The stunning 129-year-old Katrak Mansion in Karachi has been bought by TPL Properties to be turned into a residential-commercial property, confirmed its chairperson Jameel Yusuf. It was acquired in June 2017.
The pre-Partition mansion will not be turned into a high-rise structure but will maintain its status as a commercial-residential property. They intend to create a museum on the property as well. Yusuf told SAMAA Digital that the building’s facade would remain intact but they need to strengthen the structure. It will be a beautifully green building, he added.
The architect behind the project Yawar Jilani confirmed this. He added that the building was in a bad condition and ranked quite low on the list of declared heritage properties because of it. “We plan to restore the building from the outside and raise a new structure inside – residential apartments,” he said.
Yusuf, who is the former chairperson of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, explained that last year they had to call in a British architect to look at the building. Why wait for it to turn to dust, he asked, when it can be repurposed. It must also make economic sense to develop the property, he said.
“The British architect, who is still working with us on the project, saw the property, deliberated over it and showed us how to repurpose it. He showed us how the same is done in other countries,” he said. Abroad, the state usually buys up heritage buildings but over here, the state doesn’t have money, explained Yusuf. “When the commissioner wanted to put lights and fake flowers on the balconies, we told him to do it at his own risk as the building is fragile,” he added.Once the plan was done, it took the technical committee of the Sindh government’s advisory committee on heritage nearly a year to sign off. It still has to be approved by the chief secretary and Sindh Building Control Authority.
Katrak Mansion, believed to be originally owned by a Parsi businessman Homi Katrak, is located on the crossing of Abdullah Haroon Road (Victoria Road) and Hochand Road (Hochand Nadir Eduljee Dinshaw, who was the president of the central boards of directors of the National Bank of Pakistan). This area is designated as a cultural zone but is now surrounded by newly built high rises.
The area is important for its cultural heritage. It has colonial structures such as Frere Hall, and colonial privately owned bungalows along with the modern heritage of Richard Neutra’s American Embassy building.
According to architect Marvi Mazhar, who also works in restoration, Civil Lines and Railway Quarter dynamics have aggressively changed in the last few years, going from a low density to high density zone.
She pointed out that Katrak Mansion is special for its architectural form: a mixed used, curved corner building with special elements such as an internal courtyard. Residences faced the courtyard while shops were located on the outside. It housed the Ziggurat Art Gallery and Niyazdin & Sons Ext 1930 Tailors and Outfitters. This tailoring shop was meant for upmarket customers and was one of the most famous places of its time. There was a wooden handicraft, furniture shop inside the courtyard.
“When we talk about design and architectural identity, research and study of these heritage buildings give us guidelines,” she wrote in a note on the building for SAMAA Digital. The internal courtyard, for example, is an example of design from a period of socially conscious ethical architecture for apartment buildings. It was the idea of built versus significant open internal verandah.