Published Mar 28, 2018 07:07am

‘Collapsing Calcutta House could be restored’

Shazia Hasan

KARACHI: Architect, architectural historian and heritage conservationist Yasmeen Lari addressed a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday to talk about the Calcutta House in Ranchhore Line, a part of which collapsed recently displacing some 18 families.

Organised by Heritage Foundation Pakistan (HFP) in collaboration with Starlinks PR & Events, the press conference also raised awareness about the 500 or so other historic structures that are on the verge of collapse and are falling prey to the building mafia.

“There were many historic buildings here which collapsed due to negligence back in the 1980s,” said Ms Lari, who is also the chairperson of HFP.

Expert says about 500 historic buildings in Karachi on verge of collapse

“Then the Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act, 1994 came about and many such buildings were notified as heritage sites. By 2010 these were said to be 1,500 in number,” she added, saying this is not so big a number when compared to other cities of the world.

She said that as the security situation in Karachi was improving the old buildings here were collapsing or being demolished in favour of new multistorey structures. But, she said that the old buildings were environmentally-friendly and much needed for a low-carbon city.

About Calcutta House, she said that even though a portion of it had collapsed it could still be restored.

“Our architects and engineers have surveyed the place and they can save it. And it won’t even cost a lot. The structures of these buildings are very strong,” she said.

Ms Lari also added that during their survey, HFP also came across almost 10 more buildings that are being labelled as dangerous for living.

“Builders scare the residents by telling them that they are living in a dangerous building which may collapse at any time and offer them peanuts for their property. Then they demolish it to build a multistorey building,” she said.

“Our city has a distinct character thanks to heritage buildings. It will die if there are no such buildings left,” she said.

“We sent our research and report to the culture department. Surprisingly, they were not aware of all this and what had happened to Calcutta House. They have also offered to help in whatever way that they can to save these historical sites,” she said, adding that they were not looking towards the government for funds. “This city has a big heart. We can raise the funds ourselves,” she said.

MPA Samar Ali Khan, also present on the occasion, said that Sindh is blessed with several historic buildings and not just in Karachi but Hyderabad and Shikarpur, too.

“If we can relocate an entire building such as the Nusserwanjee Building from its original spot, restoring structures is not difficult,” he said.

“All over the world people preserve their historical architecture as assets. Sadly, many of us here have become too commercial.”

Shanaz Ramzi, CEO of Starlinks, suggested that a citizens’ heritage committee be formed to serve as a watchdog. “The group can report any wrongdoing to the government,” she said.

Finally, Ms Lari said that 50 per cent of the buildings notified under the Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act, 1994, were under threat owing to new development and approvals by the Sindh Heritage Advisory Committee.

She recommended that the government should ensure that notified buildings should not be demolished for want of funding, Sindh heritage advisory committee members be replaced, private persons should not be allowed to be on the committee for more than two years or two terms, notified buildings should be replaced by buildings with the same number of floors, the media should publish details of buildings under threat and the first priority should be to prevent collapse of endangered buildings.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2018

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