Harvard professor recalls legacy of Islamabad master planner Doxiadis

Published February 27, 2019
PROF Spiro Pollalis gives the presentation at the Mohatta Palace on Tuesday.
—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
PROF Spiro Pollalis gives the presentation at the Mohatta Palace on Tuesday. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: The legacy of architect and urban planner Constantinos A. Doxiadis, who planned Islamabad in the late 1950s, was dissected by Harvard professor Spiro Pollalis at the Mohatta Palace on Tuesday.

All of the architectural projects of Doxiadis were practical applications of the theory of ekistics, which is rooted in urban planning philosophy and concerns the science of human settlements, including regional, city, community planning and dwelling design.

In the presentation given by Prof Pollalis, it was shared that Doxiadis believed that “we are building the wrong cities for the future, wasting and spoiling natural resources and allowing man to lose his importance inside the cities due to traffic and pollution. The cities of the future will be extra-human in dimension, therefore our task is to create them as a web of many communities with human dimensions”.

Doxiadis had said: “Elements of contemporary cities, including transportation, zoning and communication, were no longer in balance. Cities were losing the human scale and were no longer satisfactory for their inhabitants. As a result, people suffered in cities that were too large, crowded and noisy, and that exacted too much damage on the surrounding natural environment.”

Prof Pollalis says Doxiadis proposed climate-friendly techniques for houses to withstand Karachi’s intense heat

And so he had used the same premise in his planning of Islamabad and Karachi, including many other cities around the work, said Prof Pollalis.

“Islamabad was a project by Doxiadis that worked pretty well; also because it was the capital so a lot of money and effort were put into it,” said Prof Pollalis.

“This success is evident from the present quality of life in Islamabad and the satisfaction expressed by the people who live and work there and by the wish of others to reside in the new city, in different sectors developed as planned by Doxiadis. Islamabad is a ‘unique’ example of a large new city ‘planned for the future and built for the present’, fully respecting the long-term planning.”

Korangi master plan

Doxiadis also worked in Karachi in Korangi and master plans drawn up by him were also shared by Prof Pollalis.

“The Korangi master plan is part of the Great Karachi Resettlement Plan conducted by Doxiadis in 1958. The scope of the master plan was to accommodate thousands of refugees from India and internal migrants living in slums across Karachi under terrible and unhealthy conditions which were obstructing the smooth operation of the city. Basically deal with the problems of the shelterless,” he said.

According to statistics shared, there were 120,000 shelterless families, 30,000 families living in permanent houses under high and unacceptable densities, and 150,000 houses required.

Prof Pollalis said: “The vision of Doxiadis in Korangi was to have a variety of incomes, a safety net for many different economic classes, and have residential areas distributed not in a random way but with a purpose; basically to create a self-sufficient community in Korangi for the rich and the poor and each community should be able to function independently providing opportunities of employment to the inhabitants within their boundaries.”

For Korangi, Doxiadis proposed standardised types of houses. For low-income families an affordable house with one room and the necessary auxiliary spaces was proposed. “[The] Doxiadis Associates proposed climate-friendly techniques [for] houses to withstand Karachi’s intense heat. They used features from old South Asian homes, many of which were surrounded by verandas, or covered porches, and were installed with screens that kept the brutal sun and monsoon rains away from the walls,” explained Prof Pollalis.

Why did the master plans in Korangi fail then? “Because of lack of implementation,” he asked and answered.

“Doxiadis from his early visits on site noticed that things were not going well; there was a lack of infrastructure, community centres were not developed, and illegal shops and structures begun occupying public space. He was disappointed by the simple planning, which has only led to vast space, which was supposed to become the heart of the city, to remain in full waste.”

Prof Pollalis shared images of the very detailed travel diaries of Doxiadis with black-and-white photographs that not just documented his work, but also expressed his disappointment with the project’s implementation. The resettlement programme in Korangi soon failed financially and socially and by 1964 was abandoned and shut down.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2019

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