THATTA: Chounras, the quakeproof and flood-resistant houses — designed by Pakistan’s internationally acclaimed first woman architect Yasmeen Lari — are being damaged by vagabonds who are out to take away the bamboos, mats and other items used in their construction at Makli Necropolis.
A small number of chounras have been built as a model for a large cluster of houses meant for the families that may be rendered homeless by some natural disaster, like an earthquake or flood, and immediately need shelter until being permanently rehabilitated.
Yasmeen Lari, who has turned 82 this year, has spent decades of her life working on architectural designs and executing projects of heritage preservation sites. She has already won the prestigious Jane Drew Prize in London and Nishan-i-Imtiaz, and has been nominated for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for its 2023 Gold Medal.
Ms Lari, currently running the Heritage Foundation Pakistan which she has founded, had recommended the construction of chounras — the cross-braced bamboo frameworks with walls and roofs covered with mats, mud and lime — to serve as quake-proof and flood-resistant houses.
The model houses are being built at the Makli Necropolis — world’s second-largest heritage site.
Archaeology department having office next to the site fails to keep a check on intruders
Unfortunately, the authorities concerned have not been able to ensure security at the heritage site. People living around the necropolis tend to grab small pieces of the graveyard’s lands either for the expansion of their houses, shops and other structures or enjoy gatherings.
Vagabonds take advantage of such activities by taking away the carved stones of graves and tombs not knowing their historical importance.
A recent visit to the chounras models site shocked this reporter as several of them had been damaged and the construction material used in them taken away. The happening must be much more shocking for the great architect, Yasmeen Lari, who might not have expected the authorities concerned to be so naive to have ensured the protection of the models, as well as the monuments and artefacts present there.
The irony of fact is that the archaeology department could not prevent anyone from damaging the models or stealing their material despite having its office next to the site.
Another thing that astonishes stakeholders and heritage-lovers is that the work for completing the models had been stopped several months ago although there seems to be no issue of funds.
Historian and Archaeologist Dr Mohammad Ali Manjhi, author of many books Obhayo Khan Khushik and other such experts have expressed their grave concern over the situation and urged the authorities concerned to ensure proper security at the entire heritage site.
Speaking to Dawn, they said the design of the chounras resembled the thatched houses found only in Tharparkar but architect Yaseen Lari used her expertise in making them quakeproof and flood-resistant.
They said the government should also arrange for guides and translators with the ability to interact with foreigners so that they could apprise them of the historical facts about the necropolis and explain the issues being faced to preserve and protect it.
Commenting on the models, they said tourists and experts would also have an opportunity now to see the chounras models here at the Makli Necropolis which otherwise existed only in the far-off desert region of Tharparkar.
Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2023