Blast from past (part-2)

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A unique glimpse into the initial settlements of urban life

The architecture of Panam Nagar employs brick masonry as its principle component for construction. Whether plastered or left exposed, the bricks used were modeled in different shapes according to the need of the surface articulation it was used for. Rounded, angular, arched, pointed semi-circular and curvilinear bricks are embedded with lime mortar to erect the load bearing walls. A particular angular laying of bricks can be noticed in the area over openings, presumably for structural purpose. 

Several variations of techniques and materials have been utilized for spanning the roofs. The most common technique is the use of wooden rafters and purlins, although the use of I –beams and brick vaults can also be observed. Other than that, the structures make ample use of decorative cast iron elements. Another unique feature is the extensive use of ‘chinitikri’ work which is a hand- crafted method of surface decoration using broken pieces of china. 

The facades and surfaces are repetitively adorned by arched openings and recesses with pilasters in between. Various types of arches are applied in the construction of all forms of openings. There is an array of Venetian arches, cusped arches and semi-circular arches that frame the various openings and movement corridors creating rhythmic dualities of solid and void, light and shadow, opaque and transparent throughout the architectural edifice.

The ornamentation applied in Panamis by all means eclectic. Elements and motifs from both European traditions and Mughal architecture merge through local improvisation and craftsmanship to form extensively embellished surfaces. This new style, known as the Indo-British style, is an expression of the romanticized character of its time and was most likely meant to signify the newfound status of the Hindu merchants. 

The use of moldings, pilasters, cornices, arches and parapets reproduce the classical vocabulary in various compositions on the exterior façades and within the inner courtyards. Interestingly, there is also a tendency of illusionistic representations such as closed windows, blind arches and shuttered doors, the origin of which is purely European. However, the decorative treatment is integrated with regional patterns creating a fusion of artistic technique. 

The remnants of Panam Nagar reveal a unique glimpse into the initial settlements of urban life and architecture of our region. Not only do they display an exclusive insight into various construction techniques and craftsmanship but they also provide a wisdom base for future generations. The thoughtful considerations for drainage and sanitation, the delineation of the street façade and the overall variety unified by scale and rhythmic repetition generate an exclusive vocabulary of urban design principles. 

Unfortunately, even though the site of Panam Nagar has been under the ownership of the Government since 1965, the defacement and deterioration of the premises has continued unabated.  In March 2003, Panam Nagar area was marked for protection and conservation under the Antiquities Ordinance of 1968. However, consolidated restoration and conservation works in the area are yet to be realized.

Ismat Hossain is Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture, North South University. [email protected]