The Nineth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2007
Berkeley Prize 2007

Talha Khwaja

Throughout the ages, mankind has struggled to understand the value of its existence, and the relevance of its ideals.  I grew up in a city where I could see the devastation of man's failed attempts at life on a daily basis. Located on the southern coast of Pakistan along the Arabian Sea, Karachi is the second largest city in the world, where 32% of the population lives below the poverty line. Ethnically diverse, the city has struggled for years with over population, sectarian violence, crime and poverty.  Almost 40% of the population lives in squatter settlements, slums or on sidewalks.  

As an aspiring architect, I see the chaos of Karachi’s built environment, and the effect it has on the people who inhabit it.  Although, roughly zoned sometime in the past, the city today, has absolutely no order or organization. 

I propose a housing project.  The location is one of the many squatter settlements on the outer edge of the city.   Only by addressing the most downtrodden lives first, will the masses truly feel the arrival of change, like a public works "housing" project, funded by the government, using the unemployed residents of the “kachee abadee” areas of Karachi’s slum districts as the labor force.  

The Architectes de l’Urgence organization is definitely one that can help with a low income housing project such as this.  They have a broad mission statement that includes providing design services to people who are suffering anywhere in the world, and are also interested in preserving cultural heritage.  They are already helping with the earthquake relief effort in northern Pakistan, and therefore have some idea of the cultural climate of the country.  Their main role however, would be that of organizers.  The main creative force behind the project needs to be largely local because the idea is to use this as a starting point for a greater movement, that is not restricted to housing or architecture, but encompasses all aspects of modern existence in Pakistan, in which the people at large can finally begin to see their glorious past, and rediscover the richness of their cultural heritage.

The project would begin with research on climate, materials, and indigenous building practices, coinciding with a full blown exploration of the cultural context and history of the region.  The layout of each house would be a careful amalgamation of the characteristics of traditional Muslim architecture, like the open courtyard, the raised entry, the multipurpose spaces and local needs, like an area for growing crops, keeping livestock and a separated kitchen, so as to arrive at a design that is culturally relevant, and at the same time employs modern concepts.  The houses built would serve as models for economically viable, artistically important and culturally significant pieces of architecture, setting the stage for an era of rediscovery. Like the Renaissance used a humanist mindset to rediscover Europe's Classical roots, the leading artists and intellectuals of Pakistan would piece together the country's forgotten heritage, and forge a modern, adaptable and progressive identity.

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Talha Khwaja, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, USA
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