IT?S a setting pretty much out of the famous Ayn Rand book, The Fountainhead. There?s an architect?s office located in an old, two-storey structure. Maps are rolled out on desks, with rulers and finely sharpened pencils lying alongside them. Apart from being a workplace, there are people residing in a few flats that exist in this gorgeous building: Edward House in Karachi.
The building has fine massing, striking balcony-like projections and a nice central tower. It?s more than apparent that Edward House is affected by the dissonance that you can experience on the main road on one of whose sides this lovely work of stonemasonry stands. The irony is that despite the rather defaced walls, its wooden staircase, the flooring, the fairly spacious rooms and the doors that for sure open into a time zone when life didn?t move at breakneck speed, make you feel affection for this almost a century-old piece of construction.
Those who are familiar with Karachi?s history will tell you that there was a period when Edward House on Victoria Road (today?s Abdullah Haroon Road) was a jazzy place.There used to be a ritzy cafe frequented by the cr?me de la cr?me of the city. The stuff that it specialised in was to-die-for, and a certain Mr Herbert Cumper was chiefly responsible for it. He was a celebrated baker and confectioner. Besides running Caf? Grand in Edward House, Mr Cumper offered quality catering services for wedding ceremonies and other social gatherings.
Edward House was built in 1910, and it was in the second decade of the 20th century that Mr Cumper arrived in Karachi and earned recognition for his confectionary talent.
The Victoria Mansion adjoining Edward House is no insignificant site either. It also typifies the era when elegant architecture was deemed just as important for city life as peaceful coexistence for its denizens.
Arif Saleem, who works at the chartered architects office housed in Edward House says: ?Since we?re in the business of construction and interior designing, we are aware how beautiful the building is. I?ve been working here for the last 28 years, and things have changed a lot. The photocopier that you see on the ground floor next to the stairs wasn?t originally there. There were other ?interesting? stores, par ticularly in the late ?70s.? The artist behind Edward House was Moses Somake. Yes, the same man who came up with brilliant structural designs like the BVS School, the Goan-Portuguese Hall and the Mules Mansion. Unlike his other achievements, Edward House?s design is of a hybrid nature. The fa?ade is simple in character but attractive nonetheless. It has strong stone detailing and rusticated masonry. The balustrading on the roof once made it look a tad taller, but the air and noise pollution stuffing the at mosphere around the structure makes you almost forgetful of its top level. You can?t crane your neck to look up, because the traffic is nonstop and the noise is deafening. If you dare to lift your head you?ll have to put up with a crick in the neck. Mr Somake, we appreciate your effort, but Karachi is no more the town you wanted to strew with imaginative buildings.
Architect Yasmeen Lari says, ?Edward House is a beauty that has never been restored or renovated. Its fa?ade needs to be cleaned at the earliest because the stone used in its makeup has become really dirty. I don?t know what the problem is, but we must realise that such historic edifices belong to all of us. It?s our collective responsibility to take care of them.
?The trouble with Edward House is that pollution has eaten away the patina. Vehicular emission is a killer for stonemasonry, because it causes the stone to disintegrate. Such old constructions must be kept clean, that?s how they last. In order to ensure their preservation traffic must be diverted from areas where these structures exist. I think there should be more plantation and less automobiles in the Saddar precinct. Also, care must be taken to avoid water seepage,? says Ms Lari.
The renowned architect is not just worried about Edward House and the Victoria Mansion. She says out of the nearly 600 heritage sites, between 20 and 30 have been, or are, cleaned. The rest are just withering away.
This is an alarming situation. How can we allow our heritage to fade away? How can we let the creative genius of people like James Staratchan and Moses Somake go to waste?
It?s not certain whether Moses Somake designed the Victoria Mansion; however the mansion?s fa?ade too has the fenestration similar to Edward House. Its Ionic columns and carved balusters on the roof are also worth mentioning. And both structures have one common enemy: pollution. ?Writer : email@example.com