The Architect and the Built Environment

During the last century, and especially in the last three decades, major changes have taken place in the form and function of the built environment in both the rural and urban areas of Pakistan. These changes are the result of a massive social, economic, technological and demographic transformation that has changed Third World societies.

In the rural areas, the emergence of the cash economy and capitalist farming, have destroyed the old system of community lands, hereditary artisanal skills and availability of traditional building materials which were available before, at next to no cost. This has caused enormous environmental degradation to the rural built environment and made decent housing far too expensive for the poor to afford. The new industrially produced materials that are being used now are also climatically unsuitable.

In the urban areas, the crisis is more serious. As a result of massive rural-urban migration more than 600,000 housing units are required in the urban areas of Pakistan every year. The formal sector cannot provide more than 30 percent of the requirement. The rest of the demand is accommodated by the development of under-serviced and badly built informal settlements. In addition, the new urban scene requires buildings to cater to the transport revolution; the new commercial and business requirements; structures and complexes for the rapidly expanding administrative and managerial requirements of the state; and buildings for the social sector, especially health and education. Street furniture such as dust bins, seating arrangements in open places, barriers, bollards, bus stands, lamp posts and street signs also need to be designed.

Most of the buildings and items described above are being constructed in the urban areas of Pakistan. However, they are invariably ugly, non-functional and difficult to maintain. They are designed without consideration to light, ventilation and hygiene. Many of the high-rise buildings do not have fire escapes or properly designed plumbing systems; and residential complexes do not cater to the social requirements of the residents, especially children. Climatic conditions are also seldom taken into consideration with the result that apart from being uncomfortable, the buildings, when airconditioned, consume unnecessarily large quantities of energy. This is a major waste for a poor country. In addition, there are no Pakistani standards that architects or designers can draw on. As a result, First World standards are used. These are inappropriate to our needs and incompatible with our climatic and administrative systems.

The new architecture in Pakistan, in almost all cases, bears no relationship to important urban planning issues such as scale, urban space, aesthetic and visual relationship to other buildings, environmental issues (such as solid waste, noise and air pollution) and land use and social issues. Open spaces, the plantation of trees and related landscaping, do not form a part of the building design either. Building byelaws and zoning regulations again, are copies of First World systems and bear little relationship to trends and directions in our society.

The historic and cultural architecture of Pakistan lies in the old inner cities of the country. These inner cities, for the most part, have become slums and much of our architectural heritage is being pulled down to make place for ugly warehousing, wholesale markets and manufacturing units. The areas in which these buildings and complexes are located have become transport terminals and cater to the needs of large transit movement of people and cargo. Nothing could be more disastrous not only in environmental but also in cultural terms. Attempts to salvage this situation have been a miserable failure because policy makers have not been to look at this issue in its larger social, economic and political context. Architects with skills to tackle these issues even at a micro level, are very few in number.

The situation described above has political, administrative, economic and social causes. However, one of the major causes is the absence of a sufficient number of properly trained architects as major actors in the built environment drama in Pakistan. Over 95 per cent of all buildings in the country are designed by engineers and contractors. It is true that an engineer has an important role in creating the built environment, but he is not trained as a designer, and a contractor certainly is not. Many of the architect designed buildings as well are of poor design and environmental quality. This is because of poor training and of a lot priority to design on the part of the client.

It is extremely important that the built environment in Pakistan is made compatible with the needs and requirements of the functions it is now serving and with the sociology and needs of the people that use it. It is also important that our cultural and historic heritage is restored and conserved and issues related to scale, texture, external space, energy conservation and the larger urban dimension, are seen as an integral part of the design of buildings.

An architect’s education teaches him to relate the built environment to larger social, economic, environmental, historic, technological and physical issues. The nature of the crisis in the built environment in Pakistan therefore requires architects not only as designers of buildings. Architects are required as decision and policy makers; researchers in building materials and technologies; advisers to the informal sector in housing; restorers of historic buildings; authors and managers of area conservation projects; theorists on style and aesthetics; and above all as teachers and promoters of concepts and ideas that can help create a physical environment which is a pleasure to live in. To achieve this goal, the architect has to work with all those actors who are involved in creating modern infrastructure and services and who are engaged in managing and operating them, including law makers and politicians. This is a tall order, but unless we make a beginning now, the ugliness of the built form that is rapidly expanding around us, will swallow us up.

One Comment

  1. nice research work…

    Posted March 12, 2016 at 10:06 am | PermalinkReply

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