eVolo US Architectural Design Exhibition 2015

Pinjra: Skyscraper as a Craft (Iterative Design Research)

Umair Zia Architectural Exhibition 1

Dialogue between a Craftsman and an Architect

by Umair Zia

Architect:        They call you Pinjra-karigar. What does it mean and which crafts do you make?

Craftsman:      Pinjra is a Persian word for intricate wood carving (also done in marble and stone). Karigar means craftsman. I am a Pinjra-karigar, locally understood as a wood-carver.

Architect:        So you claim you can design a skyscraper. Well, as impressive as it is, you did not have any formal education let alone architectural education. Why should you be granted a permit to construct something which concerns the lives of hundreds and thousands of citizens?

Craftsman:      All architects get formal education but only a few learn for learning sake only. Just like the countless nimbly fingers of craftsmen out there but only a few working for work’s sake only. Sure, I do not qualify for a permit when examined along your path of learning; let’s call it knowledge. But there is another path of learning we know as action. When followed with no desire for reward, both paths lead to the same outcome which is the realization of self.

Architect:        Speaking of the outcome, architects focus on the design process and not merely on the product. How important is a thorough design process to you?

Craftsman:      It is a big tragedy, often brewed by art history and criticism, that the theoretical basis for a craft is believed to reside somewhere outside the domain of craftsmanship- in religious symbolism perhaps or in empirical associations of an era. I speak for my craft only and I have seen the continuous evolution of pinjra-kari over time. From carving prowess of Sikh communities to love for intricacy in Hindu circles all the way to the affinity for geometry in Muslim craftsmen, I have seen individuals’ natural tendency propagate and transcend the skill and technique to each other; heedless of larger inclinations of State. Craftsmanship manifested itself simultaneously in an ever-complete and ever-incomplete making.

Architect:        A fancy statement, unless you really know what it implies. You see, seeking complexity in order is plausible but antique. Architects are currently pursuing order in chaos. And digital tools used in the parametric and algorithmic design are essential means to articulate such complexity.

Craftsman:      I agree, except that awareness of complexity is no less imperative to craftsmanship. Craftsmen do not optimize on human senses or their action would be superficial indeed. Instead, they learn to curb their senses- Senses which are a part of nature as everything else. So when I attach my senses to the wood and chisel, for instance, it is nature attaching to nature. ‘I’ become detached from the action as Pinjra patterns emerge before my eyes as the physical manifestation of complexity in nature. Digital tools are no more or less efficient than craftsman’s toolbox in the articulation of complexity.

Architect:        But that individual’s attachment is quintessential to all art forms including architecture. For what is art but an individual’s expression; an exaggeration! 

Craftsman:      I beg to differ, Sir. Sure, Art is an exaggeration. But it is not an individual’s product but rather an outcome of a cultural process. And craftsmen, ever-aware, ever-anonymous, ever-working, continue on to remain an inevitable part of that process.

(He unfurls a couple of drawing sheets on table)

Here Sir, the making of a crafted skyscraper has been documented in steps.

This project is the design extension of Umair Zia’s research article: ‘Pinjra: A Fractal Craft of Mughal Period’ (ii International Journal of Interior Architecture + Spatial Design, vol.3 , pp. 94-101).

Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Architectural Design Exhibition 2015

Regenerative Past: Elevator of an ancient high-rise structure based on perpetual motion technology

Umair Zia Architectural Exhibition 5

Design Process

The columns which stand tall for over five thousand years appear to be a part of a much more voracious tall-building expedition. Transportation of material from miles away, the durability of the structure, wicked construction technology, and its exceptionally concentric master plan, all direct towards a multi-storied living machine of its time. The megastructure would have made possible through synergetic integration of simple perpetual-motion devices.

Perpetual motion has been discarded by science for its inherent, inevitable failure. However, contemporary technologies in material and construction industry ought to borrow from this alternate history of Stonehenge and apply it to semi-perpetual hybrid machines which rely very little on external energy source- only to recover frictional losses.

There are several many theories on the collapse of an emblem of Neolithic zeitgeist. Explanations from archeology to mythology, from paranormal to scientific shed light on the failure of possibly the world’s most ancient tall building. However, some consider this proposal a preposterous lie, mere work of fiction.

eVolo US Architectural Design Exhibition 2013

AcoustiCity: New Karachi City harnesses the noise energy from the old city, and remains suspended in thin air through acoustic levitation.

Umair Zia Architectural Exhibition 2


The urbanization and growth of Karachi have created multiple problems for the inhabitants of the metropolitan city. Formal sector supply never met housing demand which resulted in a growing number of under-privileged informal communities. This sprawl hosted a new set of problems one of which is the climbing rate of private and publicly owned automobiles and rikshaws. This, accompanied by rapid industrialization in an already congested city, has made Karachi one of the noisiest places on the planet (with average noise levels reaching up to 90 dB-100 dB in several parts of the city).

Thus despair flashes within,

And slips ahead of sight,

And cacophonies, and abstraction of bits,

Resonate with the mute,

Every bit a unique force;

Such perseverance of the void

And just as out of chaos emerges hope,

A pristine little droplet,

Of life, rises above,

Like a shimmering star at night.

— Umair Zia

Design Process

The design process begins by visualizing sound like a gigantic ocean of energy raging across streets, bazaars, industries, even residential areas, the entire city. This immense volume of energy is ready to be harnessed; to fuel urban housing and a greener lifestyle for the existing and future communities.

Sound frequencies recorded from several locations of Karachi are transmitted to the proposed tower as a live feed. They are further amplified and a huge wavelength stretching up to 100m is triggered vertical. The reflector at top end of the tower bounces the wave back ultimately producing a huge standing sound wave. Every node of this wave is a pressure power/node which cancels out gravity and has the capacity to hold a considerable amount of weight (Process of Acoustic Levitation).

A geodesic sphere is suspended in each node. Spheres are complete habitats with residential services and capable of producing their own electricity through solar panels installed over the surface of the Reflector. As a result, any number of spheres can soar still in the air to accommodate future generations for the same magnitude of acoustic energy that is produced today. Noise pollution ceases to grow as the new population will inhabit Acoustic Cities.

Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Architectural Design Exhibition 2012

Squatterise: Vertical Revival of the Squatter Settlement along River Ravi, Lahore

Umair Zia Architectural Exhibition 6

Design Process

If high-rise is a city-like phenomenon then it must have the capacity to address city-related deprivations as well. Over a million people in Lahore are deprived of basic human needs such as shelter and have constantly been neglected. Design strategy facilitates the (illegal) dwellers of Ravi so they can raise their living standard through self-help. The process is a blend of human intuition and parametric design.

We believe that one of the most significant attributes of their squatter settlement is its ability to adapt to a given situation. It has a time-tested integral growth pattern that governs its spontaneity; both qualitative and quantitative parameters influence that. 

We made an attempt to first construct volumes and geometries through feedback from the existing site and conditions, and then we discarded all data and kept only the geometric rules which governed the growth of the process.

Finally, we had a three-dimensional grid in the end, and LEGO-like construction kit parts for users to configure their own space. This kind of intervention, we believe, will not only accommodate the growth of the settlement but will encourage it more. For these roofless men and women constitute the backbone of our economy.

Finalist, Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat Why Tall? Design Competition 2011

Asymmetrical Load Distribution: Skyscraper Inspired by the bio-mechanics of Human Body

Umair Zia Architectural Exhibition 4

Design Process

One still hears echoes of the boisterous crowd cheering for their team. Walking across spread-out roads, surrounded by several grand structures, one reaches the famed Gadaffi Stadium of Lahore. Its presence fills one’s eye yet its existence is not discernable. People have been replaced by cars and along with sport, a spirit has abandoned the site. An attempt is made to bring together the scattered facilities of this complex into a unified whole and structurally represent the forces between them. Finally, a vertical program is configured to tempt people back to the site.

Arctic Perspective Initiative Architectural Design Exhibition 2009-10

Mobile Media Centric Facility Inspired by the Living Systems

Umair Zia Architectural Exhibition 6

A series of worldwide architectural exhibitions: Maribor, SI (Kibla). Nov, 2009 London UK (CanadaHouse). May-Sep 2010 Dortmund, DE (Phoenix Hall).

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