By Ar. Amna Nawaz, Images Courtesy: Architect
ARCHI TIMES takes a peek into the life of Ar. Zulfikar Ali – a visionary and imaginative architect, yet extremely humble and friendly individual. He is a great mentor, full of enthusiasm, and has been active on many professional platforms. He has served as Chairman of IAP, Peshawar Chapter and is presently a member of the executive committee and advisor for IAPEX.
Archi Times (AT): Before we begin talking about your architecture, it would be good to know you as a person.
Zulfikar Ali (ZA): Peshawar is my birth place. Early education was done in P.A.F school & college, Peshawar & then I joined NCA in 1985 for B. Arch. I came back here soon after my bachelors and since then have been practicing in Peshawar.
The major problem in this region is developers approaching the architect with a fixed mind. With limited professional knowledge & exposure, they aspire to build skyscrapers under a roof. There is no proper check and balance of building by-laws, by the authorities. Last but not the least, the cold war between civil engineers and architects is ruining the architecture of this region. There is hardly any collaboration between them and everyone tries to function as all in all.
Spaces should be able to accommodate the soul of the dwellers. Everything I design is for people so my utmost priority is to make it user friendly. Clients aspire to Dubai culture but we being professionals have to think about both the clients and the end user; make the building appealing as well as functional.
AT: Tell us about your professional career experience – its ups and downs, as you have been working since so many years.
ZA: After graduation I came back to Peshawar mainly for exploring the suburbs as a part of my thesis, “in search of roots”. After that I started working with Ar. Qayyum Khan & Ar. Walayat Khan; tied up with Khyber Consultants & by the end of 1991, Mascot Consultants was born. By the grace of God, I’ve never seen a gray period in my entire career of almost 25 years. As I started my own practice some major opportunities I got were National Bank competition and Razmak Cadet College. The other break through was a project in Afghanistan by the name of Intercontinental.
AT: Can you identify the most pressing problems one has to face in the field of architecture, particularly in Peshawar?
ZA: The major problem in this region is developers approaching the architect with a fixed mind. With limited professional knowledge & exposure, they aspire to build skyscrapers under a roof. There is no proper check and balance of building by-laws, by the authorities. Last but not the least, the cold war between civil engineers and architects is ruining the architecture of this region. There is hardly any collaboration between them and everyone tries to function as all in all.
AT: What is the meaning of Architecture to you?
ZA: To me, Architecture is life. It’s my passion, my career and of course my source of living; my hobby too. It’s not only about the design; it’s about the function, about the people who live in the house, their moral and cultural values. And it’s also about the impact of the building on the space along with the people’s belief. As long as the architecture – the walls, the doors, the hallways do not comply with the dweller, he can’t feel happy. The house can’t become the home, that’s what matters the most to me. Architecture is my life.
AT: Which architects have influenced your work?
ZA: My teachers. All my teachers. In particular, I am really fond of Ar. Qayyum Khan & Ar. Walayat Khan’s work and the philosophy of Kamil Khan Mumtaz.
AT: What is your design philosophy and methodology?
ZA: Spaces should be able to accommodate the soul of the dwellers. Everything I design is for people so my utmost priority is to make it user friendly. Clients aspire to Dubai culture but we being professionals have to think about both the clients and the end user; make the building appealing as well as functional.
AT: Can you identify a particular project you have done which successfully reflects this outlook?
ZA: Every single piece of my work reflects the outlook (as much as I’m allowed by the client of course) but in particular Prime Minister’s Housing Scheme was the project I have done which reflected all my beliefs about designing. It comprised of courtyards and communal living spaces which gave a true sense of neighborhood. It reflected our moral and cultural values.
AT: What do you think about Peshawar’s architecture and urban planning?
ZA: As compared to the history and ethnic architectural style of Peshawar, today’s architecture and urban planning is very weak. There is no particular style or pattern of the development, I see mushroom growth everywhere.
AT: How do you feel about historical architecture and its preservation in Pakistan particularly in Peshawar?
ZA: Pakistan has a very rich background of historical architecture, but the preservation process is pretty slow in Pakistan and even slower in Peshawar. The Walled City contains hundreds of years of glorious history in its bricks, most of which are wrecked and in extremely bad condition.
In my point of view conservation shouldn’t be of only buildings, it should be taken on a broader sense, we have to save our cultural values.
AT: What are your thoughts on Pakistan’s architecture in general?
ZA: The story of architecture of Pakistan is same as of Peshawar. We are making same mistakes all over the country – we are leaving our roots and if something is detached from its roots, it wilts. We have to have a strong grip on our moral and cultural values incorporating new technologies of modern world.
AT: What kind of projects do you enjoy more? And what projects do you currently have on the boards?
ZA: I enjoy doing every kind but houses occupy a special corner in my heart. The bond which develops with the end user directly and the feeling of turning someone’s dreams into reality are beyond description.
Several projects are running currently in different cities, like Ahad tower, Deans Defense Tower, Wilson Mall, Silk Centre and many others.
AT: What are your best projects and why?
ZA: To an architect, his projects are like his children. You can’t say which one is best. Every project has its own beauty as well as challenges. It’s a new experience every time and I must say a very enjoyable one. As long as you love your job, you try to give your best at every project. Plus the learning process never ends so I learn from my mistakes and every new project is better than the previous one.
AT: Do you have a dream project – something you haven’t done yet?
ZA: For me, every project is a dream project; fortunately I have done all sort of projects, from smaller to large scale, single house to housing societies, office buildings to multi-storey commercial plazas.
AT: How do you feel about the standard of architectural education at our institutions?
ZA: Nowadays there are increasing number of institutes with decreasing standards. It’s good that more schools are developing, we are lagging here but aim should be at raising the standard of education. Focus should be on the quality more than the quantity. There should be a mandatory and related entrance test to filter the real talent.
And what I see the worst is wrong use of technology. Software are being used to replace the basic educational techniques, internet is being substituted for personal creativity.
AT: What are your interests beyond design and architecture?
ZA: Well, architecture is a very time consuming profession plus a very interesting one too so it almost covers up for my hobby, interests, leisure time activity etc. And besides, I don’t feel like doing anything else either. Professions like this, you’re married to it for life.
AT: Any words of wisdom for young architects?
ZA: There is no shortcut in life, especially in architecture. Hard work is the only key to success. You have to dedicate your life, your time to it. Come up with your own unique set of ideas, spread your creativity on the sheet and show it to the world who you are. That’s how you are going to be able to replace the veterans and we will be more than happy to step aside if you are worth it.