By taking on unsexy Sukkur project, Sri Lankan shows Karachi architects blueprint for a philosophy

Published: April 14, 2012

The ICON Ghouri’s department store in Sukkur sits cheek by jowl with Masoom Shah’s minaret (to the right). It was designed by Anjalendran. PHOTO COURTESY: AHMED SHAJEE AIJAZI

Anjalendran sitting at an ambalama, a traditional resting spot, built on four boulders to be found in Sri Lanka. PHOTO COURTESY: C. ANJALENDRAN
The ICON Ghouri’s department store in Sukkur sits cheek by jowl with Masoom Shah’s minaret (to the right). It was designed by Anjalendran. PHOTO COURTESY: AHMED SHAJEE AIJAZI

KARACHI: When Aamir Ghouri started shopping for architects to design his departmental store in 2008, he could not get beyond dismissive secretaries and personal assistants. The problem was that his project was located in the ‘backwater’ of Sukkur and was earmarked for a piddling 500 square yards. No one seemed to be interested.

In desperation, he went to Sri Lanka where he found Ar C. Anjalendran. “I could not believe how anyone could not get involved in this project,” the architect said during his presentation at IAPEX in Karachi on Friday. The site was slap bang up against what Anjalendran described as one of the most beautiful monuments in South Asia: Masoom Shah jo munaro or the minaret built 400 years ago by a Mughal diplomat fondly called Mir Masoom Shah Masoomi.

The outcome was the ICON Ghouri departmental store in an earthy red that uses lattice work or double screens to beat the temperatures by making the hot air flow up and out. It is perhaps the only shopping mall in Sindh that doesn’t have a glass front. Anjalendran learnt later that while the men of Sukkur didn’t necessarily take to it because it didn’t look like a Dubai building, the women have surprisingly liked it because of the security and privacy it offers.

The decision to take this project, in part, exemplifies Anjalendran’s approach. His mentor Geoffrey Bawa, regarded as one of the most important and influential Asian architects of the twentieth century, had showed him how they could eschew the monumental or iconic, which are non-egalitarian and prefer the ordinary or vernacular. “In simple terms, there is always too much architecture between me and the view,” Anjalendran said, bringing up the Dubai example. “Never do architecture that is iconic or in your face. Respect nature. Show restraint,” he urged throughout his presentation.

Anjalendran is familiar with Pakistan where he was invited 18 years ago by AR Akeel and Noorjehan Bilgrami. One of his more famous works here is the residence of Nighat and Imran Mir. In the panel discussion, the local architect who collaborated with him, Ar Shahid Abdulla, recalled how Imran Mir’s brief had been specific: I don’t want it to look like it’s been designed by you. The architects understood that he wanted an effortless, organic look.

That was, happily, Anjalendran’s forte and today the residence’s focus is its two Champa trees and other foliage. “It is not a house that looks outward, all the windows look at trees,” explained Anjalendran.

For him it has been essential to work with the landscape. “The formalism doesn’t destroy the organic object,” he said. “There is always respect for nature… man-made rock joins natural rock.” He showed examples of breathtaking water gardens in his country that are hundreds of years old. And it has been important to maintain the sense of tranquility, he said. After all, until quite recently, Sri Lanka was a country at war.  “If you have a tree, it is the equivalent to an air conditioner,” he quipped. “A Banyan tree is worth three air conditioners.”

 

Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2012.

 

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Reader Comments (14)

  • MBN
    Apr 14, 2012 - 12:42PM

    Here us young architects are scrambling for work and our evergreen unaware public is going to friggin Sri Lanka to find architects. Saddened by this because in terms of talent and skill Pakistani architects are second to none. Its the opportunities that we require.

    Karachi isn’t the only place for architects, and modern communication methods have made things MUCH easier than of yesteryears…

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  • A. Khan
    Apr 14, 2012 - 4:33PM

    @MBN

    Read the article again. He went to Sri Lanka as the local architects were not interested in his project as it was located in – to paraphrase yourself – friggin Sukkur.

    Also, I take exception to your statement about talented and skilled architects in Pakistan. Most of the buildings in Islamabad (sorry but havent been to Lahore/Karachi for a number of years) are an eyesore. So please name one that can be called world class or at least beautiful.

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  • Mohammad Asif
    Apr 14, 2012 - 8:20PM

    I agree with A. Khan. Architects in Pakistan have created not a few monstrosities – just take a look at the buildings in Islamabad. Most of them with not an iota of creativity and horrendous use of precious space.

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  • Raza
    Apr 15, 2012 - 1:52AM

    As a nation, we lack architectural creativity. Our concept of building impressive building is build them as high and large as we can. Even when building houses, most of us would rather spend more on expensive marble flooring and furniture rather than get an expert design by a good architect.

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  • Not me
    Apr 15, 2012 - 9:26AM

    Money knows no nationality. People will go out and buy the best talent.

    The problem in Pakistan is senior architects do not allow the young brilliant architects to rise in profession.There is no mentoring.

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  • sohaib
    Apr 15, 2012 - 7:43PM

    @MBN
    Pakistanis dont take pride in their culture so how can Pakistani architecture be distinguished? Just tell me one building in Pakistan designed by Pakistani architect that is not an eyesore? It just shows how confused Pakistani architect is.

    Architecture stems from culture. As for no one taking the project, well if it was in Karachi or another big city, someone might have considered it but since it was in Sukkur, he could not get beyond the personal staff! Such is the shallowness of our people.

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  • Parvez
    Apr 17, 2012 - 12:24AM

    We simply are a people devoid of any aesthetics sense. What can you expect from people who do not comprehend the simple fact that just keeping your city clean is good enough.
    Reason : they think there is no money to be made in this. One can only laugh at their ignorance.

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  • Sara jahan
    Apr 18, 2012 - 12:00AM

    I happen to live in the region and have visited this shopping centre many times .It is one of the most unusual and unique building anywhere .Especially the lattice work and the way it relates to the monuments .Good work .

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  • Sohail
    Apr 18, 2012 - 2:50AM

    I am one of the privileged one who went to Sukkur this year in January to visit relatives and got the opportunity to see this master piece. I can say that the owners have taken a huge chance and put a lot of efforts and money to involve a world renowned architect to built an amazing shopping store in Sukkur. I can say with confidence that there is no other commercial building like that anywhere in Pakistan. Like it was stated in the article that Pakistani architect either refused to work on this project or asked for lot of money.
    Congratulations to the owners.

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  • Apr 18, 2012 - 6:02AM

    strong text
    I was pleasnatly surprised to see the article and comments on the site. I have spent my early youth days in Sukkur and I am proud to have in Sukkur now a piece of architecture which has attracted the attention of critics and art lovers as well. In recent past Sukkur has been destroyed and made ugly by the city lords and other political mafias and it is good to see the begining of a change which comes from the private sector. Aamir Ghaori is a young educated energetic bussiness man with a refined taste for the nice and the beautiful, son of a great father Mr. Asif Ghauri, who brought to Sukkur the hope of life when it was being deserted by almost 90% of the elite among men in commerce in the 70s.. I wish to visit Sukkur once more and see this piece of a building which has given a good name to Sukkur. Sukkur has all the potential to become one of the most beautiful cities .A place which has Indus River flowing from it’s midst can become monumental and a tourist spot like Cairo, Istambol,Baghdad or any such place if the dwellers of the city have some taste and love for the place.Unfortunately we dont have even few like Ghauris, perhaps. If Aamir Ghauri hire the services of a Sri Lankan architect, it should be welcomed. The world of art and literature knows no boundries. All the citizens of Sukkur must be grateful to Mr. Anjalendran and to Ghauris for their contribution to make the city beautiful.

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  • Fahad
    Apr 18, 2012 - 1:38PM

    Congratulations once again. My visit to ‘ICON’ was way before it was even accessible through its majestic entrance. At that stage it was a piece of art that was not out of touch with its surroundings yet embracing all modern facilities… Great Job by Aamir Ghouri and Anjalendren.

    Pakistani professionals in every field must take lesson from this contemporary example and bring some positive changes in their attitude.

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  • meeqaat ali shah
    Apr 18, 2012 - 9:08PM

    as a resident i do not really bother as to why the sponsors did not acquire the services of some one from pakistan or for that matter even otherwise. for me the singlular achievement of this design is the way it has respected the neighbouring monuments and blended itself totally with it’s beautiful historic surroundings. specially the way it has brought to light the baradari and minar by framing it in one of it’s corner’s. that is something so totally aesthetic.
    i wish all architecture in sindh can emulate this example specially the buildings which are in the vicinity of any historic places.

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  • Pk
    Apr 23, 2012 - 5:18PM

    In more than 60 years of our existence the only building that can be called iconic is the HBL Plaza in Karachi built in the 60s. It still looks better than any modern skyscrapers today. If there are any talented architects in Pakistan, it is not reflected in the buildings at all.

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  • Qazi Mehran
    Jun 10, 2012 - 2:02PM

    ……Well Well…too happy to see great architecture in Sukkur, Sindh.
    good work ghouri……..plz take another more step to make my Sukkur Sindh Sweet City more beautiful….thankyou……..

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