News surfaced recently that a firm in Dubai planned to build a replica of Agra’s famed Taj Mahal, only four times the size of the iconic Mughal monument!
Now something like this is not completely unexpected from a place like Dubai, which has built a map of the world in the form of artificial, reclaimed islands, a giant palm tree-shaped archipelago-cum-housing colony (which can be seen from space) as well as an indoor ski resort (in the middle of the desert). Mind you, replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids as well as the Great Wall of China will also be built in the same development as the new Taj.
There could be many reasons behind the desire to build these glitzy, unsustainable replicas of historical monuments; the vulgar display of wealth, the wish for well-heeled tourists to make a beeline towards the emirate or perhaps a love of history. Whatever it is, there is one thing that seems to be missing from the whole plan: originality.
It’s all well and good to replicate a wonder of the world built over three centuries ago, in a time when there were no computers, heavy machinery or other advanced technology to help you along in your grandiose quest. Shah Jahan and his army of labourers did a great job. So why mess with it? Why not build something original to reflect your own culture? But to be honest, our friends in Dubai are not the only ones to have built a replica of the Taj. One exists in Bangladesh, while the Chinese have also made an attempt.
Our own city is not free from this phenomenon either, but thankfully on a much, much smaller scale as compared to the rich Arabs across the pond. As a matter of fact there exists a popular buffet restaurant modelled after Delhi’s Red Fort, complete with a shamsheer-wielding, poetry-spouting Mughal prince who regales guests with his wit. To be honest, the whole experience is quite comedic. Aside from this, one has spotted various palatial houses, especially in the Defence area, that seem to have been inspired by the White House.There’s nothing wrong with imitating famous landmarks or architectural masterpieces from history. Yet perhaps the architecture of a city should ideally reflect its own history and not be a mishmash of kitsch from all over the world.
Even worse are the grey, soulless drab concrete structures that today dominate Karachi. For example taking a drive down Gulistan-i-Jauhar’s main road, especially at night, presents a dystopian look as one peers into the cavernous apartment complexes that dot the locality. It would perhaps be wishful thinking to demand that the city’s colonial masterpieces be preserved, or that new structures be built in consonance with the cultural aesthetics of the metropolis.
There’s no point really in recycling the great achievements of the past, that too in such a crass manner (as in Dubai). Perhaps the focus should be on innovation, creating new structures that will be remembered for their originality and environmental soundness, structures that are organic and earthy, yet modern and progressive in the same breath. It’s truly a challenge, especially when building structures for the masses such as apartment complexes and housing schemes, but not something impossible. After all, original architecture has a better chance of being remembered by posterity than garish, Disneyland-type photocopies of past wonders.—QAM