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Assistant Professor Farhan Karim awarded Aga Kahn Research Fellowship

Monday, November 3, 2014

Farhan Karim, Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture has received a research fellowship from the Aga Khan Foundation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the spring semester he will be at MIT continuing his research on the influence of European and American architects on the design and construction of the modernist architecture of postcolonial Pakistan.

Architecturally the period between 1947, when the United Kingdom partitioned the British Indian Empire, and 1971 when Bangladesh achieved independence was particularly productive as Western and Pakistani architects collaborated. These included architectural pioneers and city planners Louis Kahn, Paul Rudolph, Stanley Tigerman, Constantinos Doxiadis, Daniel Dunham, and others.

Their embrace of diverse influences such as ancient Islamic architecture, iconography, and regional symbolism, coupled with technology that came from America’s Cold War efforts to modernize the Third World, allowed a unique variety of architecture to flourish.

The buildings evoke an emotional bond between the geographically and culturally separate, but politically unified regions of Pakistan and East-Pakistan. The architecture of this bygone postcolonial experiment is now dispersed over vast regions of today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Last year a Graham Foundation grant allowed Karim to conduct research in almost a dozen different archives and private collections in several countries. The detailed drawings, official reports, and period photographs he discovered support case studies of 15 buildings and city plans from this period in architectural history. 

“For the first time we will be able to unfold a detailed narrative of these buildings in a historical context that is quite nuanced,” Karim said. “And, we can now see that through Kahn, Tigerman, Rudolph, and others the architecture of the West was profoundly influenced as they took their experiences in Pakistan back to their own practices.” The South Asia Institute at Harvard University has also invited Karim to give a talk on his current research. 

Karim received a Ph.D. in the history of architecture from the University of Sydney, Australia. His first book, Modernism of Austerity: Formation and Display of Ideal Home in India, 1920-1960 is scheduled for publication in 2017 from the University of Pittsburg Press.

During his stay at MIT Karim will continue working on his book, Dreaming of a Nation: Development of Modern Architecture in Postcolonial Pakistan.