Pakistani architect Yawar Jilani.
What one often remembers about Bamiyan, Afghanistan, are the towering Buddhas that were felled by the Taliban in 2001. What one forgets is the beauty of the UNESCO-protected valley, its semi-mountainous terrain and rocky cliffs. On the Silk Route, Bamiyan was the confluence of diverse cultures and its architecture treads gently, respecting the land. However, given Bamyan’s war-torn present, people in these areas have little or no access to healthcare. So the Aga Khan Development Network got architect Yawar Jilani and his team at Arcop, Pakistan, to build and masterplan a hospital for women and children.
We were clear that while we wanted to embrace modernity, we also wanted to be sensitive to the terrain. The relationship to the land was important. Many people come to the hospital in carts or on donkeys. We have to keep those things in mind,” says Jilani, speaking at “Windows & Mirrors — Looking at Contemporary Architecture in South Asia”, the closing conference of the State of Architecture exhibition last month in Mumbai. Accordingly, Arcop adopted rammed earth for the external walls, in keeping with local vernacular forms, and layered courtyards with public and private areas. With a central space designed in a Persian Char Bagh style, the movement between the courts gives visitors glimpses of the mountains, a healing in itself for the locals. “The people understand the land. Architecture is secondary to the place, how could we build anything here?” says the 54-year-old.
The hospital for women and children at Bamyan.
One such was for the Momina Ismailis in Pakistan, who migrated from Gujarat nearly three generations ago. These agrarian people became the milkmen for Karachi, but it took them nearly 45 years to buy a piece of land they could call home. The Al-Azhar Garden housing in the city would give people a “sense of community, history, and pride”. The designers observed that religion, visits to the jamat khana, and gathering together was central to their way of life. The development, therefore, had courtyards, plazas, and gardens, linked by ceremonial pathways. “It took us nearly 10 years to build, and was an exercise in patience, and a belief that something good will come out of it. People still felt connected to their villages, so the 22 parks in the complex have been named after places in Gujarat,” says Jilani.
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