City of Lahore: The old city of Lahore is a painting of vibrant colors from colonial and post-colonial culture. The multi-culture of the city is an articulation through the stylistic imprints of these passing eras. The presence of Mughal architecture dominates the city with massive brick structures harmonized with the use of a partition screen. Whereas the Hindu and Sikh temples create a rhythmic pattern in the city of color and ornamentation. Such vibrant aesthetics of the old city is a taint by the modern architecture in the 1960s with minimalistic concrete structure. Thus, the amalgamation of modern and traditional architecture had created a new dynamic culture of the city.

Alhamra Art Council- Aga Khan Award Winner
Exterior View
The Entrance

The Architect

Creating a cultural center for a city like Lahore requires a strong sense of harmony between modern and traditional. Firstly, the architect Nayar Ali Dada was able to find the just balance between the two contrasting architectural styles of the city. He is famous as the regional modernist due to his brutalist approach whistle being sensitive to the context. Alhamra Art Council is an attempt by him to generate a new architectural identity for the country that is neither taken from historical buildings nor a replica of global traditions.

Alhamra Art Council- Aga Khan Award Winner

The Transitionary Node at Alhamra Art Council

Completing a puzzle is sometimes very frustrating, each piece has a very particular placement. Also, it has to fit very perfectly with the right side and the left side. Alhamra was the missing puzzle of Mall road. Also, it is located on Mall road; a very significant construction of the Colonial period. The road ties its ends to two diversified characters of the city; Modern and traditional and the site is located at the transitory junction. It required the cultural center to encapsulate the vibrancy of traditional architecture and the simplicity of modern architecture within one structure.

Courtyards Inspired of Mughal Legacy

Mughal Contemporary Expression

Towering walls cladded by native red brick dominate the exterior elevation, creating a harmonious continuity with the surrounding buildings. In addition, the contrasting use of the material in the interior and exterior spaces define a paradoxical relation between the aesthetic of interior and exterior. The brick-cladding exterior creates an aura of warmth that encourages social interaction. Whereas the smooth concrete finishes of interior spaces with the delicate play of light create a calm atmosphere that allows the user to observe art in silence and peace.

Fragmented Volume at Alhamra Art Council

Play of light through screen and partition was the principal strategy of Mughal Architecture, the architect intend to capture that essence. The architect used a modern strategy of planar volumes to filter indirect light into the art galleries. The Fragmentation of octagonal volume into planes and shifted apart to create glazed floor-to-ceiling windows. The slight stretching of the tapering wall of the structure was to accentuate the planar quality of the walls. Thus, the angled window and the obstruction through the extended planes filtered soft and indirect light into the galleries.

Alhamra Art Council- Aga Khan Award Winner
Tapered wall extending beyond the structure

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The dominating structure of the cultural center creates a paradoxical relationship with the requirement of the cultural center to be an inclusive space. The gigantic octagonal volumes made up of red bricks didn’t respond to the human scale, thus it stands out as an intimidating structure. Also, fragmentation was a strategy to soften the impression of massive form and create a more intimate and inclusive space.

In the midst of a towering red brick structure, it was difficult to achieve intimate human-scale spaces that would encourage social interaction and revive the essence of the culture of Lahore. The architect; Nayyar Ali Dada used the octagonal volumes in a pattern that, therefore created the negative spaces. These negative spaces were designed as small semi-closed courtyards that became an instrument to initiate social interaction and encouraged the growth of cultural activities.

Inclusivity of Green Spaces
Alhamra Art Council- Aga Khan Award Winner
Semi-closed Courtyards

A Timeless Plan of Alhamra Art Council

The approach of the architect in articulating the plan for Alhamra Art Council reminds me about the Gestalt theory; “Gestalt theory emphasizes that the whole of anything is greater than its parts. That is, the attributes of the whole are not deducible from analysis of the parts in isolation.” It was a conscious decision of the architect to use void as an architectural device to stir social interaction. The combination of interior spaces; art galleries, theater, and auditorium, and the exterior spaces of informal courtyards completed a sustainable cultural center. Octagonal volumes and the voids create a pattern, whistle providing an opportunity for the expansion of the cultural center. Initiating a plan that isn’t bound by time. In other words, the plan provided freedom of expansion at any time or era.

Alhamra Art Council- Aga Khan Award Winner

A Journey of 15 Years

The use of polygonal forms was an overarching strategy to create inclusive spaces with multiple options of an organization. The first phase of the art council was constructed in 1979, from then the art council is subsequently growing for over 15 years. Moreover, the journey of this transformation is fragmentation into four phases. The first phase was the construction of an elongated octagonal auditorium that caters to 1000 people. With the highly functional auditorium, the government felt the need for an administrative department. This led to the construction of a cluster made up of four octagonal volumes in 1984, the building consisted of art galleries and an administration office. Using the void created by the clusters as an element to create an entrance court.

The following year another volume was interlocked at the rear side of the auditorium; also a new addition to the auditorium caters to 450 people. The interlocking of two volumes creates a semi-closed open space that certainly was then gradually transforming into an open green space. The last addition was made in 1992, the Recital Hall was designed to complement the existing structure. It was an attempt to create a spatial tension between the auditorium and the administrative building. The recital hall became the connecting node for the previous structure. It wasn’t connected with either of them whistle being in close proximity with both the structures. Thus all three structures placed according to the principal idea of creating semi-closed spaces between the volumes. The three structures enclosed a larger courtyard that acted as a pivotal space used for social interaction.


The successive growth of the Alhamra art council is living proof that the architect; Nayyar Ali Dada was successful in creating it as a social and cultural hub. The project represented a flexible and simple plan whistle respecting the diverse tradition of the city.

Also Read: Indian Institute of Management-Banglore

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