KARACHI: The man behind the creation of some of the most iconic buildings in Pakistan, such as the head offices of Sui Southern Gas Company, Faysal Bank, Shell House and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) campus, Habib Fida Ali passed away on Saturday morning at the age of 81.
He reportedly suffered a brain hemorrhage and was under treatment at a private hospital in Karachi. Ali was born in 1935 and was one of Pakistan’s most distinguished architects working in the modernist tradition. His experience was perhaps as grand in scope as some of the buildings he designed over the span of 40 years.
According to architect and urban planner Arif Hasan, Ali was a modernist. “His later work was minimalist and he depended very much on proportions rather than on judging things,” he said. “Fida was a giant as far as architecture is concerned.” Architects today, he said, will surely carry on Ali’s traditions.
Ali served on the master jury for the Aga Khan Awards for Architecture and received many awards for his own work. He was also a recipient of the lifetime achievement award by the Institute of Architects, Pakistan.
In his book ‘The Architecture of Habib Fida’, professor of architecture and historic preservation Hasanuddin Khan captured Ali’s work from private houses to public buildings admirably.
In 1956 Ali joined The Architectural Association, a prestigious and exclusive college in London which drew the best professors and the brightest students. The 1950s and 1960s were particularly stimulating years for literature, architecture and the performing arts. He was profoundly influenced by the writings and vision of architect Robert Venturi ‘who opposed established opinions and pointed out an alternative way forward’.
Once speaking at the Alliance Française de Karachi, Ali said that he has received some of the best design suggestions from his clients. “An architect should never think he is a supreme authority. Always keep yourself open to ideas,” he had said.
Referring to the famous Lums campus which he designed, Ali said at the same session that sometimes he had to fight with his clients. “The Lums people didn’t have a master plan for the university and the brief they gave us was not enough,” he had said and added that he travelled around the world, stopping at universities in Canada, Istanbul and Iran to see how the institutions were designed there.
Ali was also a trustee on the board of trustees of the Mohatta Palace Museum. He was given the mandate for adaptive reuse of the Mohatta Palace Museum building as a modern museum that would document and display the culture heritage of Pakistan. But when he was given the mandate, he left the board to execute the task.
Mohatta Place director Nasreen Askari told The Express Tribune that she lives in Ali’s first privately commissioned house and works in his most famous public commission, which is the Mohatta Palace Museum. She explained that after Ali returned from England where he had earned a membership at the Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (ARIBA), he designed her family house.
The famous Shell House in Karachi, according to architect Aqil Bilgrami was Ali’s first large project that brought him fame. “He was an icon and among the top architects of the country,” he said. Owner of Koel Gallery and Café, Noorjehan Bilgrami said that Ali was her mentor and she has known him since she was a teenager.
“There is no architect in the country with that aesthetic sense and refinement that Fida had,” she said, adding that Ali never compromised on his work. “Fida remained a member of Koel Gallery’s advisory committee right from the beginning,” she said.
Artist Atiqa Odho said that Ali was a great talent and has left his trademark on society as a one of a kind creator of great works. “Whenever one spent time with Habib, he enlightened them with great ideas and had a joyful presence to be around,” she said.
Ali’s funeral prayers were held at Zuhr on Saturday and his soyem will be held after Maghreb prayers at Bohri Hasni Masjid in Clifton today.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2017.
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