In conversation with senior Pakistani architect Shahid Abdulla

Senior architect Shahid Abdulla wears many hats.

Apart from being a founding partner of Arshad Shahid Abdulla (Pvt.) Ltd, an architecture firm in Karachi, he was part of the founding group of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi (IVS). The construction of which has a remarkable story – one that closely involves Abdulla. The making of IVS involved the transport of some 27,000 stones from a heritage building’s original site to the school’s location in Clifton Karachi. The four-story stone structure in Kharadar was to be demolished to make way for a concrete high-rise building. But Abdulla had other plans for it.

The idea of transporting the entire building, brick-by-brick, from one corner of the city to another, was ambitious and hard to imagine. But not for Abdulla, who believes that “the bigger the problem, the better the answer.”

Also a director at The Citizens Foundation (TCF) that has a network of about a thousand affordable schools all over the country, Abdulla has spent much of his life innovating spaces and giving back to society through a number of engagements, including The Kidney Centre and the Hunar Foundation.

It’s not surprising that he refers to himself as a “professional fundraiser”.

His most recent public project involves the cleanup and development of Nehr-e-Khayam, known to Karachi residents as a nala [drain]. Abdulla is leading a group of architects and engineers determined to convert the area around the Nehr [river], which runs above ground from Karachi Grammar School to the main road linking Do Talwar and Teen Talwar, into a riverfront walkway for the public. The Nehr was originally a drain for flood water but now serves as a dump for the city’s sewage.

The local architect community has been looking for opportunities to “fix” this city for 15 years, says Abdulla, who told Karachi’s Mayor, Wasim Akhtar, that even if the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) did not have the money to fund the Nehr project, he would find donors. And he has.

About the opportunities in Pakistan, he says it’s a “white canvas” where one can do anything.

Despite his contributions, he still harbors some regrets. Watch his interview to find out what these are.

VCast Online sat down with Karachi’s creative visionary who shared his early life with his brother, partner, and mentor – Arshad Abdulla; his thoughts on design and heritage; and why he now only wears the native shalwar kameez.

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