Interview Architect Manzoor Mehdi

Concerned for the Profession

ARCHI TIMES had a Interview Architect Manzoor Mehdi to get an insight into the various roles he has performed over the years and bring forth the issues and challenges he has faced.

ARCHI TIMES (AT): To begin with, please throw a little light on your schooling, education and background?
Manzoor Mehdi (MM): I shall begin with thanks to ALMIGHTY ALLAH and then Ar. Murtaza Shikoh for providing a national and international platform for Architects for projection of truly professional image of architecture and architects. His contribution for the profession of architecture is remarkable as the Pakistani architects got recognition in the world and opportunity to showcase their work through ARCHITECTURE+INTERIORS (A+I) & ARCHI TIMES.

Interview Architect Manzoor Mehdi

I had my basic schooling at PWR High School, Kotri where my father was serving as Electrical Engineer in Pakistan Railways. When I was in 6th class my father was transferred to Karachi where I got admitted in Jamia Millia School, Malir. After completing S.S.C. I got admission in Jamia Millia College and spent two years to complete H.S.C / F.Sc. Then I joined National College of Engineering & Technology, Department of Architecture, Karachi and graduated in first class with distinction in my thesis design on my thesis jury, Architect Tom Wash remarked that: “this thesis is a passing thesis at any American university.”

During the course of study, I had opportunity to work with Chartered Architect Mr. Bilal Rasheed and other senior Architects. There I designed my first commercial project known as GLAMOUR ONE SHOPPING CENTRE (first shopping mall in Karachi) at Tariq Road. After jury, Architect Mr. Amir Ali Qamar offered me to join his organization as Architect. In the span of just 2 years I was promoted as Project Architect. While working with Ar Amir Ali Qamar, I designed & supervised construction of many projects including Aga Khan Women Hospital at Aisha Manzil, Karachi.

Later on, I had an opportunity to join Karachi Building Control Authority as Assistant Controller of Buildings and was promoted to Dy. Controller, where I worked inDesign Bureau with Architect Syed Zaigham Jaffrey. With him I designed many projects like Overseas Bungalows, Master Planning of Scheme-33 Corridor, under the supervision of a team of Architects & Town Planners.

Soon I realized that it was my mistake to join KBCA thus resigned from that service. Fortunately just after resignation from KBCA, I had an overseas offer to join as an Architect of a project in Saudi Arabia. I joined and moved to Riyadh on a military project namely “Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Riyadh SA.” There I learnt a lot while working with Corps of Engineers and Consultant M/s. Saleh Abul Khair, Americans & British Architects. In 1986 I returned to Pakistan and started my own firm namely “International Design Group”.

AT: What was your reason for selecting architecture as your main vocation?
MM: After completing my H.S.C. in first division, I had no idea what to do. My nature does not allow me to join Electrical or Mechanical Engineering as my father wished. My nature was quite different.When I was in school my drawing & free-hand was good, I liked field of creation, scent of flowers, drops of rain & sound of sea, singing of birds always inspired me. At that time I started poetry. Soon romantic poetry converted into religious. At this point my brother-in-law, who was a Civil Engineer, advised me to go to National College of Engineering & Technology and take admission in Architecture. It was a new faculty in NCET, I joinedfirst year of Architecture in NCET henceI feel proud to be the first batch graduate of NCET in Architecture.

AT: Can you tell us a bit about your company and what problems and challenges you have faced in establishing your own firm?
MM: My Company is “International Design Group (IDG)”, I started my own firm in 1986 after returning from Saudi Arabia. I started my office at Syeda Chamber, Main University Road Karachi, to start design office in rented premises.Starting own practice without any project in hand is really difficult but by the Grace of Almighty ALLAH & very hard work, gradually and steadily I established my office. During the period from 1985 till 2015 I have seen many ups & downs. I took part in 3 design competitions arranged by PCATP.

Competitions I participated were:
* LDA Fountain Park at Lahore – I got 2nd prize.
* PTCL Call Centre at Karachi & Lahore – I got 1st prize and projects are completed
* Modern Prison Jail at Islamabad – I got 3rdprize.
I started my office with design of Bungalows and by the passage of time I got many commercial projects, factories, educational buildings, health care buildings in private sector as well as in government sector.

Now I have my full fledged office at KDA Scheme No. 1, with a very good team of professionals like Architects, Engineers, Town Planners & others. Many mega projects are nowunder construction & on board.

AT: What are the main determinants in the design process for you?
MM: I strongly believe that building design should be straight forward, simple, lighted, keeping in view our culture, environment, functionalismand climatic requirements. I always avoid superficial treatment on façade of buildings. I always think to create functional spaces, easily accessible with indigenous material, functional & bold masses emerge in the local environment.

An architect should consider the basic requirement of Client, satisfy and adjust their wishes without compromising aesthetic & philosophy of design. Most of my buildings are functional, lighted & ventilated. I prefer to use appropriate local material to create aesthetically good environment.
AT: What is the meaning of Architecture to you?
MM: To me Architecture means creation of Art of Building & Environment.A systematic design proves that it satisfactorily meets the requirements and demand of the client / society using the most appropriate, available & affordable construction material and human skills in harmony with the local norms, culture & heritage. It should also be sustainable for long in future.

AT: Would you describe your design style, is there a common thread that connects all your projects?
MM: For me it is very important to address the functionalism of spaces, places of different elements in a way to create, not only functional, useable spaces, but naturally ventilated & lighted. I always design my buildings whether small house or a mega project, like teaching hospital, keeping in view the use of proper linkage between useable spaces, air circulation, natural light & use of local sustainable material.For example a Jamia Mosque for 12000 persons in Skardu, where, in winter extreme temperature drops to minus 22oCelsius with snow fall upto 8’0″. During design process we decided to use local material like stone & mud to protect structural element, create ecological ambience, good natural ventilation & light. Similarly for Daanish School at Mianwali, I managed a good example of functional relationship of spaces, lighting, ventilation by use of local architectural elements & sustainable material.

AT: Which is your favourite country and city in terms of architecture?
MM: The city of Esfahan, I was amazed to see Esfahan, very rich Islamic architecture or Persian architecture having long historical / cultural back ground. When I was a child I read & listened that “Esfahan is a NisfJehan”. At thetime I couldnot understand, but when I visited Esfahan I understood the meaning. It has really best of the world historical gardens, a city of flowers, old heritage buildings, beautiful city, beautiful people. Second city I admire is Istanbul.

AT: Amongst the vast repertoire of your projects, which project did you find the most challenging and why?
MM: I designed many projects during my professional carrier started from a small bungalow in 1977 just after my graduation from Architecture Department, Dawood College of Engineering & Technology, I felt myself very lucky because I had the opportunity to design a variety of projects like residential, commercial, shopping centers, apartment buildings, schools, colleges, factories, residential complexes, religious buildings, offices, etc.

The most challenging project for me was “Khalifa Gul Nawaz Medical Complex Bannu” (KGNMC). It is a 600-bed teaching hospital spread on approx 110 acres of land along with all ancillary facilities like residential colony. Bannu is 350 Km from Peshawar on Kohat Miranshah Road.

During design process, I faced many hindrances, there was no infrastructure available, no water / sewerage / drainage / roads linkages coupled with security risks.

KGNMC is 12 Km from main city of Bannu. We had to think of the local culture, behavior of local people whodo not allow to mix women with men. Women always wear burqa. It is the tradition that 10 to 15 persons come as care takers with the patient.No qualified contractors were available. Building material too was un-available and so on. After my first presentation to Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (erstwhile NWFP) a board of specialist doctors & professors was nominated to review the design. Many professors & doctors of different discipline discussed the plan & finally they approved the plan with the remark that this is a practical & well planned hospital in KPK. By the grace of ALLAH, Phase-I & II have been completed, functional and successfully in use, Phase-III is under construction. Although it is very difficult to maintain the quality and progress, it is also difficult to handle the supervisory staff while sitting at Karachi.

AT: What is the biggest problem that you as an architect are facing in the profession today due to the recession in architecture?
MM: Most of the architects practicing and running consulting firms like me in Pakistan are facing numerous problems, for instance:
* The society has low recognition of Architecture as a distinguished profession other than Engineering.
* Very strong competition with engineering profession in getting architectural projects.
* Low fee structure, because of competition, as PPRA Rules; allow PEC & PCATP registered companies to participate & resulting insufficient resources for delivering decent quality of work.
* Rampant corruption in Govt. Departments, disregarding merit in the procurement process for award of consultancy work. This problem persists despite the enactment of PPRA Rules applicable at National and Provincial levels.

(Interview Architect) AT: How do you see the future of architecture in Pakistan?
MM: Despite the numerous serious problems encountered by Architects in Pakistan, I am hopeful for revival in future as evident from exceptionally good work produced by some young architects. As a professional it is our duty to enhance & support our architectural education so young architects are able to create good buildings, considering our heritage, social structure & local environment instead of copying European & Western style structures.

AT: What are your thoughts on Pakistan’s architecture in general? How do you think the quality could be improved?
MM: To improve the quality of architecture in Pakistan I would suggest to:
* Persuade and educate Pakistani society, through campaigns on print and electronic media convincing them to recognize as an old and noble profession separate from Engineering. It puts the onus on PCATP & IAP as well as the stalwarts of this profession in Pakistan.
* Equip educational institutions offering architecture, with adequate human and material resources.
* Senior teachers should be offered full scholarships for higher education leading to Ph.D.
* Regular review of Architectural curriculum to match the challenges of rapid developments in this field.
* Holding mandatory competitions of all architectural projects of Govt. under the auspices of PCATP.
* PCATP should put all its efforts in protecting the rights of its bonafide members by strongly enforcing its relevant rules.
* All practicing architects and their firms should be bound to abide by the professional code of ethics as well as the minimum schedule of fee, as drafted by the Council, long ago.

AT: How far do you believe in green building architecture, and what suggestions can you give in this context?
MM: The concept of green buildings, in line with the slogan “Save Mother Earth” is globally accepted and responded positively by conscientious people; I would call them the “sons of the earth.”

Though all human beings are required to refrain from polluting the environment as much as possible, but the major responsibility rests on the shoulders of Developed States who are the main polluters damaging the eco-system. Likewise the politicians, elite class, scientists, professional, industrialists and business tycoons should realize and resolve to heal the wounds they have caused to the environment. It is high time that the human race should adopt a firm resolution for discarding the use of all toxic material as much as possible.

While constructing buildings the architects, engineers, builders and craftsmen should prefer the use of non-toxic, environment friendly, locally available indigenous construction materials. As a result green buildings will be produced conserving the environment.

AT: Are you incorporating sustainable design principles in your projects?
MM: We always take care of energy & environment in our design. Water efficient system, high resolution sustainable material envelope & appropriate use of glass / windows etc., proper ventilation & lighting system depending on the use of building and Client requirements. Role of landscaping & trees in sustainable design is very important. The example is our design of Daanish School project at Mianwali.

(Interview Architect) AT: Pakistan is the worst victim of energy crisis. What can be done to make sustainable design buildings to overcome this crisis? What suggestions can you give to the professionals of Pakistan in this context?
MM: Sustainable design involves creating buildings, that meet the need to reduce the human impact on ecological systems. Use your knowledge of building design to address sustainability issues without compromising building functionality.

Energy crisis is not only in Pakistan but everywhere, world is conscious about use of energy especially in buildings. Architect must take care of local environment, use of proper sustainable material, use of glass & kind of glass, air and ventilation system whether natural or mechanical, take care of building services, facilities & its management.

AT: What are your observations regarding the role of IAP and PCATP in promoting and safeguarding architects’ interests and raising public awareness about architecture?
MM: I feel that PCATP has failed in performing its basic role set as following at the time of its launching:”…through PCATP ordinance, the professions of architecture & town planning have been given recognition & protection.

The Council has been given wide ranging powers and authorized to perform such functions and take such steps which are connected with or ancillary to all aspects of the two professions namely laying down standards of conduct, safeguarding interests of its members, assisting the Government and national institutions in solving problems related to these professions, promotion of reforms in education and reviewing and advising the Govt. in matters of education of architecture and town planning”.

Alas, after taking some steps in the early period of its existence, the Council has limited its role just as a registering body for architects and planners with some emphasis on accreditation of educational institutions. I strongly feel that the Council has not succeeded in bringing any tangible benefits to the members so far because it has not established its writ as a legal statutory body.

Comparatively, IAP has performed better in addressing the problems and issues pertaining to architecture and architects.

AT: Can you identify the three most pressing problems to practice in the field of architecture currently?
MM: After independence, Pakistani architects have come to this stage through a long journey; still there is a gap which needs to be bridged.

* Recognition of profession of Architecture as most of the engineering based companies, entering and working as professional architects & PPRA allowed them to enter in the competitions. Most of the architecture work has been taken by the engineering based companies registered with PEC.
* Corruption in government departments, bureaucracy, political influence, disregard of merit in the pressure for award of consultancy work.
* PPRA Rules, allowing not only engineers to participate in the architectural project but selection / considering of lowest bidder without considering the quality & reputation of firm. The low fee bidding firms generally fail to deliver good quality work.

Interview Architect: AT: How do you feel about the standard of architectural education at our institutions?
MM: Though I do not intend to be pessimistic about the standard of education of architecture in Pakistan but I cannot hide the fact that it is deteriorating in Pakistan like in other disciplines. It is perhaps due to commercialization of educational institutions in general as well as the lack of commitment and zeal among most of the teaching class.

We have seen renowned institutions like NCA, DUET and Indus Valley School being politicized and commercialized, adversely affecting the standards. Besides, we are missing teachers like late Prof. Kausar Bashir Saheb, Prof Amin Shaikh and many others. Weak faculties depending on visiting architects, lack of good permanent teachers.

Unfortunately PCATP too has also failed in uplifting the standards of architecture education imparted by the institutions under its control as the sole accrediting body.

AT: What kind of projects do you enjoy more? And what projects do you currently have on the boards?
MM: As an architect, I have enjoyed all types of project, for me each project has something new to create especially public related projects like hospitals, schools, universities etc.

Fortunately, Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur is on board, we are designing Main Entrance Gate along with Wall. Unique entrance gate reflects Shah Abdul Latif preaching and local Sindhi architecture.

Academic Block for 2000 students, Administration Block, Boys Hostel, Girls Hostel, Date Palm Research Institute building. Etc.

AT: What are your best projects and why?
MM: I feel myself, my all project are good but IDG designed Daanish School Campus for Boys & Girls at Piplan Mian wali was a challenge for the team of IDG comprising of Manzoor Mehdi Naqvi & Amna Imtiaz to design Daanish School, many prominent architects and firms has already designed Daanish School for Boys & Girls throughout Punjab for example in Phase-I six schools established in Chistian, Hasilpur, Rahimyar Khan. Phase-II Attock, Dera Ghazi Khan, Fazilpur & Mianwali.

Today we see how one man’s vision and will and struggle of team, make an entire complex of buildings, living and busting at a distantly remote site at Mianwali. The site at Mianwali has been an architect’s dream with its earlier ownership with the forest department.

This element of incorporating and respecting existing features at site that the habitation blends and becomes one with the whole scheme. The expanse of site along with randomly scattered trees led to the casual placement of buildings rather than the rigid geometric grid followed in usual dense urban fabric.

Focus was on realistic approach for use of material with long term durability and endurance to withstand test of time and alarming price hike.

Great consideration has been kept in design for environmental and climatic conditions. Traditional and cultural elements & concept of courtyard have been studied and incorporated to optimize cross ventilation & abundant use of natural light. The open court series used in Academic block are Meditation court, Discourse court and Activity court with step level and performing stage.

AT: Do you have a dream project – something you haven’t done yet?
MM: I wish to develop a model self sustaining village in the countryside like Thar in Sindh, consisting of about 300 units. Through conserving its cultural heritage, using indigenous construction material, traditional forms and techniques in conformity with the climate, equipped with all basic facilities and amenities at affordable cost.

AT: What advice would you give to someone entering the field of architecture?
MM: For the newcomers to the field of architecture I would quote the couplet:
“Jin k hontoun pe hansi, pao’n mae chalay honge, Haan wohi log tumhe chahney waley honge”
In my opinion the aspiring candidate for architecture should possess these virtues:
* aptitude for art and design with a good aestheticsense.
* very hard working, and able to face new challenges of competitive environment dominated by technology.

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