KARACHI: Pretty stone buildings with stained glass windows and wooden jharokhas overlooking clean open pathways with roadside restaurants and fruit, sweets and snack kiosks. No traffic, no pollution, just a nice open space to walk or if you feel like it, sit down and relax on benches or enjoy the delicacies on the offer.
No, you are not in Europe, you are very much in Karachi; in fact, this is Burnes Road! This is how fourth year architecture students at the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture (IVSAA) changed the food street at Burnes Road, well, at least as a part of their class project, if not in reality.
The presentation given by the students here on Friday saw them working in four groups — research, transportation, facade and streetscape. The aim of the project was to redesign the Burnes Road food street that is 1km long and 72ft in width as a pleasant, vibrant and pedestrian-friendly public space while looking into aspects of environmental improvement there and without losing its flavours.
After doing much legwork for conducting surveys and taking photographs along with studying the place’s history for documentation purposes, the research group also drew comparisons with the Lahore food street as well as other Karachi buildings.
The transportation group came up with an alternative plan comprising an underpass and basement parking for the traffic that passes through the food street.
The facade group shared their observations about most of the buildings in the area being heritage buildings, some of stone and some of concrete, which had blackened due to pollution. The students noticed that somewhere the residents of these buildings had made their own interventions like, including balcony spaces into their flats by fixing wooden lattice. This, though adding to their inner-space, prevents natural light. Also many of the hoarding, signboards and banners have blocked the apartment windows’ sunlight.
What the facade group did was break down the work into three categories — buildings which needed to be washed or mechanically cleaned, buildings which needed slight renovations and buildings that needed complete remodelling. They also suggested uniform jharokhas, stained glass windows, a uniform strip for shop or restaurant signage and lamp posts which at night can also provide extra lights to the apartments above.
Taking their inspiration from the outstanding elements of Burnes Road itself, the streetscape group redesigned the street giving it a Victorian touch. Keeping in account the garbage, encroachment and other activities on footpaths and roads contributing to the congestion, haphazard parking, etc, they decided not to remove the vendors but to give them charming kiosks with wooden bases and bamboo sticks for supporting canvas canopies, which are going to be colour-coded, yellow or orange for sweets, green for spicy snacks and red for barbecued stuff.
With the traffic already diverted to the underpass, they had open space which was created into walkways lined with flower beds and planters for trees and shrubs, some of them special fragrant plants to kill stench.
They also planned dustbins — one colour for dry garbage and another for wet and also ashtrays and spittoons. For sitting, enclosures providing some privacy while eating or wrought-iron Victorian-style benches were also made a part of the plan.
Finally, technical director of Sustainable Initiatives Farhan Anwar thanked his students for the handwork they put into the project.
“Karachi has seen some work in the construction of parks, such as the Benazir Bhutto Park in Clifton, where no one goes. But we all relate to Karachi’s street culture,” he said. “When you change the environment of a place, the people, too, appreciate it and adapt to those transformations and join in taking care of these places,” he added.
Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2015