KARACHI: Speakers at the first day of an international conference highlighted various aspects of architecture and observed that the architecture in the country reflected its pluralism.

The two-day conference having the theme ‘Pluralism in architecture of South Asia and other regions’ was organised by the Department of Architecture and Planning (DAP) of NED University opened at the Beach Luxury Hotel on Friday afternoon.

Prof Dr Suna Guven of the Department of Architecture, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, delivered the keynote address titled ‘Negotiating architectural fraternity and change’.

In a presentation carrying images that appeared on the screen on stage she began by narrating a story. She said on a gloomy day earlier this February, several thousand people flowed into the open space in front of Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque in Famagusta, Northern Cyprus — people not just from Famagusta, but other towns and villages of the country. “Eyes were teary and the air was heavy, like lead. Despite the moving crowd, no talking was heard. The only sound was that of intermittent muffled sobs and cries. For the casual onlooker, the resplendent Gothic façade might suggest a locale in France.

“Contrary to what one might expect at first glance, the sight [shown in the image] is not in western Europe nor are people gathered there of Christian faith. This is a mosque converted from a medieval cathedral St Nicholas when the Ottomans took over Cyprus. The façade had largely been retained.”

She said additions were later made to the structure for Islamic worship. For five centuries the Islamic function of the building has been in uninterrupted daily use. Today, Muslim men and women continue to pray under the same Gothic ceiling of the converted mosque and do not have any qualms.

Dr Guven said the people in the crowd that had congregated in the open space were mostly Muslims. “They were all there united bidding farewell to the departed souls of the school volleyball team that had tragically perished in the devastating earthquake in south eastern Turkey.”

She said her aim was to highlight the significance of place because what’s unusual in that case was not the communal cohesion but the setting which became the stage for that cohesion. Pointing out the architectural significance of the episode she remarked, “For me one of the powerful expressions of architecture resides in the capacity of any building to endure change… Pluralism is a mindset that allows the cohabitation of hybrid forms of memory known to accommodate difference.”

She added architecture had the capacity to act as the repository of memory.

Sindh Higher Education Commission chairman Dr Tariq Rafi was the guest of honour. He appreciated the keynote speech and said that architecture in Pakistan was a testament to its pluralism. It has influences of brotherly countries such as Turkiye.

The Consul General of Turkiye in Karachi, Dr Cemal Sangu was the chief guest. He acknowledged the organisers effort in putting up the conference and said his country had architectural works dating back to the Greek and Byzantine periods to modern times.

In his presidential address, Vice Chancellor of the NED University Dr Sarosh Hashmat Lodi said every time he interacted with students and teachers of architecture, he got to learn something new. On the theme of the moot, he commented, pluralism is about inclusion and tolerance.

Earlier, in her welcome address the chairperson of the DAP-NED, Prof Dr Anila Naeem said the theme of the conference in the course of two days would be discussed with a diverse range of approaches. She told the audience, which largely constituted of students, that 11 papers are included in the conference for presentation.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2023

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