Evolution has been unstoppable since the creation of the universe. From monolithic to paleolithic to Neolithic, all the way to the 21st century that we are living in today, evolution and transformation of ideas, lifestyle, technology, etc. has been prevalent and significant. Pakistan is home to a thousand heritages, including that of the Neolithic period and the earliest civilizations that flourished alongside the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, however, disregarded and ignored it is, by the world. The roots sink further as we immerse ourselves into the oceans of the past. Through art and architecture in Pakistan, it has preserved its culture, heritage, and identity.

Sharing the same historical and architectural trends as India, Pakistan got distinguished as a separate nation that led to the division of heritages as well in 1947. Comprising many UNESCO sites like Mehrgarh, Mohenjo Daro, and Harappa, the country has a well-kept catalog of a millennium, including the Persian invasion, Aryan invasion, Mughal empire, British East India Company/British raj colonization, Sikh empire, modern architectural movements, etc. The old Hindu temples, Sikh Gurdwaras, Mughal gardens, forts and masjids, Indo-Saracenic buildings, colonial buildings, and works of modern architects who embraced the legacy of modern movements practiced in the west, can be visited here. The timeline below shows in detail what treasure Pakistan has hidden in its heart.

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Architecture in Pakistan-UNESCO World Heritage map of Pakistan; Source: ©unesco.org.pk
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Architecture in Pakistan ©Evolution of Pakistan’s heritage & architecture timeline

Some of the early structures inspiring the modern style buildings today are listed below chronologically.

1. Gandhara civilization (current day: Taxila) – 1st millennium BC to 11c. AD | Architecture in Pakistan

The study of the Gandhara culture projects the presence of Indo-Greco elements in forthcoming architectural heritages. The artwork supported by Buddhist Stupas with Greek representation of Buddha. Today, much of its ruins rest as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Taxila. Another famous heritage alongside Harappa, etc. is a Buddhist monastery of 1st century AD, Takht-i-Bhai. It sits atop a 500ft mountain acting as a site for Buddhists to visit and pay their respect and honor to it. The mastaba-like blocks, local masonry is evident in the architectural style that followed further.

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Architecture in Pakistan-Takht-i-Bhai (Khaliq, 2015)
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Architecture in Pakistan-Takht-i-Bhai (Khaliq, 2015)
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Architecture in Pakistan-Takht-i-Bhai (Khaliq, 2015)

Evolution of architecture in Pakistan - Sheet62. Makli necropolis – 15thc. AD

Makli in Thatta, Pakistan, is the largest and oldest royal graveyard that houses famous queens, kings, Sufis, and saints under tombs and large scale graves with Quranic inscriptions. The architectural structure and wall detailing inspires and astonishes the tourists.

Architecture in Pakistan-Photo courtesy: ©Syed Kumail Hasan (Hasan, 2016)
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Architecture in Pakistan-Photo courtesy: ©Syed Kumail Hasan (Hasan, 2016)
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Architecture in Pakistan-Photo courtesy: ©Syed Kumail Hasan (Hasan, 2016)
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Architecture in Pakistan-Photo courtesy: ©Syed Kumail Hasan (Hasan, 2016)
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Architecture in Pakistan-Photo courtesy: ©Syed Kumail Hasan (Hasan, 2016)

3. Mughal tombs, forts, gardens, and masjids – 1526 to 1850s

The legacy of Mughal architecture continues to define Islamic architecture. Derived from the Safavid dynasty’s architecture, Mughal architecture consists mainly of geometric patterns, Chahar bagh with the Quranic concept of heaven, and a sense of material luxury. Badshahi Qila (fort), Shalimar bagh, Jahangir’s tomb, Wazir Khan Hamam and masjid, are exemplary works of the Mughals found in Lahore.

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Architecture in Pakistan-Badshahi Masjid & fort, 1673 (Qureshi, 2018)
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Architecture in Pakistan-Shalimar Garden, Lahore; Source: ©nation.com.pk

4. Baltit fort – 15thc. AD, about 700 years old

Belonging to the royal family of Hunza, the fort represents Ladakh architecture. The fort sitting on Ulter glacier gets around 30,000 visitors every year.

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Architecture in Pakistan-Baltit fort; Source: ©nation.com.pk
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Architecture in Pakistan-Interior of Baltit fort (©thesilenttraveler, 2019)

5. Hindu temples | Architecture in Pakistan

Sharing the same culture, taste, and background, about 8 million Hindus reside in Pakistan with active Hindu temples. The old temples are museums, abandoned, or operative. One of the famous but forgotten temples, Kalyan das, is located in Rawalpindi built by the Suris, the wealthiest family of that time, in 1580. Their mansion exists in Kartarpura today. The intricate carved work of sandalwood, Lapis murals, and paintings of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma is a part of the golden heritage.

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Skyline of temples in Rawalpindi; Photo courtesy: ©Muhammad Bin Naveed (©Shamil, 2015)
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Architecture in Pakistan-Kalyan das temple; Photo courtesy: ©Shiraz Hassan (Fatima, 2020)
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Architecture in Pakistan-Rama Mandir, Saidpur; Source: ©twitter.com – Photo courtesy: Javaria Waseem
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Architecture in Pakistan-Wall frescoes of Rama Mandir; Source: ©islamabadscene.com

6. Sikh architecture 

Belonging to Khem Bedi Singh, the 5th or 7th descendent of Guru Nanak, the haveli that was home to refugees as a religious, residential complex, abandoned in 1947, echoes with the giggling of children today. The building stands alone with forgotten frescoes, wall drawings, and decorative features of Sikh architecture vying for recognition.

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Architecture in Pakistan-Photo courtesy: Author- ©Syeda Neha Zaidi
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Architecture in Pakistan-Photo courtesy: Author- ©Syeda Neha Zaidi
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Architecture in Pakistan-Room frescoes; Photo courtesy: (Khalid Mehmood, 2012) -©Syeda Neha Zaidi
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Interior detail; Source: ©dailyobvious-twitter
Kartarpur Gurdwara; Source: ©Syeda Neha Zaidi
Gurdwara Nankana Sahib (©Sikh24 Editors, 2020)


Besides, many pilgrimage sites like Kartarpur and Nankana Sahib are glorious structures with jharokas, cusped arches, kiosks, bay windows, etc.

7. Colonial architecture – Churches

Colonization demanded the attention of the users, and so one of the best ways to bring in the lifestyle was due to the creation of Gothic churches. The St. Paul church in Rawalpindi is one of the many examples.

Sheet278. Indo-Saracenic architecture 

Of the times where all roads converge at one point, and so do all the cultures of the subcontinent, Indo-Saracenic architecture comes into view. Acceptance of the ‘modern’ culture was seeped into the blood slowly by merging the art and architecture of the west with the Sikh, Hindu, and Islamic elements of architecture. 

Out of many examples, Noor Mehal in Bahawalpur is a magnificent living example. It belonged to Nawab Sir Muhammad Sadiq, the ‘Shah Jahan of Bahawalpur,’ back then in 1875 and is now a library. The use of sleek columns, pediments, balustrades, vaulted ceiling of the hallway, with the architectural features of the subcontinent. 

Architectural features such as arches, arcades, courtyards, baoli (stepped wells), intricate jaali design, geometrical patterns, Chahar Bagh, frescoes and carving, etc. are determined here by tradition. 

Lahore Museum; ©Photography by K.R. Waleed
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Sheesh mahal; (Bijapuri ( Ed Sentner ) | ©Flickr, 2017)
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Noor Mehal; Credits: ©reddit user- u/lazypanda_a

It is evident that during this creative journey, regionalism achieved its pinnacle and contributed to the creation of buildings in highly profiled brick, stone, and marble masonry. The trend continued for centuries until the industrial materials gained influence in modernist society. Nevertheless, the importance of local materials prevailed and kept showing their flexibility in design.

As movements like brutalism, postmodernism, modernism, contemporary, started to evolve in the west, the impact was captured in the east as well. Many leading architects and starchitects began practicing industrial techniques to meet the new trend and requirements of a modern and economical lifestyle and living. While saving more and more time, high definition and detail were reflective in functional spaces rather than aesthetics. Truth to the material, labor-saving prefabricated industrial materials, respect to natural light, and primitive elements became the main feature of modern buildings. Some of the architects who stand in the limelight of this glorious evolution are Nasiruddin Murat Khan, Habib Fida Ali, Nayyar Ali Dada, Yasmeen Lari, Arif Masoud, Jamshaid Khan architects, and Arshad Shahid Abdullah.

To understand the process better, let’s look further into some of the underrated and also the highlighted projects of today’s time, paying tribute to its pedigrees.

1. Brick structures | Architecture in Pakistan

Bricks are known to be the representative material of Pakistani architecture. Along with the celebrated projects like PNCA, Islamabad by Naeem Pasha and AlHamra art council, Lahore by Nayyar Ali Dada, other underrated projects are the Village Residence, Charsadah by Abdullah Khan Architects and St. Thomas Church (1990-1993), Rawalpindi by Suhail & Pasha.

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The improvised and inspired traditional elements in these latest buildings reform the way of thinking that the industrial materials are not the only solution to our modern designs.

2. ‎345 Telenor Campus by‎ Arcop

The use of rammed earth to show the truth to materials with the variation in color tones signifies the importance of traditional methods of courtyard design, interior’s comfort level, sculptural elements, etc.

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Water Garden; Source: archdaily.com – Photo courtesy: ©Irfan Naqi ‎(González, 2018)‎
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Tower; Source: archdaily.com – Photo courtesy: ©Irfan Naqi ‎(González, 2018)‎
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Night-time courtyard; Source: archdaily.com – Photo courtesy: ©Irfan Naqi ‎(González, 2018)‎

3. Faisal Masjid by Vedat Dalokay | Architecture in Pakistan 

Accommodating about 40,000 people for religious activities and a university, Faisal Masjid, Islamabad was intelligently planned and designed according to the urban grid inspired by the Greek is the second largest mosque in Pakistan. The monumental feature of an Arabic Bedouin tent with the Margalla Hills, minarets of 300 ft. tall, the dome of an unusual kind, makes it stand out of all the Masjids built in modern times of Pakistan. 

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Hall of Faisal Masjid; Photo courtesy: ©reddit user- u/Tasweer-Farosh

4. Islamabad monument by Arif Masoud

The monument speaks for the sacrifices, advancements, and unity in the four provinces through the four granite petals. Viewed from afar, it shines from the peak of Shakarparian Hill, Islamabad. A museum and interactive landscape spaces make it top-visited sites in Islamabad.

Islamabad monument of Pakistan; Source: ©geonews.com

5. Projects by Arshad Shahid Abdullah

Builder’s mall, Islamabad 

The innovative application of materials welcomes clients to an ongoing visual experience in stages, forms, colors, textures, and illumination. The exposed diagonal beams in a longitudinal plane and elegantly positioned cargo shipping containers create a diverse environment to house items of numerous themes at various levels. 

Builder’s mall; Photo courtesy: ©Arshad Shahid Abdullah
Builder’s mall; Photo courtesy: ©Arshad Shahid Abdullah

Oasis Golf and Aqua Resort, Lahore 

Designed as a getaway, the use of waterbody, landscape, warm materials, and plain aesthetics proves to lead the project to the highest level of social interactivity.

6. Centaurus, Islamabad by WKK | Architecture in Pakistan

To be constructed in two phases, the mixed-use building focuses on resource efficiency, including rainwater harvesting, systematic lighting control, and high specification glazing. The second phase will constitute 350 luxury guest suites reaching a height of 809ft.

Centaurus; Photo courtesy: ©WKK architects
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Centaurus marketing office; Photo courtesy: ©WKK architects

One can, therefore, see the transformation in architectural style through centuries by manipulating the methods of construction, design, and efficiency. The power of creativity, patriotism, dedication, and passion has led to the progression of design stages. Pakistani architects are now aiming to meet the international trends by designing Bahria icon tower, Karachi of 62ft. (tallest in Pakistan), the contemporary style of malls (Giga mall, Islamabad), and many other leading projects that deserve some attention. However, cultural identity and architectural integrity is an ethical measure to be respected above all westernized concepts of design empowerment.


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With an ambitious spirit to explore the world, Neha has embarked upon building her professional journey beginning from UAE, to Egypt, to what future holds next; to uncover the “extraordinary” in the places we see as ordinary keeping one eye ahead of the time and deeper into how architecture influences socio-culture, norms and behavior.