(26 Dec 2015) LEAD-IN:
The architetural treasures of Karachi's colonial era buildings are falling into disrepair.
Now the fight is on to save these historical buildings but property developers are less sympathetic about their plight, eyeing the value in the real estate for modern high-rise developments.
This beautiful building is falling into disrepair.
Shafquat House in downtown Karachi in Pakistan is one of many such buildings that are in desperate need of some attention, otherwise they could be lost forever.
Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi is steeped in history, and is a veritable treasure trove of historical landmarks and heritage sites like this.
The architecture and buildings, particularly in the old town centre, are full of colonial era structures.
But instead of being preserved as part of the city's rich cultural heritage, the majority of these majestic structures have been allowed to fall into a state of absolute disrepair.
Decades of neglect have resulted in some heritage sites reduced to abandoned structures.
"A sizable number of these buildings are getting dilapidated. And in many cases, the residents themselves are not taking any kind of interest in their restoration. And there are multiple reasons for that. In many cases, the buildings that we have identified, they actually exist in places where the land values have increased tremendously. And as a consequence, the owners and occupants are of the view that if these buildings are allowed to deteriorate and completely get demolished, then maybe, there will be a time, when they will be able to get them removed and construct new high-rise, high-density structures, which will be more lucrative and rewarding for them," says Dr Noman Ahmed, Chairman, Department of Architecture & Planning, Nadirshaw Eduljee Dinshaw (NED) University of Engineering & Technology, Karachi.
Environmental degradation has also impacted these historical monuments. The high levels of atmospheric pollution, smog, and the proximity to the sea, as well environmentally damaging local industry have all contributed to their downfall.
Yasmeen Lari, who runs the Heritage Foundation, is a champion of Karachi's historical sites.
According to her, environmental factors as well as the greed of not only government officials but building owners have also resulted in the slow erosion and sometimes overnight demolition of such structures.
"So, I think, all the politicians have to be very mindful. And unless they are mindful, I feel, they are… either they make them into touristic attractions, so they destroy heritage from that point of view, because rather than keeping the authenticity and integrity of the structure, they start making them modern, or making them look new, which is, again, not the thing to be done. So, there is a lot of awareness that we have to bring about among our politicians, among the general public. And most of all, I feel, we have to empower people to tell them that look, you can also save your structure that is right down the road," says Yasmeen Lari, the Chair & CE, Heritage Foundation.
Her organisation has helped to catalogue Karachi's architectural legacy and has published a list of 600 structures that should be listed as heritage sites.
They were also able to get a law enacted that prohibits destruction and demolition of such buildings. The law builds upon a British era antiquities law that safeguards such structures.
Yet, according to experts, buildings and structures are sometimes de-notified to facilitate demolition and replacement by high-rises.
Nonetheless, the antiquities department has taken steps to preserve the culture and heritage of Karachi. Over a thousand more structures have been added to the initial list of 600.
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