Aga Khan University-FAS Land-Use Study

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Location: Karachi, Pakistan. The site is a 45-minute trip from central Karachi—initially to be linked by rubber tire transit—but lies within a primary growth corridor and is projected to be part of the city proper in two decades

An international organization is creating a liberal-arts university campus and accompanying “village” in Karachi, Pakistan, to “train a new generation of leaders to view knowledge as a never ending quest, necessarily shared across many disciplines and world views.” The campus has been designed. This submission represents the Land Use Plan that is the first step in developing the villages land uses, spatial organization, circulation, public spaces, and character. The 450 acre campus and 700 acre village occupy an arid site that represents the first—and so far only—component for a government-designated (but unplanned) ”education city”. The site is a 45-minute trip from central Karachi—initially to be linked by rubber tire transit—but lies within a primary growth corridor and is projected to be part of the city proper in two decades. The Land Use Plan has been approved by the organization’s board and the university’s president and board. Pakistan’s political situation has slowed implementation, but development of both the campus and the village have been funded.

The village is small, housing 25-30,000 graduate students, faculty, staff, and others who will work in the village itself and nearby, together with their families (many multi-generational). The full-build program includes 7,000 to 9,500 housing units (2,000 to 3,000 for graduate students) and 3 to 5 million square feet of complementary research, retail, office, health care and cultural uses. The village consists of four phaseable “neighborhoods”— each focused around a square—connected via a transit greenway to a lively, mixed-use village center. The village will grow in tandem with the campus over the next 20 to 25 years, which still start with 1500 undergraduate and graduate students, increasing to 10,000 or more over two decades.

The goal is a “community of learning” that plays an integral role with the campus in achieving the university’s liberal arts mission by fostering the kinds of formal and informal interaction (and shared discovery) that “breaks down silos” between disciplines and makes liberal arts learning possible. This goal requires creating places that invite engagement between people of different ages, sexes, incomes, and ethnicities and who are usually separated by rigid social boundaries. Addressing pervasive security concerns by emphasizing safety at a neighborhood scale without the walled compounds that exemplify recent development and reinforce the “fortress mentality” that the university seeks to address; and reasserting Karachi’s tradition of lively, mixed-use, compact (and highly sustainable) neighborhoods as an alternative to the sprawl and middle class flight that characterizes growth today.

The client sought to create a community of learning by “drawing on but not mimicking” Muslim city- building traditions. In addition to an international review of best practices in planning university communities, the planning team studied and toured Muslim ancient and modern city-building precedents and conducted focus groups with a diverse cross section of potential residents and conducted surveys to understand goals and concerns related to housing, security, and a wide range of cultural issues. The result is a community of learning marked by:

Densities in neighborhoods and the village center, made possible by a Muslim tradition of “cellular” development in which activities grow from one another without formal separation, that support the amenities, proximity, and transit essential to invite diverse people to share the same spaces and create a walkable environment that encourages informal interaction.

Placemaking that emphasizes human-scale; celebrates transitions between private, semi-public, and fully public spaces; and creates a sequence that brings people together in different parts of the village at different times and on different days.

Sustainability takes advantage of constant attention to microclimate—using wind for energy and to cool streets, a pedestrian realm of narrow passageways that offer constant shade, capturing periodic deluges by channeling and storing water—in addition to discouraging driving, green building, and restoring orchards.




The region: Metropolis, city, and town

2. The metropolitan region is a fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world...The planning process expanded the program to include more than one-million SF of policy institutes, research facilities, and conference facilities to unlock the campus’ ability to influence social and economic policies across Pakistan, spawn research, and extend the influence of liberal arts thinking and research across South Asia.

5,6, 7...Noncontiguous development should be organized as...villages with... urban edges, and planned for a jobs/housing balance ...respect historical precedents...and include affordable housing. As several hundred thousand poor immigrants settle into Karachi’s core annually, historically mixed-income neighborhoods are becoming “slums” as those who can flee to gated suburban compounds or expensive urban neighborhoods. This village is a model that reclaims Karachi’s tradition of economically diverse neighborhoods built around shared souks (modern day squares). Everyone who works on the campus or in the village can live in the village. The village has distinct edges pierced by major streets that provide an opportunity for others to extend the model.

8. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility while reducing dependence upon the automobile...Every part of the village is within a five-minute walk of transit and the maximum trip time is 15 minutes—making walking preferable to driving and enabling the plan to draw on socially- and climatically-based planning traditions. Density, internal transit, and compact development support rubber tire transit to central Karachi—the region’s first new transit following two decades of rapid road building.

The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor

2. Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian-friendly and mixed-use... Spatial organization arises from a hierarchy of nested cells: individual courtyard house or apartment building; cluster of houses; neighborhood quadrant; full neighborhood; town. Courtyard building typology, and treatment of outdoor space as public, semi- public, and private “rooms” enables compact land use. This, together with narrow pedestrian scale streets and lanes and a townwide transit loop, invites walking as an everyday means of access. Each neighborhood has a uniquely-programmed market square at its core providing local services and building community.

The block, the street, and the building

1. A primary task... is the physical definition of streets and public spaces... The organic network and hierarchy of connections, gateways, and modest public spaces that link house to quadrant to neighborhood, all activities within the center to each other, and the center to the campus represent the “grid” and public realm of Muslim city building. While a few “western” streets are necessary, the connector between neighborhoods and the center is primarily the transit greenway (also walkable), and these streets are integrally linked to this network. The sequence from private to public and activities over the day “choreograph” a vibrant public realm.

Canons of sustainability. The village reclaims Muslim city building traditions, fully consistent with new urbanism, to provide a smart growth model for a region experiencing explosive growth. Critical elements include class and ethnic diversity in a compact setting, densities that support transit and walkability, and a public realm that uses traditional microclimate techniques to be invite active use throughout the year.


Lessons learned: Research into Muslim city-building traditions and contemporary community aspirations in Karachi played a fundamental role in shaping the town plan: • Focus groups with staff and faculty of an existing Karachi education institution representative of potential residents • A tour of relevant ancient and modern North African precedents: Fez, Marrakesh, Rabat, Casablanca, Tunis. • Research into other historic and contemporary urban forms in places that share Muslim cultural traditions and arid climate like the town site, such as Damascus, Riyadh and Dubai This process identified specific lessons of urban form from characteristically pluralist, humanist Muslim traditions appropriate to shape a 21st century community of learning. Traditional approaches support contemporary needs of fostering social interaction, defining levels of public and private space, responding to climate, and providing the varied choices of housing, access, communications and services demanded by today’s international society. Specific innovations that resulted include: • Validating density as critical to quality and feasibility. In-person tours of high-quality multifamily development convinced the client of the great desirability of multifamily housing as an option for a broad range of income levels, challenging current aspirations among higher-income Karachi residents. • Taking a form-based approach to security. Instead of the armed guards are a reality for most individual houses, office buildings, and institutions in metropolitan Karachi, the plan uses the traditional “medina” model that organizes neighborhoods around courtyards and semi-public connections and emphasizes gateways at major transition points from semi to fully-public areas to unlock the ability to return a model that provides security on a communal, rather than individual, basis. • Applying this security strategy to the university campus itself through use of an “inhabited wall,” in collaboration with the campus architect. The village center plan incorporates shops and residences directly into the wall that defines the campus edge, building upon traditional form of mosques and structures such as Lahore’s Red Fort. Periodic grand gates define main entrances to the overall university and its graduate schools.

Transect Zone(s): T4 general, T5 center.
Status: Proposed
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Features: Mixed uses, Sustainable infrastructure.
Land area (in acres): 700
Total built area (in sq. ft.):
Total project cost (in local currency):
Retail area (in sq. ft.):
Office area (in sq. ft.):
Industrial area (in sq. ft.):
Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work): 7000
Parks & green space (in acres):
Project team designers: Good Clancy
Project team developers: N/A

Previous site status:

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: - 2030