physical environment that is being created as a result of ad-hoc development and the informal processes. One can safely say that not even 1 percent of the buildings being built in Pakistan are architect designed or have any architect’s inputs in them. As a matter of fact, those buildings that are inspired by architect designed buildings are responsible for destroying the harmony of our rural and urban historic settlements. In addition, the architects’ training in our country (or in most countries for that matter) does not provide him with the tools to understand or intervene in this situation in anyway.

Our Work In Karachi

Since 1979 I had been teaching at the Department of Architecture and Planning at the Dawood College in Karachi. Since 1982 me and my colleagues have been working with the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Orangi Township. Here we have tried to find a role for the architect in improving the physical environment of the cities and in developing an education model that can help him in understanding the dynamics of contemporary urban and rural development so that he can intervene positively in the process.

Orangi Township has a population of one million. For the most part it is a katchi abadi. When we began work there, the abadi had no sanitation system and like other settlements it was full of disease, animal and human excreta and squaller. The state was not in a position to develop a sanitation system for the settlement and nor were the residents in a position to pay the exorbitant costs of state managed development. This state managed development is more than 7 times the actual cost of labour and materials involved in this development. Orangi, like other informal settlements, was doomed to either substandard development or no development at all.

The Orangi Pilot Project motivated and helped organize the Orangi communities to finance, manage the construction of, arid maintain an underground sewerage system. The OPP gave technical advice to the communities and supervised their work. This effort was successful because it was preceded by detailed social, economic and technical research which questioned all engineering standards and made them subservient to social and economic considerations.

It is now difficult to find a lane in Orangi which does not have an underground sanitation system. 72,070 houses out of 94,122 now have sanitary latrines; 4,701 lanes out of 6,230 have an underground sewerage line; and 367 secondary drains collect and carry the affluent to the open nullahs. The people of Orangi have invested Rs 53,183,656 (US$ 2.13 million) in this effort. The OPP’s administrative, research and extension cost for this effort, on the other hand, works out to Rs 3,428,588 (US$ 127,000). The ratio of OPP cost to the investment by the people is thus l15.51. In addition, people maintain the system they have financed and constructed themselves.

However, there are problems. The nullahs which now carry the sewerage to the sea are silting up. With heavy rains they are also prone to flooding. Untreated sewerage is being taken to the sea, to which not only Orangi, but also the whole of Karachi is contributing. To overcome this problem the OPP has developed designs for the trunks and is lobbying with the Karachi Municipal Corporation (INC) to get them implemented. Trunk sewers and treatment plants are items the residents of Orangi cannot possibly develop.

In addition to sanitation, the OPP also operates a housing programme. The Programme first established an understanding of the housing processes in Orangi and identified the actors in it. It then tried to improve, through a research and extension process, the relationships between the actors, their skills, tools and technical and design awareness. As a result, Orangi masons were trained, new building components were introduced to the building component manufacturing yards or thallas as they are called, and owners were instructed in how to deal with masons and thallas and in design principles. An attempt to recreate, in the contemporary context, a new artisan-manufacturer-user relationship has been made and it has changed the physical environment for the better.

The Orangi experience is now being replicated in many cities or Pakistan and in many localities in Karachi. The QPP has been converted into a Research and Training Institute (RTI) for the Development of Katchi Abadis. The knowledge and experience that has been gained has been painstakingly documented and can be applied to conservation and inner city slum upgrading programmes. It is also being used in trying to develop appropriate city planning processes which involve the informal sector, communities and NGOs in the process.

Most of OPP’s work and related replication attempts have been carried out by architects. Apart from myself, these architects have been trained at the Dawood College. They have been able to participate in this work simply because they were made to experience the built environment and made to understand the factors and processes that were creating it. In addition, they were made to see, through the QPP, how things could be changed.

“Barefoot” Architect

A “barefoot” lawyer or a “barefoot” doctor means someone who is para-legal or para-medic. I do not mind being a “barefoot” architect or even a footless one. However, the process of influencing the factors that are creating the built environment and developing the technical and institutional means to do so, requires all the skills that an architect learns at school. In addition, it requires traditional skills such as questioning existing patterns, searching for alternatives, making technology subservient to sociological and economic conditions, and pressurizing politically. In short it means creating a new approach to architecture and planning. I. hope that the increasing number of young architects who are doing the kind of work described in this paper will not shy away from it because the term “barefoot” is applied to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

site design by iMedia
Mobile Menu
Responsive Menu Image Responsive Menu Clicked Image