In November 2016, I signed up for a project, which I now consider to be one of the best experiences of my Architectural and photography journey. The Goethe Insitut hired me as a photographer for their Project called ‘Urbanities’. Although it started out as a photography assignment, but it turned out to be an exceptional architectural learning experience.
To give you a brief introduction, the German-Spanish collective zoohaus were invited by the Goethe-Institut to carry out an investigative and constructive research of urban informal design practices and collective traditional technologies in Karachi as part of “Urbanities – art and public space in Pakistan”.
Represented by the Spanish architects and social designers Juan Chacón Gragera und David Cardenas Lorenzo, the collective continues their series Inteligencias Colectivas, an open online platform and free database.
During their second stay at the end of November, zoohaus focused on Pakistan Chowk, a landmark heritage public space of Karachi. In collaboration with Pakistani architecture and heritage consultant office Marvi Mazhar & Associates, who conducted a rehabilitation project in the historically quarter, zoohaus constructed an urban furniture using informal design practices and local techniques which they have discovered and studied during their earlier stay, to come to use by the community and local stakeholders.
This is a pictorial story of the four days we worked together. There is so so much to show and write, that I shall be writing 3 posts, and this perhaps is post one. You can keep following the story as it evolves, and give us feedback. I am sure, everyone in this project would be very pleased to hear from everyone of you.
Loads of Love.
Project Urbanities Day One
My friend Zoya was looking for a photographer who could be available all the time, I on the other hand was fairly free, because I was not working, so I signed up for this project. She graciously got me in touch with David and Juan on whatsapp, and we were all set to start working together.
I was very nervous, when I reached Pakistan Chowk, not sure what to expect, and then I saw two smiling faces coming towards me. After greeting me at the entrance, David and Juan told me that the three of us needed to go to Garden where the Iron workshop was. David then took me to the site and explained me the design. The work had already begun.
The block work for the base was going pretty smoothly. The Labor was given instructions and then, David, Juan and I took a rickshaw and left for garden. It was a long ride. I hadn’t been to garden in a long time so I had to get the help of a google map. For those of you who don’t know what garden is, it is one of the neighborhoods of Saddar in Karachi. It is where the famous Karachi Zoo is.
I have to be very honest here, there have not been many incidents in my life where I am the only woman in a street like this. It was perhaps one of the first. Keeping the Pakistani culture in context, the men in those streets didn’t see many women with cameras either. But I did not feel unsafe or alarmed. I had a wonderful time.
The area is famous for steel and iron works; automobile workshops and decor stores. This street in particular had workshops for heavy vehicle repair work and truck art.
To my surprise David knew the way already, so we didn’t really have a lot of problem. We walked in between streets to get to the workshop called ‘Kashif Silencer Maker‘.
Kashif Silencer Maker was pretty impressive itself. They made automobile parts, generator’s mufflers, diesel tanks and silencer pipes, in fact all type of iron/steel pipes. and that was pretty evident from their workshop. Pipes, Pipes, EVERYWHERE! The owners were amazing people. It was run by a father and his sons. Kashif, one of the sons and after whom the workshop was named, however was handling our order.
I also met another architect, his name was Ali Raza. He was a Dawood University graduate and was currently working with Marvi Mazhar Associates. He had been helping David and Juan with the project management.
David and Juan ordered Iron pipes for their design with Ali, from Kashif Silencer Maker, a day before I joined. The Iron pipes were almost complete and they were discussing the costing. They had to clear the dues of Kashif and also plan for the days to come.
The pipes were bended angular and welded together, as per the architects design. David and Juan had to make a sample to teach the blacksmith how to make them. The blacksmiths was skillful and hard working; but they lacked knowledge of mathematically calculating the angles. The pipes however, were perfectly done.
The edges of the pipes were then caped as per the design’s need. The task took 3 hours.
One thing that really disturbed me was the lack of precautions. There were no safety measure for the people working in the workshops. They worked bare-handed, wore no helmets or goggles, and had no set way of doing such dangerous tasks. Upon inquiring, the owner told me that he tried setting up a code of working, but they wouldn’t follow it, because nobody in the whole area or even Pakistan does. Eventually they started working like every other workshop in the area.
While we worked, countless people came up to us and asked us what we were doing. They were in awe about how easily two foreigners were roaming around and trying to build something for Pakistan. With the whole terrorism and international media, they hadn’t seen them in a long while. I could sense their joy and curiosity. They would ask questions and help as much as they could, and told us tales of how 10 years ago, foreigners used to love Pakistan.
This is one of the few projects when people from other countries, worked on a ground level with the Pakistanis. It is difficult to build something in a foreign land, whose language you don’t speak, and their culture is very different to yours. Juan and David has worked in several projects like these in different countries in their initiative Inteligencias Colectivas.
While the iron pipe capping was still in progress, I went inside the workshop of ‘Kashif Silencer Maker’, to see and photograph the place and how people work.
One of the workers graciously took me with him inside the workshop. My first expression was literally ‘Oh My God’. It was dark and dingy, and there were pipes at every inch of space. He had to make space for us to walk.
The heavy machinery was the kind which makes you dizzy if you start imagining the horrors of things going wrong or If you have watched too much of ‘Final Destination’ (Just like I did!).
The workers were very cheerful. They thought I was a renowned journalist, so we had a group selfie and a solo one (which he said, he’ll show it to his wife) although I consistently kept telling them I was not but I had to keep the happy sentiment. They, then posed for pictures with their machinery, telling me stories of their work.
I felt that they were very proud of what they were, I felt a sense of satisfaction. Some of them showed me what they made, boosting about trying something new or completing the orders way before time. The conversations were beautiful.
As soon as I came out of the workshop, David and Juan were testing their rubber tie’s, which weren’t working out. They asked me to translate the kind of rubber tie they needed for their pipes to hold together. The translation part was always fun.
After everything was going on fine, we set out to find a man who does truck art. We went to their workshop, and waited for Haider Ali, who is also C.E.O of the famous Phool Patti.
Haider Ali is an international Truck Artist and teaches truck art internationally. He has created several kinds of designs with a fusion of western designs and Pakistani folk designs that you can see all over Karachi as well.
Phool Patti is an independent social enterprise and Social entrepreneur Project, working to promote Pakistani Truck Art around the world. It is committed to the preservation of the unique from of folk art, which has originated in Pakistan only.
Meanwhile David, Juan and Ali, solved the problems that were on-site and planned for the next day.
As part of the design, David and Juan wanted to have white panels with truck art, and also get the iron pipes painted red. So we needed the painter to be on the site early the next day.
Truck art is a popular form of art in the south asia, where the truck owners paint their trucks in bold and conspicuous colours using patterns which may include florals and poetic calligraphy.
We finally found ourselves a painter and an artist! Everything was in control. Painting job needed to start tomorrow.
At the end of the day, we did a photography session. (Just a little)
Oh I forgot to tell.
David is the one on the left, and Juan is on the right.
^I love this picture, but David thinks the colours are too bright. it’s okay.
I love these two.
And This is Ali, who by the end of the day, became a really good friend. He is the kind of person who can find and do anything.
The final picture before day one ended. Ali and I left for home around 7 pm, but David and Juan made sure everything was completed and stayed at Garden till 9 pm. Every thing was under control and going well.