Nayyar Ali Dada, renowned Architect, is the first and so far the only Architect from Pakistan to have received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (1998). He has also been honoured with the President’s Pride of Performance Award in 1992. He heads the firm Nayyar Ali Dada & Associates in Lahore.
He was born Nayyar Ali Zaidi in 1945 in Delhi, India. “Dada”, a commonly recognized last name, was given to him by a teacher for his exceptional drawing and painting skills.
In an interview Nayyar Ali Dada shared his overview and opinions regarding the architecture profession in Pakistan today.
Historical Architecture and Preservation
The Archeology Department has done substantial work. We proposed and pushed for a Preservation Act in Gen. Jillani’s time, but sadly it was never promulgated by the Government of Punjab. We have a Conservation Society which has listed buildings in Lahore that need instant attention and those that form our heritage; but a lot more needs to be done. Meanwhile we have lost a lot of our cultural heritage, and will be losing more if these circumstances persist.
The Lahore Master Plan
Lahore has never had a proper Master Plan. Nespak did prepare a Master Plan some years ago, but it was not implemented, and now needs to be updated. Urban development has, unfortunately, continued to take place, but not following a plan and not involving the relevant people in key decision-making. Consequently, there is no concept of zoning, no consideration for sanitation, traffic, area development, whatever.
How would you define Architecture?
NAD: (In this country) it is generally considered as another technocratic field, such as structural engineering. The technical aspect is important; architecture, however, involves itself in relating design to the site and its surroundings, the region’s users and also the socio-politics of the area.
This profession is the art of dealing with a built space, which you craft with whatever technology you may choose, fulfilling the purpose for which it is built. A building is supposed to ‘sit ‘there at that time; it has to relate to the continuity of the past into the present, not just ‘fall from the sky’ and, at the same time, it must continue to belong to the moving times of the future. A building that is Modern today may be the heritage of tomorrow. It should not get outdated in three years, like a trend in fashion clothing. Since a lot of money is usually at stake, this is a serious and difficult business. That is why very few buildings are examples of successful architecture.
Building design is getting more and more difficult to deal with. Design is a process of validation where you keep searching for a meaningful, creative solution, adopting from the known vocabulary of forms and features, and adapting these to the needs of a changing society.
Architecture should not be confused with sculpture, for one’s pleasure. It has a serious purpose and must respond to the needs of its users. You may produce a creative fantasy, but you cannot ignore the purpose for which it is built.
I therefore feel that an architect owes a great responsibility towards the community in which he works. Our quality of life depends on the architecture around us. We are all consumers of space and the built environment, be it for leisure, learning, thinking, or residing. By the same reasoning, unsuitable or poor architecture obviously has an adverse effect on the quality of life. Half of the reason behind bad traffic, pollution and other environmental evils is due to bad architecture and planning.
There is a common thread that connects all your projects. How would you describe your design style?
NAD: I do not have a conscious style. About the Alhamra Arts Council, Lahore, people generally ask if I was inspired by the tomb of Shah Rukn-i-Alam in Multan. It could have been in my subconscious, as I greatly admire that building. However, the geometry and tapering walls of the Alhamra resulted from an analysis of its functions. They are highly suited to sound and vision. Any regional feeling in its architectural character is purely a coincidence.
People often say that they can recognize my buildings. I feel that there cannot be a set of simple rules in these fast-moving times. One has to adapt rapidly to change as it occurs and, over my lifetime, I too have adapted.
One of my recent projects is the Expo Centre at Johar Town, Lahore. The exhibition halls are high-tech buildings: Pre-engineered and prefabricated metal structures. Between these modern structures sits the Convention Centre, which is totally different. This building is not high- tech modern. Rather, it evokes a regional Identity in its materials and form.