Islamia College being renovated flouting conservation principles

PESHAWAR: Shiny marble tiles have replaced the century-old brick-made floor and stairs of the historic Islamia College which is being renovated and repaired.

Besides the main building of the college established in 1913, the repair and renovation of the domes of Islamia College mosque are also in progress with conservationists fearing it is tantamount to damaging the originality.

Almost all the floors, stairs, and border of the main building have been renovated by placing marble slabs replacing the decades-old Waziri bricks. Moreover, the original design of the stairs has been changed. Though the wooden floor of Roos-Keppel Hall has not been replaced but is being polished and the walls repaired to their original brick shape.

Sources said some engineers had suggested to the government recently that irrigation channels within the college were causing structural problems but they failed to chalk out comprehensive conservation procedures for improving the situation. The government approved money for structural reinforcements and water proofing the immediate surroundings and roofs of the college.

Islamia College being renovated flouting conservation principles

Executive Engineer (XEN) of Islamia College and contractor brought some masons from the Punjab for the construction but the sources said they had no experience of domes building. Not only the masons, but site in-charge of the contractor who is restoring the college building has no previous experience and has a master’s degree in Urdu, claimed the sources.

By visiting the college one can especially notice lighter color and bulged uneven domes at the right side of the college. All newly plastered domes are of different colors. Bulges and unevenness of three domes is visible from different angles.

It would have been better had the college administration concentrated on just repairing the damaged portions and water proofed the buildings from top and bottom with least alterations as Islamia College (now Islamia College University) is among the world heritage buildings, said the sources.

Neither the college management nor the contractors have kept in mind the conservation manual, which prohibits experiments on priceless and irreplaceable heritage sites.

Some local masons of NWFP have built extremely proportional and symmetrical domes of some of the newly built mosques and other grand structures and hiring their services could have saved this historical building from reshaping.

The original stairs had curvy sides which were flowing to the bottom as integral part of the original architecture and double pointed arches of the verandahs, which have been rebuilt with square edged marble that do not blend with the original structure of the building.

Conservationists fear the world historic Islamia College buildings would lose its heritage importance if its originality were not preserved.

Mahmood Aslam, an environmentalist and conservationist from Abbottabad is among those trying to save the historical and heritage assets from destruction. He visited the college to persuade the management to keep intact the originality of the buildings but in vain.

Dr Adil Zareef of the Sarhad Conservation Network (SCN) said the college should be declared a national heritage site and further construction on the premises be stopped. “It’s a unique structure and the premises having sprawling lawns should not be congested with new constructions. Preservation experts should be invited if any repair is needed in the buildings,” he added.

He appealed to the government to declare Islamia College a national heritage only then Unesco and other organisations would come for its preservation.

When contacted by The News, Islamia College University Director Works Abid Kamal, however, said they had tried their best to preserve originality of the structure. According to engineering point of view, bricks have maximum age of 50 years and could not be sustained for longer that’s why the old Waziri brick floors were replaced with marbles tiles, he said.

The official said a committee having conservation and archaeology experts, professors from the Engineering University and Tourism Department was monitoring the work and had appreciated its standard. He said the main building was fully renovated in its original shape and colour while marbles had been placed on floors, as repair with bricks was not possible. The masons brought from Punjab were dome experts as their forefathers had expertise in dome building and they would repair the mosque domes as well, he added.

The official claimed to have received appreciation letters from many conservationists for keeping intact the originality of the structure while renovating the college.

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