Bridging the old and The Newbridging the old and the new revitalization of the Native Jetty Bridge…Port Grand…

Port Grand

Text by: Architect Tasneem Vali, Photos: Port Grand

Native Jetty, the site of what is now Port Grand was an area that witnessed constant flux. An old 1,000 foot long, 19th century iron bridge now gracefully evolved into a scene of intense commercial, cultural and social activity. Port Grand Ltd (PG) the visionaries and developers have revitalised the disused, neglected landmark – a 200,000 sq. ft area, at the heart of old Karachi right along the waterfront.

An international architectural firm Newwork LLC based in new Jersey, was selected to conceptualize and design what was to become PG spread over 40,000 sq. ft., including not only Native Jetty but also the rotary under Jinnah Bridge.

Newwork was provided with a project brief to rethink the space along the lines of Pier 39 (San Francisco, US), 3rd Street Promenade (Los Angeles, US), Quincy Market (Boston, US) and Clark Quay (Singapore). Not to replicate, but as a springboard for the flavour used to maintain respect for the heritage of the area, restore and rebuild anything that could be made viable and compliment the architectural language of what was naturally available on site.

To quote Ar. Mustafa Kirwan, lead designer and principal in-charge of the PG project, “The precedents for Port Grand were other seaport or waterfront redevelopment projects like Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston and South Street Seaport in New York. The late American architect Ben Thompson who was one of the earlier architects to create a waterfront theme entertainment district concept designed both these projects, highly successful adaptations of waterfront/piers. However, since I grew up in Boston and lived for the past 12 years in New York, Faneuil Hall and South Street Seaport are more familiar to me as precedents.”

Keeping this tall order in mind, Newwork’s initial design was a project that catered to creating a high-density entertainment environment for the citizens of Karachi. Once the concept was narrowed down, survey work revealed that almost all of the existing sub-structure and the old deck slab had to be replaced. The columns underwater had to be cleaned of rust and repaired; some of the sub-structure had to be strengthened; and a new deck slab had to be engineered. In fact, the level of the bridge was raised and a live water line had to be incorporated into the final design for the very public promenade. This cost the project time and money, an additional 2 years and a 600% cost overrun, to ultimately cost PKR 2 billion.

Newwork LLC was contracted for the conceptual design and design development phases. To maintain a unique and innovative design, yet keeping the project viable, Grand Leisure Corporation (parent of Port Grand Ltd.) contracted local consultants, and an in house team established in cooperation with Mustafa Kirwan, for the design development and construction supervision phases.

A project this massive, this significant and this poignant to the city and people’s sensibilities has a multitude of layers before it comes together. PG decided to finance the entire project themselves, with no governmental aid, since such aid comes with strings attached. The land that belongs to Karachi Port Trust has been leased to PG on a build and operate clause, for a period of 21 years.
The other major issue was the Laxmi Narayan Panghat Mandir located right next to the site, and a mosque on the other side. The Hindu Community was reassured that their area would not be encroached upon. The design provides access to the temple and an upgraded, landscaped ‘gathering’ area. PG built a separate road to ensure privacy for the temple. Similar strategies were used to win over the mosque management as well.

Beyond the free valet parking, security, entrance passes, metal fences and stone boundary walls, which are a subtle way of restricting access to a particular social class, as well as ensuring security, one finds a majestic entrance in steel and stone – a dichotomy of materials also reflected in the juxtaposition of the mangroves with human influence; of natural and man-made; of old and new.

Mustafa Kirwan says, “One of the most inspiring aspects of this project is the context and the juxtaposition of the new and old Karachi and how the Port Grand site has come to evolve. From the beginning of the project the owner Mr. Shahid Firoz, provided historical resources to help us understand the background of the Netty Jetty Bridge, the Old Customs House and the legacy of Port Karachi from British Colonial times. This history was woven into the themes of the design to construct an authentic experience of place while at the same time drawing from international retail and entertainment ideas. Additionally we discussed ways to preserve whatever we could, including the existing trees and stones that were excavated while clearing the site.”

As you take a walk down the promenade, the sea breeze is intoxicating, soft background music sets the mood, not obtrusive but soothing. You cannot help but take in the backdrop of ships in port, with their upper decks and metal masts painted white, reflect the architectural vocabulary used to build the cafes, restaurants and seating areas in PG. There is a reflecting pool that lends to the simplicity of the old temple peeking through the trees and administration buildings.

Walking towards the Port House you feel suspended between two time periods, the Port House, neo classic in design is reminiscent of the old British train station entrances, but the material, glass and lighting give it a contemporary and clean look. Inside the Port House are a multitude of retail and dining outlets, something to cater to every person’s need and taste. Directly opposite from the Port House is the Art Lane, a revolutionary concept that will help stimulate art. Unfinished concrete walls, with accent lighting provide ample gallery space for artists to display their artwork and curators to plan exhibitions; an innovative adaptive reuse for a space that was formerly a public urinal.

Standing in the Grand Piazza, facing Native Jetty Bridge, on the left one sees mangroves and the quaint old temple that balance the historically significant old banyan tree and Napier’s Tavern, built from material carefully salvaged and restored from the original Native Jetty Bridge. The Tavern provides exclusive fine dining to its members and from the deck upstairs, one gets a spectacular view of Karachi Harbour.

A large old rustic live water line accents the length of the bridge, cleverly incorporated into the design. The water line is supported inside stone piers atop which specially designed light fixtures provide ambient light. The light fixtures are light and airy; they seem to float atop the stone. Lighting inside the piers is covered by glass, resembling a ship’s porthole. Small, yet significant details that add to the charm and help create the mystique of past and present intermingled yet symbiotic.

Past Napier’s Tavern along the Promenade, is a host of dining options – the appetite awakened by the salty sea breeze, and the senses tickled by the design. Areas have been designed to reflect the upper decks of cruise ships. The material used is not only appropriate in terms of location; it will not corrode easily as well. Lower seating areas are mostly wood and iron, painted white; the upper decks without frills, just airy, light and the perfect setting for an enjoyable meal.

However, on the right, walking along the Promenade, are benches and ‘carts’ that provide other delicacies, ‘planted’ on Astroturf. The use of this artificial material is in stark contrast to the care that has been taken to create the illusion of old amalgamating and transforming into new? Wood planks would have been a better option to add warmth to an otherwise almost exclusively stone and metal promenade.

PG is now open to the public, phase one includes the area developed on the old Native Jetty Bridge; phase two will be the completion of the Grand Pier (the end of Native Jetty) that will provide an opportunity to enjoy high end dining and dinner cruises. The Rotary (area under Jinnah Bridge), is set to open in the coming months and will offer cinemas screens, ballrooms, open to sky restaurants and a children’s play area. Plans for environment friendly projects are also underway in the shape of ‘eco tours’ that will inform and glorify our natural mangrove legacy in the area and use of solar energy for illumination.

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