Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

Conserving Chowk Wazir Khan: Transforming a forgotten relic to an exemplar of Mughal urban design

Saad Khalid

The rehabilitation of the Chowk Wazir Khan was an involved and at times arduous undertaking, requiring a substantial amount of technical expertise, resources and aesthetic sensitivity. The difficulty in undertaking the project arose not only from the work on the site itself, but also its location within the Walled City, on the Shahi Guzargah, a crowded and fast-moving thoroughfare.

The Chowk is the historic forecourt adjoining the Wazir Khan Mosque, and has been subjected to a thorough rehabilitation and conservation effort by the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan, in collaboration with the Walled City of Lahore Authority and funded by the US embassy, since October 2015. As a historic monument located very much in the midst of inner city bustle, the mosque has been largely neglected in terms of its status as a site of heritage, though having retained its practical use as a mosque for the surrounding residents. As a result of there having been no concerted and sustained effort to maintain its facades, nor the Chowk itself, these elements have weathered time poorly. The eastern facade, including its hujras, was partly buried under 8 feet of risen street level, along with the underlying Chowk itself. In order to excavate these, a retaining wall had to be built after the removal of illegal commercial ventures intruding upon the urban space, in order to prevent future encroachments of such “Once the wall was in place, the dig could begin, and proceeded to reveal the foundations of the Chowk and expose the eastern facade. This, in addition to the removal of utility lines from the skyscape, gives the mosque an opportunity to exude some of its original grandeur.”

The conservation work involved identifying more contemporary elements that had been added to the edifice, such as cement plaster fixes to the hujras, and carefully extracting them in order to reveal the original building. Certain elements, such as the glazed tile architectural decorations on the eastern facade were mostly in good condition, and simply required a cleaning procedure. The rehabilitation effort required the team to consolidate elements of the building which were in a considerable state of disrepair using methods sensitive to the aesthetic effect of the original design. Structural repairs were extended to many of the hujras, while traditional sheesham doors and brick tile flooring was added to the chambers.

Subsumed by the boundaries of the Chowk, Dina Nath’s Well, a Sikh era well built into an octagonal enclosure also falls within the project’s purview, and was documented before undergoing a conservation process similar to the Chowk proper. British era brickwork had been used to close off four of the enclosures entranceways, and these were removed in order to make visible the original design of the archways, while half of the dome was restored to its original semblance, allowing onlookers to get a sense of the well in its heyday in contrast with the weathering effects wrought by time.

The project, and the team’s fastidious adherence to aesthetic and architectural standards, has allowed this forgotten diamond in the urban rough to once again be burnished to its original shine.

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