Lahore’s architectural landscape is no more what it used to be
For architecture lovers, Lahore has always been a revered place as a centre of excellence in architecture. Home to many buildings that have withstood the test of time impose upon the searching eyes sheer innovation, perfection and grandeur, resulting in an array of buildings, dating from classic Mughal architecture to modern day high-rises, interspersed in various localities of the city. For decades, and in certain situations for centuries, they have been a source of attraction for visitors and locals alike. But as with everything else, time has overtaken beauty and majesty they once depicted, rendering them to be a mere wonder of yesteryears. The neglect, and often misuse, that they had to go through over the years has taken its toll in a number of ways.
A great building is not necessarily one with a magnificent design; it is one that can outclass others in more ways than with just its visual appeal, including its utility and its integration with the local landscape and cityscape.
A great building is not necessarily one with a magnificent design; it is one that can outclass others in more ways than with just its visual appeal, including its utility and its integration with the local landscape and cityscape. An ever-sprawling city like Lahore needs many buildings, some of them mega structures, like the Arfa Karim IT Tower on Ferozpur Road and Pace Towers in Gulberg, but the planners behind the city’s development need to keep in mind as to the impressions its skyline can have on the overall image and visual appeal of the city.
While most of the modern (as in latest, not as in architecture) buildings are barely passable as visually appealing and only a few can claim the status of a timeless classic beauty, the slow but sure death of superbly designed buildings cannot be denied. These dying beauties of architecture were once among the things that distinguished the city of Lahore as the cultural hub of the country. But as they saw neglect and abuse, decay crept in and ruined them in some cases and effaced them entirely in others. These were the gems that despite being polished were never showcased properly. In contrast, every slab of concrete claims to be a diamond pecked in the city’s urban visual outline. It’s a shame that we are tongue-tied about this violation of one of our greatest traditions i.e., architecture.
The decay that the city’s grand buildings have come to represent is something once unknown to the people of this region. The argument that the time changes and with time everything changes too, does hold on its own but it can never make up for something as simple as a little care not being offered to these buildings.
Apart from the fact that almost all the buildings dating from Mughal era to the Colonial era have seen a serious decline in their condition (mostly in public use and under the care of various government departments), a lot of buildings that have had no historical significance per se but were important in setting ablaze a trail for some innovation or modernity in architecture, have also lost their former glory. Most of these buildings, having been in the domain of private use, have lost more than their counterparts under the government’s care. The latter category still finds itself to be relatively lucky as somewhat meagre funding can still be funnelled through various bureaucratic hurdles, and with the help of a thoughtful minority in the government machinery that still care about these buildings, they are offered a lease on their life a few years at a time.
Certain buildings, like the Alfalah Building, Wapda Building, Punjab University’s hostel buildings, Faletti’s Hotel, hundreds of buildings in the walled city, Model Town, on The Mall, and many in the Gulberg area have not been able to keep up with time, losing in a struggle against time. When those buildings were in their heyday, others were already in the pipes to replace them. That’s how the law of the nature exerts itself, only that it is more visible in the case of these buildings. For example, the Colonial era architecture has slowly but surely given way to a more mixed class of architecture, or should we say a more evolved one though one can easily debate as to its visual appeal and functionality.
It is in these fading façades that we now find a sullen look of the city. Maybe it is more than that, maybe this is what a large city hands down to its dwellers over time, maybe this is exactly what is supposed to happen, sort of ‘the old giving way to the new’. With that said, the cityscape that once gave it a look of its own is on a downward spiral, screaming for a revival of what makes this city’s architecture unique: a true innovation in the designing of both private and public buildings.
The cityscape that once gave it a look of its own is on a downward spiral, screaming for a revival of what makes this city’s architecture unique: a true innovation in the designing of both private and public buildings.
On a relative note, one must agree that a mushroom growth of posh housing societies has brought out some interesting designs, like the ones in the Canal View Society, Tech Society and Bahria Town, but that’s all about it. They are either in vicinity that is unapproachable for a majority of the citizens, or have a premium on their designs.
An example of this modern and unique architectural philosophy can be seen in Allama Iqbal International Airport and the Services Institute of Medical Sciences. Ultra-modern buildings equipped with the state of the art facilities, like the MCB building, The Mall of Lahore and many others while surely being attractive and functional, can’t normally make a difference to the opinion of the classic architecture lovers.