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Project Profile


2008 Award of Merit

Shigar Historic Settlements

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Project Title: Shigar Historic Settlements and Bazaar Area

LocationTehsil Shigar, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Size1 square kilometre

CostUS$ 90,000

Responsible PartyStefano Bianca, Masood Khan, Abbas Ali Shah, Ali Ahmad Shah, Ehsanul Karim, Amanullah Noor Ali, Kacho Akbar, Master Ibrahim, Wazir Fida Ali, Ikramullah and Muhammad Hassan Shigri

Heritage ArchitectAga Khan Trust for Culture and Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan

ContractorAga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan

Date of CompletionDecember 2002

Project Synopsis

The historic settlements of Khilingrong, Chinpa and Halpapa, the latter with a historic bazaar, are situated in the town of Shigar, close to the 400-year-old Shigar Fort. Established during the seventeenth century, at the same time as the construction of Shigar Fort, these settlements were the creation of Raja Hasan Khan, who encouraged artists and craftsmen from Kashmir and other South Asian regions to settle in the area of the fort. Due to the proximity of these settlements to Shigar Fort, the people living there had a close affiliation with the Raja of Shigar. The settlements are also closely linked with the winding Shigar stream, an important component of the local environment.

Shigar, located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, is one of the oldest and earliest-inhabited towns of northern Pakistan. Due to the scarcity of land in this remote area, the villages occupy a minimum amount of space, with the majority of land utilized for cultivation. The settlements are therefore structured as a tightly knit cluster, with visually striking spatial variations of texture and form. Extremely narrow streets and willow-lined walls form passageways for pedestrians. These architectural representations demonstrate the accumulated wisdom of past generations.

With the passage of time, and as a result of factors such as population growth and urbanization, these historic settlements were being altered by so-called “modern improvements”. Houses were being modified and new buildings were encroaching onto traditionally agricultural areas. In addition, the deteriorating physical environment and contaminated water supplies were resulting in negative consequences for human health.

In direct response to these issues and concerns, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), through its Pakistan based arm, the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP), established a community-based project to rehabilitate, restore and revitalize the three settlements of Shigar.

Two rundown historic mosques within the settlements were a key focus of the overall effort, as were several residential areas and the bazaar, the latter on the verge of disappearing altogether. This initiative helped to conserve the essential cultural, architectural and artistic values inherent of the area and provided a demonstrable alternative to typical modern building approaches. The planning and rehabilitation process made use of local technical wisdom accumulated over centuries, reviving values that anchored Balistani society and had given it direction in the past. The project also improved hygiene conditions, while generating the funding needed for future maintenance. The AKCSP implemented the project between 2000 and 2002, with generous grants from the AKTC and the governments of Japan and Spain.

Conservation Approach

Because of the complex character of the project, involving living communities, the AKCSP took particular care to plan each step carefully and move the project forward in manageable stages. The first stage was a physical survey of the area, carried out as a basis for designing an appropriate intervention at the site. This survey allowed planners to collect information about the site and to identify a set of priorities for the work. Practical observations further helped in determining community concerns, which supplied the principal guidance for the individual projects.

The planning process resulted in the choice of three trajectories, focused on three areas, each with distinct types of technical and material issues. The conservation of the two mosques in the settlements required a particular bundle of techniques and sensitivities. The rehabilitation of settlement residences called for a different set of values and emphases. Finally, the restoration of the bazaar took yet another direction. Each of these interventions required careful attention to the expectations and concerns of residents.

In addition to concerns about the conservation approach and appropriate treatments, the AKCSP team also had to consider the special conditions of the site. These included problems such as earthquake resistance, thermal comfort levels and availability of local materials, namely stone, mud and timber. The team was determined not to insert unnecessary new elements into the setting and relied on traditional artisanship throughout the construction phase. In many instances, such as the rebuilding of the original domed roofs of the bazaar, the project demanded a return to skills long abandoned in the area. It also insisted on the use of traditional materials. Nonetheless, a few new elements, such as the new bathing houses, required creative solutions reflecting present-day community values.

Conservation and the Community  

The paramount goal of the project was to improve the social and economic well-being of the people living in the settlements and in the neighbouring villages through skills training, job creation and attracting tourists. Many skills relating to the material culture, such as building techniques and woodcarving, were not being actively transmitted to the younger generation, and therefore faced the danger of being lost. Traditional forms of social interaction, community political life and cultural values were also under threat, as a consequence of the abandonment of the village core and the expansion of the settlement beyond its original boundaries.

The process of conservation, rehabilitation and upgrading required encouraging the revival of the local traditions of community participation and collective labour. This had the beneficial effect of reinforcing the community’s awareness of and pride in its heritage. The hope is that the expansion of knowledge and skills within the community will serve future conservation projects positively and enhance the overall quality of artisanship and pride in the local communities of Shigar.

The project also added substantially to the overall quality of life among people living in the settlements. The provision of potable water, improvements to sewage lines and electrical and telephone services were some of the positive aspects of the conservation effort, providing the residents with modern conveniences in the context of heritage conservation. As a result of these and the other aspects of the project, the settlement areas have achieved a new level of liveability. The projects also have alerted residents to the qualities that distinguish their homes from those of other people. Foremost, the conservation effort has given local residents a new sense of pride in their history and their surroundings.

Quote from the Project Team

“After the conservation works, the structural problems in the walls, ceiling, roof, infill materials, rendering, ornamentation, and biological decay vectors were resolved, principally using indigenous materials and techniques and through the craft and cultural sets of skills developed during a decade of conservation work in Ganish village and in Altit.”