2022 – Plenary sessions

Keynote speeches


Talk 1 – Keynote address

A yet undefined city?

Arif Hasan, architect and planner, Urban Resource Centre, Karachi

A lot has been written about every aspect of Karachi during the last two decades. However, a few things are shaping the future of the city in demographic and physical terms that need to be explored further. One, Karachi is a non-Sindhi-speaking capital of a predominantly Sindhi-speaking province. Many of its governance-related issues arise from this reality. This also gives rise to the constantly discussed question, “Who owns Karachi?”.

Karachi’s land use, in spite of plans to the contrary, is being decided increasingly by large developers backed by politicians and by the Pakistan armed forces, and not on the basis of environmental and social considerations. The coastal areas are also being reclaimed for similar purposes or for low-income housing.

Karachi is a city of migrants, but over the last four decades, the nature of migration has changed. Before, it was mostly elders coming to the cities and then getting the younger siblings or children to follow. They were mostly from KP. Today, there are groups of young people (mostly unmarried), increasingly from the rest of Sindh and the Saraiki belt, who make the city their home and leave their elders behind. This, along with issues related to security, has turned an already religiously divided society into ethnically segregated ghettos. As a result, the real estate and rental market has changed its manner of operation, redefining social and gender relations.

In the past (certainly till 1985), traders played an important role in the development of Karachi. They were of different origins, relations and caste backgrounds. However, that has changed, and the markets of Karachi are dominated by the Pashto-speakers. Estate agents claim that the Afghans have also purchased real estate on a large scale in the center of the city. How true this is needs to be investigated sympathetically.

All these elements and rapidly changing gender relations and family structures, and the application of a hardly understood and imported planning vocabulary in which the planners are trained, are shaping a still undefined Karachi. And a melange of these changes is also making the preservation and conservation of the city’s tangible and intangible heritage difficult.

The paper will try to explore the reasons for the issues raised above.


  1. http://arifhasan.org/karachi/drivers-of-climate-change-vulnerability-at-different-scales-in-karachi
  2. Value Extraction from Land and Real Estate in Karachi (arifhasan.org)

Talk 2

Karachi’s Heritage Legacy: A Crisis of Management Failures and Misplaced Priorities

Dr. Anila Naeem, Professor & Chairperson, Department of Architecture and Planning, N.E.D. University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi

The protection and preservation of historic urban fabric is justified on grounds of their significance not only as evidences of the cultural past, but also the socio-economic development of communities; thus, embodying history of the people who created them and continue to using them.  The complexities of identification and recognition of heritage assets in  urban centers or towns of historic importance, can be achieved through a well formulated listing criterion that helps understand values and justification for heritage protection. Combined with a well-defined sequence of surveying, mapping and inventory management it can ideally lead to an efficient heritage safeguarding program. This however, requires a profound support system within the administrative/ management machinery of historic cities.

For over two decades the Sindh Cultural Heritage Preservation Act 1994 – key statute for heritage protection within the province of Sindh, Pakistan, provided a legal base for heritage protection; with over 2000 enlisted properties in Karachi, and perhaps couple of thousands more in various other cities. An underlying objective of these heritage enlistments was to enact a cooperative arrangement between the government and property owners, facilitating their scientific management and appropriate conservation. Evidences however, show that in spite of a well-developed heritage inventory the outcomes of listing process did not achieve desirable results.  Analyzing a few case studies from Karachi this presentation seeks to identify the gaps that have led to ineffective implementation of heritage law – examining the differing view-point of various stakeholders and challenges faced by contending parties. Furthermore, identifying possible directions for problem resolution and mitigation.

Talk 3

The limits and extends of the urban world: Between Ecumenopolis and Subaltern Urbanization

Dr. Eric Denis, geographer, Géographie-Cités, CNRS-EHESS, Paris

If the general public, development agencies and governments acknowledge that our world is more and more urban and eventually admit that we live in the age of planetary urbanization, far less people and researchers question what is urban and where urbanization occurs. In fact, the definitions of the urban remains extremely heterogeneous and, yet, a large part of the urban emergence is unseen.

Based on these observations, our talk aims at expose an approach we conceived in order to promote a harmonized geo-dataset to compare urban changes at the world scale. Using this geographical corpus, it becomes possible to better understand the trend and extend of urban expansion. In particular, we shown that urban change is more and more driven by large villages’ transformation and small towns. In any case, it is limited to metropolitan regions’ growth.  In many countries, the contribution of small localities to urbanization is underestimated and eventually ignored. It’s notably the case in India where more of half of the urban citizens live in settlement bellow one hundred thousand inhabitants. In Egypt, we shown that half of the urban population lives in large settlements still classified as villages.

Based on our research on India, we promoted the idea of Subaltern Urbanization to qualify this trend, when a large extend of the system of cities and towns is not acknowledge as urban, and the capabilities of residents there are more often not supported through urban public schemes. Nevertheless, being outside of the urban frame and the regulations it implies could open up possibilities.

Our approach falls eventually short to capture a process of urbanization which transforms landscape, land ownership and land uses, much before new constructions appear. It leads to new health and environmental challenges (zoonoses, floods…).

Based on the identification of distinct settlements, the method, as well, to consider the relational and interconnected world we are living today.

Talk 4

3D digital preservation of cultural heritage at risk. 10 years of Iconem’s works

Yves Ubelmann, architect, ICONEM, Paris

Our world’s cultural heritage is threatened. looting, urbanisation, mass tourism, armed conflict, and climate change damage and destroy irreplaceable sites where cultures emerged, languages developed, civilisations thrived. These imperilled heritage sites embody humanity’s cultural diversity. It is crucial that we document and preserve them now. Iconem’s expert team travels the globe, combining the large-scale scanning capacity of drones and the photorealistic quality of 3D to create digital replicas of our most treasured places, record them for future generations, and champion them today.

Founded in 2013, Iconem is an innovative startup that specialises in the digitisation of endangered cultural heritage sites in 3D. We work with international organisations, national governments, local authorities, and world class museums such as UNESCO, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the Sultanate of Oman, the City of Paris, and the Louvre. We design site-specific architectural 3D models; large-scale urban and rural 3D models; museum exhibitions; and training for local professionals.

Based in Paris, Iconem currently brings together a multidisciplinary team including architects, computer scientists, engineers, 3D graphic designers and archeologists whose strength lies in working together to solve the complex issue of safeguarding the historical and archeological heritage.



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