Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Importance of historical buildings is multidimensional. These buildings help us understand the people and culture that produced them. They also have architectural, aesthetic, historic, documentary, archaeological, economic, social and even symbolic values .
The first impact which any historic building gives is always an emotional one, for it is a symbol of our cultural identity, continuity and a part of our heritage. If it has survived the hazards and onslaught for "70 years (or above), it has good claim to being called historic,” says the law of land. Standing on bleared table in Multan Services Club with my old buddies, I could not help thinking of the message and a complexity of ideas that seem encircling the ornate building of the club.
During the last fifty two years, sadly, the destruction of historic buildings, urban cultural property and distortion of historic signs have occurred at an unprecedented scale. Due to the pursuit of quick profits and inordinately large returns by a few and through the indiscriminate use of valuable urban spaces and structures, many humanizing features of our cities have been irrevocably lost.
In the garb of modernization, through the use of the dreaded bulldozer, many a valuable historic and much loved buildings have been atomised by one more anonymous multi-storey structure, our city districts, once conducive to human interaction and civilizing influence, have been converted into unfriendly, concrete jungles. A fraction of the blame for the violence, increasing brutalisation of society and diminishing respect for human values and human life -- witnessed in the last couple of decades -- must be laid at the door of today's harsh and anonymous environment of our cities. An example of the "misuse" of city space: once upon a time there were eight mango orchards within the municipal limits of Multan. Today, there is none.
But the spanking new look of the old building of Multan Services Club is one of the finest example of the heritage conservation, technical expertise of the architects and devotion of the users to keep the symbol of our past in its original shape.
The Services Club, standing in wide and lush green lawns, looks straight out of the storybook. The building is a strange combination of horizontal emphasis and curvatures: surprisingly original in style. Four sizes of domes have been used. One in the centre of the plan being the largest and the ones set between the cluster of five domes the smallest. Two domes set on the corners of front are larger than the smallest ones but smaller than the other two sizes. The domes seem to have been influenced by Buddhist stupas. Largest dome has lantern like kiosk, painted in red, in place of a pinnacle.
Amir of Bahawalpur got this edifice built in late nineteenth century as a symbol of his entry into the city of Multan. The structure originally was a classic baradari. In the well-lit and airy interior, at least two successive Amirs of Bahawalpur would have spent their time: getting the glimpse of Multan through its windows while contemplating their strategic move to consolidate their gains.
Early in the 1920s, one of the well-established Multani family owned the building before it was acquired by the British army for use as Officers Club for the new founded Multan Cantonment, the role that the building is serving till today. Only the passing years kept changing the face of this gem in the history of Multan. The British officers, oblivious of the heritage of one of the oldest living city of the world, added an ungraceful hall on one side of the building to serve as a dance chamber and bar. Moreover, repairs that took place in those days were of the makeshift type, without any attention to the conservation of the structure. Cracks were merely hidden, and dampness coated with whitewash.
In the past few decades, ground water began eating at the foundations of this splendid building. This was compounded by cracks in the domes that started collecting rainwater. Owing to these cracks, the outer walls also began to slant outward, splitting the roof of the verandahs.
After deliberate planning (series of presentations and briefings), the task of conservation was given to Mr. and Mrs. Qurashi; Lahore based architects who were then completing their assignment of Multan Arts Council. They did a fine job using original material of the building and keeping it in its actual shape as far as possible. The architects have certainly added years to the life of this historic building, which is serving as a very restful facility.
One sincerely wishes, that the Auqaf Department, Archaeology Department, city development agencies and modern developers all over the country start appreciating the importance of national heritage. Only then they can plan to conserve bits and pieces of our history we are poised to loose forever. All is not lost still. Though, this has not started happening yet.
posted by S A J Shirazi @ 9:30 AM,
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