book on Architect Medhi Ali Mirza

Title: Pioneer of Architecture In Pakistan - Architect Mehdi Ali Mirza
Edited by: Ar. Zain Mankani & Ar. Murtuza Shikoh
ISBN: 978-969-9803-00-0
Publisher: ARCH Press
Pages: 160
Price: PKR 2,500/-

Reviewed by: Noman Ahmed

Few professionals, who played a pioneering role in the initiation and development of a professional discipline, can scale up to the stature of Mehdi Ali Mirza who laid initial foundations of architecture as a profession in Pakistan. Along with his handful of colleagues, Mirza was able to enact the educational skeleton leading to the training and development of architects in a context where the profession had very few subscribers. The foundation of the Government School of Architecture - that was the much needed facility in Karachi - became the launch ground for many worthwhile transformations and additions in the times to come. The same band of committed professionals that included the likes of A.H. Thariani, Minoo P. Mistry, R.S. Rustomjee, Khwaja Zaheeruddin, Tajuddin Bhamani and A.M. Peer Mohammad, founded the Institute of Architects Pakistan. This professional institute has since extended an invaluable platform to practicing architects in the country for professional activities of collective benefit. Thus a monograph on Mehdi Ali Mirza was a much desired effort to document and preserve the memories around the life and works of the pioneer.

The book comprises multiple types of accounts. After a short narrative by the editors, an article by Mirza on the topic of Islamic architecture is presented. Viewpoints of some eminent architects, a client and a columnist are also included. Two pieces by Prof. Kausar Bashir Ahmad and Khwaja Zaheeruddin around the legacy of Mirza and reminiscemees of deep rooted association respectively further illuminate the person and achievements of Mirza. A carefully selected profile of architectural works is neatly catalogued in the presentation. Apart from the write-ups by Mrs. Asta Mirza and Mrs. Heldi Lodhi (Mirza's daughter), there is a list of projects undertaken by Mirza as the Chief Architect of Public Works Department and as architect of a private firm.

This volume is valuable due to several considerations. It is perhaps the first concerted effort to compile, collect and illustrate the invaluable works of Mehdi Ali Mirza in a presentable form. It brings to life some of the important commissions that Mirza had worked around during his relatively short but impressive career. Many of these compositions and constructions were not known to professionals except a select group of his contemporaries. It now opens the vistas for fresh and focused scholarly works to critically analyse the pioneering feats of the master architect in the midst of a context where a miniscule section of the society had not even heard the term 'architecture'. In other words, a scholarly threshold is now created where scientific explorations based upon sound methodology of research can yield fresh perspectives. The book provides accounts penned by Mirza upon some of the projects that he authored. The narratives unveil the extraordinary challenges and constraints amidst which he struggled to implement his designs. The practicing architects of today, especially the younger generation, can draw interesting parallels between the socio-cultural milieu of yore when Mirza and his comrades were laying the base blocks of a vital professional discipline and the present where the same profession has come of age, and is fully bloomed to achieve new heights and elevations. The unbuilt design scheme of the Parliament House is a rare and most useful case study which has provided very useful information to the readership about the unrealized scheme of federal capital in Karachi. Mirza's role in the formulation of this composition and the illustration of surrounding circumstances add an important dimension to that vital chapter of our national history.

Few adjustments and modifications can add substantial value to the book. An introductory essay, captions along the images, profile notes from the living contemporaries of Mirza, detailed description of Quaid's' mausoleum competition and an epilogue are some desirable additions for the consideration of editors.