ARCHITECT on ARCHITECTURE
By Ar. Yasira Naeem Pasha
Young professionals in the field of Architecture have always been reluctant to establish their own independent practice after they graduate. There are a few exceptional figures who boldly entered in the field, worked hard and conquered. Mr. Kashif Aslam is one of them. He is well equipped to work in any circumstances with a rich blend of knowledge and ethos which he got from a wonderful educational institution i.e. U.E.T Lahore. Practicing architecture abroad has made him a tough guy who can accept any challenge. He talks with ARCHI TIMES about his struggle in this field.
KASHIF ASLAM: My initial education was from Beacon House Public School Lahore. There I did my matriculation in 1986. I went on to do my Intermediate from Divisional Public College Lahore. I later got admission in the Department of Architecture, University of Engineering & Technology Lahore. Where I graduated in 1996 and stood top second in my class.
KA: I did not work for any body after I graduated. My first job while I was still a student at university was as a computer analyst with a planning company called Innovative Development Consultants. IDC was at that time involved in the preparation of Master Plan for Multan study. It took nearly four months to complete the assignment.
As the work load increased I included another friend of mine also in waiting for his admission into the university, to help me out and we shared expenses. After finishing the project our University education started. While studying the same company contacted me to do similar analysis for another world bank funded master plan of seven small cities in Pakistan which was also successfully conducted.
During my studies I also worked on a part time basis in Rehman Sohail Associates. In addition I did free lance work for various offices. I was good in water colors rendering so I got a lot of assignments to prepare perspectives for various offices in Lahore. I also got some outsourced work for preparing working drawings for different projects including villas, schools, and small office buildings. When I was in fifth year I got my first independent client.
These projects gave me the financial security and confidence that I required for opening up my own office. I started sharing a small office with a friend of my father's who had a large construction company in Islamabad.
AT: What difficulties have you faced in your practice?
KA: God has been very kind to me and I did not face as many problems in my practice. At the time I started my office, the economy was in a slump and there was not a lot of work available in the market. However since I had a small office, I was practically working on my own with only one draftsman and I did not have a lot of overheads, therefore it was not a big problem.
I also had tremendous support from my family, i was unmarried therefore I could give my entire time whole heartedly to establish my practice. Initially most of the projects came through close references therefore I did manage to get some jobs which would be sufficient to keep me alive, although I had to suffer many losses due to non payments also.
May be the toughest time I had to face was when I started working on the Saudi Embassy. We somehow managed to survive and completed the project after which things eased out.
AT: What does architecture mean to you?
KA: To me architecture is more than just a profession; it is a way of life. I have been fortunate enough to be taught by Dr. Pervaiz Vandal who not only taught architecture but at least in my case influenced my whole life.
His teaching emphasized that as an architect you have to live architecture, and the way you dress, speak & conduct yourself has to be different from other people. He inculcated in us hope, a sense of pride in being architects and to this day I have not forgotten his wisdom.
It is a fact that architecture is not only my profession but it is my hobby & my pastime. I am always on a lookout, observing buildings, studying books on art and architecture, I am passionate about photography and whenever I am traveling, more than 90% photographs that I take are of buildings. I can truly say that architecture has overwhelmed me and I feel that I am one of the fortunate few who practice what they enjoy the most.
KA: It is my opinion that most of the modern architecture that we see coming up in the middle east and the subcontinent is a thought less copy of western architecture. I strongly disagree with this approach. Architecture is not something that is invented overnight; in fact architecture evolves through history and time. Architecture is influenced by many factors like religion, climate, geography, culture etc. Religion and culture are closely related and sometimes influence each other i.e. Culture influences or modifies some religious beliefs and vice versa.
I am a strong believer in developing our local architecture. The mood of a city is set by residential architecture which is fast becoming standardized all over the world, this should not happen. We should carry out research to develop our local style. It is true that architecture has to keep up with technology and development. Our buildings should be modern in both planning and form but it should not blindly follow western architecture.
A good architect has to be sensitive to the environment and context of the area. Taking the argument further, it is my belief that the buildings that we design today cannot be a blind copy of the historical buildings of the past.
As a child like any other, growing up in a historical place like Lahore, I was inspired by these buildings; at the same time I did not have an eye to appreciate the essence of these buildings and was more attracted to the modern buildings, especially glass and steel buildings. I now try to create a balance in my work.
My work reflects my philosophy, If I have to do a modern office building, high rise, I choose modern style, If I am doing Embassies, I try to study the local architecture of the country and create a building accordingly. I also give attention to the use and nature of the building. A hospital should like a hospital and not like an embassy, a school or university should not look like a parliament and so on.
KA: It is a difficult question to answer. I am a great admirer of the work of Bhai Ram Singh during the colonial period. Among the early international architects Frank Loyd Right is my favorite. Among the Pakistani Architects, Arshad Shahid Abdulla and Habib Fida Ali's works are admirable. Rasem Bedran has designed some beautiful Mosques all over the Middle East and his work is truly inspirational. Geoffrey Bawa's work is inspirational & I also like some buildings designed by Sir Norman Foster.
AT: What in your opinion is the importance of heritage preservation? How do you see it in the context of Lahore?
KA: Heritage is meant to be preserved. It is absolutely imperative that we preserve the legacy of our forefathers. Lahore is a beautiful city. The beauty of Lahore lies in the fact that it represents different chapters in our history and for a student of architecture and history it is like a time capsule. The walled city of Lahore is about three thousand years old and has buildings and houses from different eras specially from Hindu period, Mughal period and Sikh period. With the passage of time Hindu buildings are vanishing however we still find some lovely examples of Mughal and Sikh period buildings. The Havellis of Mughal period and later on Sikh period in the walled city are classic example of imperial palatial architecture. These buildings represent different chapters in our history. It is my firm belief that these buildings should be preserved and the character of the city to be maintained.
KA: I would not go on to lay the blame squarely on builders. True many buildings are coming up which are a flagrant violation of all Bye laws and are truly an eye sore but I would not put all the blame on builders. Our regulatory Authorities are as much to be blamed as these builders. Similarly architects are also to be blamed, myself included. As mentioned above, we need to re visit our design philosophy, if proper bye laws are formulated and Urban design principles are followed in true spirit, I am sure most of the problems would be sorted out.
KA: There is a need now to establish some urban design principles. Our Bye Laws needs to be revised and regulated. Bye Laws should not be limited to set backs, and floor area ratios in fact Urban Design Bye Laws should be framed, Vocabulary of architecture should be defined for different areas of cities, color, materials, Urban Queues, Skyline should all be regulated.
I am not advocating to stop all new development and to stop all modern buildings to be constructed in Lahore but it is my firm belief that Urban Design principles should now be implemented and it should be regulated and implemented in as strict a manner as building set backs, FAR and height issues. I have been fortunate enough to work on projects abroad where these Urban Design principles are being applied and though it is more demanding to designing within those parameters, yet, the over all impact on the context is amazing.
KA: Both the professional bodies should be reinvigorated. It is my belief that a lot can be done by these bodies for the betterment of Architecture profession. First of all there is a dire need to strengthen our educational institutes.
I have been taking Juries in both NCA and UET and I see a very rapid decline in the quality of work and thought process in students. PCATP should seriously take up this issue. The criteria for selection of teachers for Architecture should be revised.
It is imperative that teachers should have practical experience of working in the field. Our teachers should be encouraged to practice architecture. Fresh inductions should be made on the basis of work experience and the ability not because of degrees. I would lay the blame squarely on HEC where the criteria for teachers are a degree in MSC and PHD.
Unfortunately architecture is not like other sciences or engineering subjects, if teachers are only selected because of their degrees then the quality of teaching is definitely going to suffer. Can you imagine that an architect of the Caliber such as Nayyar Ali Dada cannot be appointed even as an assistant professor at NCA because he does not have a PHD.
It is ridiculous! I Where is PCATP and what is it doing to address this matter? PCATP should take up this issue with HEC and put some sense into their heads. All prominent architects should be requested to hold seminars and design workshops in the institutes, all prominent architects should also be requested to contribute towards revising the curriculum which is old and needs to change. PCATP which really is the governing body should take a leading role in this and also should facilitate these institutes in getting the services of these prominent architects.
PCATP should work directly with the regulatory bodies and help them in the preparation of Bye laws as discussed earlier. PCATP should also be more proactive in facilitating architectural practices. Fees should be regulated; typical contracts should be prepared and distributed to its members. The list is never ending, in short PCATP really needs to be revived and should have an active role in regulating the profession.
IAP can similarly provide its input in all above matters. IAP should be seriously engaged in holding seminars, exhibitions, expos etc. IAP has recently been holding these seminars but unfortunately the quality of papers and the selection of speakers leave a lot to be desired. However it would be unfair to lay the blame on office bearers of these two organizations. It is the responsibility of all the member architects also to contribute to these organizations. As the profession is being recognized and gaining strength day by day, it is high time that we start giving back something to this beautiful profession.
AT: You have an experience of working abroad in different projects. What basic difference you have noticed in practice?
KA: Working abroad is a different experience altogether. The role of the authorities is very well defined and they do not infringe on their duties. The bye laws are much more stringent and comprehensive and they cover not only planning but also structural design and MEP design byelaws. Codes are meant to be followed, and buildings are properly designed as per these codes.
The clients or developers are much more organized and they expect a lot form their architects. Usually the clients will have a team of professionals who will be supervising even the design jobs or in larger projects, Project management companies will be handling this process. You learn to work in an organizational setup where requirements will be realistic, but more stringent and the client expects the best of the best. This is what is lacking in Pakistan, the serious professional attitude in people towards their craft.
The construction industry is very well organized, and the contractors and vendors are also trained. Latest building materials and technology is available and the vendors promote these through expos and exhibitions which are great help to the architects. In Pakistan, construction industry is not at all organized and the flow of information from construction related industry is slow. In cases where we do get some technical material, the material is related purely towards marketing and fails to really achieve its goal.
AT: Please tell us your experience of designing Embassies. How you have incorporated your design philosophy in design?
KA: Designing of Embassies is a unique experience. It is an office building but unlike an ordinary office building it has its particular requirements which are unique to other office buildings. Circulation and segregation of different departments or sections within an embassy is critical. The public has to be restricted and cannot be allowed to enter the Chancery area. The relationship of different departments within the embassy is again critical and it is the job of the architect to know the exact functionality of each space. Apart from the planning complexities, Embassies have to strongly reflect the architectural style of the country that they represent.
My design philosophy was not to follow traditional or classical architecture blindly but to be more sensitive towards other factors such as the use and function of a building, the society around me, and climate etc. I now try to create a balance in my work. My work reflects my philosophy.
KA: In today's information age I don't think that it is very relevant where you work. Means of communication have improved so much that one can practically be working anywhere in the world even being stationed in a remotest corner of the world.
I have worked during flights, and long transits at the airports etc. I see myself continuing to work like this. We have a lot of on going projects abroad and as well as in pipeline. We would continue to work like this, having our main base in Pakistan and doing projects in Pakistan and abroad. We are in the process of expanding our operations in the Middle East however our base will remain in Pakistan. I feel great pride when we are introduced as a Pakistani company working abroad, it is a special feeling, and although we did face some resistance in the beginning, now that we have completed projects all over the world it is no longer an issue.
KA: Energy efficient buildings are extremely important not only in Saudi Arabia but all over the world. In Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, a lot of emphasis is laid in the detailing of the building. Use of cavity walls, double glazed windows, insulation in walls and roofs, insulation in floors (in colder climates) has become standardized. In more sophisticated buildings use of building management systems and more recently intelligent building systems are also being commonly used for better energy management.
KA: The concept of Green buildings is fast gaining popularity in the world. We have recently been invited for a competition in Abu Dhabi, wherein the client brief for the project lays great emphasis on Green building. Water is a very scarce commodity in the Middle East, and we have been proposing re-cycling of water and use of treated grey water within the building. Even while carrying out value engineering for the projects we have now started considering Green building solutions as an alternate to conventional buildings. Larger projects will soon be producing their own clean energy through the use of solar energy and wind energy.
KA: I feel that more than the Middle Eastern or European countries Green buildings architecture should be promoted in Pakistan. We are an energy deficient country. Our environment is extremely polluted. Water resources are fast diminishing. We need to establish institutes to carry out research into Green Buildings as per our environment. We have been blessed by having so much sunshine throughout the year. A great emphasis should be given in research of using solar energy in our buildings.
KA: It is a difficult question to answer. It is like asking a parent which child he likes best. We put in a lot of effort in our designs and all our projects are very dear to us, big or small. Working on the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad was professionally very satisfying. It was a unique experience as it gave me the opportunity to think at a different level. I learnt a lot about the complex planning of a large embassy, use of materials and technology, and the opportunity to study the local architecture of Saudi Arabia and to learn how to break away from our own Architecture style. While doing the Interior of the Ambassador's residence again it was an interesting exercise. We studied the Arabesque style in a lot of detail. We also experimented with the use of materials and textures.
Some of the houses that we designed in Pakistan were also greatly satisfying. It again was a challenge to switch from designing palaces having no budget constraints to doing smaller houses at much lesser budgets.
Recently we had the opportunity to design a Zoo Park for 3000 animals, 6500 different kinds of birds and a sea aquarium for 200 different species of fish in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan. It was again a big challenge as we architects are tuned to work only for humans. We established animal standards according to their habitats, living conditions etc. I feel we did a lot of original work on that project.
KA: I feel very strongly for the students and young professionals. I think our educational system needs a revolution. Unfortunately the students of architecture have stopped developing some basic skills like sketching and doing free hand drawings.
I don't understand how a student can start designing on AutoCAD. It seems that this craziness of becoming an expert on AutoCAD and Max have resulted in a sharp decline in creativity and flare.
The artistic aspect of architecture is vanishing which should be a must. Young architects and students are thoughtlessly copying modern glass and steel buildings. They do not give importance to studying the history of Architecture to understand the beauty of classical architecture. It is in fashion to be modern to be known as a whiz in computers; however these students are missing the basic training.
My advice to them would be to work hard at developing their creative skills, to do a lot of free hand sketches, while designing a project they should carry out a thorough design exercise, the goal should be to produce a beautiful piece of architecture and not just an good-looking rendering work on the computer.