Charles Linn
School of Architecture & Design

Architecture professor awarded prestigious grant

Thu, 09/26/2013

LAWRENCE — Farhan Karim, an assistant professor of architecture, has been awarded a Graham Foundation grant. It will support the research for his book, “Dreaming of a Nation: Architecture and Cold War Modernization in Postcolonial Pakistan, 1947-1971.”

Farhan KarimKarim’s research shows that U.S. attempts to influence the culture of post-war, post-Colonial future of Pakistan had mixed results even as far back as the late 1950s.

During late 1940s and early 1950s, the Pakistani government hired a group of leading Western architects to help design a new city and a new parliamentary complex. They were also to aid in countrywide reformation of the primary education system, develop infrastructure and establish new campuses for tertiary-level technical education.

Spearheaded and aided by American universities, the U.S. Technical Assistance Program and the U.S. Agency For International Development, the Westerners and a number of Pakistani architects embarked on this grand project. They hoped to forge an architecture that was a quixotic hybrid of the fledgling country’s postwar reformation spirit, universal modernity and post-Colonial Muslim nationalism.

However, while the U.S. government’s Cold War interests in Pakistan and its military rulers were well-showcased in the grand, new Modernist buildings, local architects were critical of their designs. They were in favor of combining the language of universal Modernism with Pakistan’s vernacular—and which perhaps the country’s new U.S.-backed government might have preferred to put in the past.

 “The U.S. project of ‘modernizing’ postcolonial Pakistan remained problematic,” says Karim, “in the sense that the country’s postcolonial architectural culture took various trajectories, which were not anticipated by the American architects at the outset.”

The traditionalists favored expansion of their architecture to encompass an array of new possibilities — an alternative to the West’s monumental Modernist architecture. Theirs would be based on Pakistan’s own regional traditions.

“The tension felt in the early years of post-Colonial Pakistan as it reconciled the ideals of Western democracy with its traditional values is captured in its struggle to create its own Modern architectural style,” he said. “The repercussions of those efforts are still felt today, in contemporary architectural practice and pedagogy, but also in Pakistanis’ perceptions of what a liberated democratic landscape should look like.”

Karim joined the faculty of the Department of Architecture last spring after receiving a doctorate in architectural history from the University of Sydney, Australia. He taught at the University of Asia Pacific and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. Farhan earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from BUET, and he practiced architecture professionally in Bangladesh and Australia.

The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts was founded in 1956. It makes project-based study grants to individuals and organizations, and it fosters the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture and its role in the arts, culture and society.  

Karim’s Graham Foundation web page can be viewed here.

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