Until its bifurcation last year into Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation, Capital Development Authority (CDA) was the chief bureaucratic body, responsible for the planning and development of Pakistan’s new capital, Islamabad, since its inception in early sixties. CDA’s ordinance was issued on 14th June, 1960, under which it was to function under the direction and supervision of the Board of Governors, with Gen Yahya Khan, as its first chairman.
It is high time that the Mayor of Islamabad should raise a monument to acknowledge the contributions of those who built Pakistan’s new capital. For this phenomenal task was completed in record time
A Greek architect, Konstantinos Apostolos Doxiadis, was given the contract for the master planning of the city which was approved on October 26th, 1960. Designed on a grid iron pattern, the city was divided into modules called sectors which were self-contained units. Called Dynapolis, Islamabad’s master plan was a break from traditional town planning in which core was placed in the Center around which the city developed. The city came to life when the initial residents were shifted to its first sector, G-6/4, on October 1963, long before further housing, amenities and government buildings were constructed.
The Cabinet Division had formed a high powered committee of federal secretaries, the top brass of Pakistani bureaucracy, chaired by Cabinet Secretary, who were to examine and scrutinize all major buildings to be planned and constructed in Islamabad. As emblems of state ideologies, the designs of these buildings were carefully chosen to reflect the national character. Zahir-ud-deen Khwaja, Pakistani very first generation architect, educated at Bombay and London, was the secretary of the Committee, by virtue of his employment at CDA. He had left revealing accounts of the role of federal bureaucracy in the built history of Islamabad in his book Memoirs of an Architect.
From very early on, CDA was told by the Cabinet Committee to look for foreign architects as the Pakistani architects in the 60s were in short supply. CDA was hard pressed to invite the world renowned architects to design various important government buildings. From Louis Kahn, Gio Ponti, Arne Jacobson, Edward Durrel Stone, Marcel Breuer, Gerard Brigden, Kenzo Tange, Sir Robert Mathew and Walter Gropius, nearly all the icons of modern movement, from all over the world, were consulted by the CDA. Only few of them were successful in getting a commission, for what the foreign architects, considered a privileged opportunity, to be associated, with the making of a new capital of a World’s largest Muslim country. Some like Edward Stone were willing to undertake work for the new capital at a nominal fee. Others, Marcel Breur, of the pioneers of modern movement in architecture, who came to Pakistan for negotiation of the contract were turned down by financial wizards of CDA who found them to be expensive for the national projects.
Most of the members of Cabinet committee were drawn from Indian Civil Servants (ICS) cadre, who had served under the British Raj and acted very much like them. The members of the elite Committee were quick to summarily reject the detailed architectural plans for various world renowned architects such as Professor Louis I Khan, without offering much explanation for their opinions. The list also includes the plans submitted after months of preparation by famous architects, such as Gio Ponti and Sir Robert Mathew, by the hard boiled bureaucrats who asked them to go back to the drawing board!
The American architect, Edward Stone, was given the dream projects of all foreign architects: the President House, National Assembly, and Cabinet Secretariat. As a package deal, he was also entrusted the task of designing Islamabad’s first university, presently, Quaid-i-Azam University.
The Cabinet Secretary, N A Faruqui and the Chairman of the Committee was known for his obsession to impart Islamic ‘touch’ to the buildings in Islamabad. Out of numerous other architectural devices, dome and arches were considered the principal elements of Muslim architecture, which had to be featured in all the official buildings. Stone, as a commercially successful architect played to the whims of the client and inserted dome on the top of President House and a series of arches for the window openings, which were considered sufficient by the Pakistani bureaucrats to lend the building its Islamic character, befitting to a city named as the citadel of Islam!
With the sweat and toil of a generation of highly committed team of bureaucrat, technocrats, engineers, architects, and urban planners, and construction workers, Islamabad came to be known as the fastest built capital in the world. It is high time that Mayor of Islamabad should raise a monument to acknowledge the contributions of the capital builders of Pakistan, who had achieved this phenomenal success in creating Pakistan’s green capital in a record time, in a desert like conditions of Potohar.
The writer is an anthropologist, former Director of National College of Arts, Rawalpindi campus, currently working for the Center for Culture and Development (C2D), Islamabad & Vice President of the Council of Social Sciences.