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Project Profile

 

2005 Award of Merit

Amburiq Mosque

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Project Title: Amburiq Mosque

Location: Shigar, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Size: 63 square metres

Costs: US$ 18,300

Responsible Party: Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan and Stefano Bianca

Heritage Architect: Masood A. Khan, Richard Hughes, Abbas Ali Shah, Sher Ghazi and Jawaid Iqbal

Contractor: Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan

Date of Completion: December 1998


Project Synopsis

Amburiq Mosque was the first mosque built in Gilgit-Baltistan, a region of Pakistan once dominated by the Buddhist faith. Islam was introduced to the region in the fourteenth century by the Persian teacher and scholar Amir Kabir Sayed Ali Hamdani.

Constructed of local stone and mud, the mosque is an excellent example of combined Tibetan and Kashmiri architecture. The mosque is composed of two spaces, a prayer chamber and a verandah. A two-tiered roof with a flat lower level and a gabled upper level surmount the structure, while the building features a Tibetan-style tower at its centre.

In September of 1996, following several requests from the local community, His Highness the Aga Khan visited Baltistan. To mark his visit, he commissioned a team of experts to conduct a survey of the cultural and architectural heritage of the region. Realizing the importance of Amburiq Mosque to the region and to the history of the Islamic faith, the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP) launched a project to assist in the conservation of the structure. Funding came largely from the Aga Khan Foundation, with significant in-kind contributions from the local population.

The ancient structure — approximately 600 years old at the time of the project — was in poor condition when the conservation work began. Rain and wind had eroded the mud thatch, the foundations were failing and some of the walls were significantly out of plumb. In addition to these problems, an earthquake in the early twentieth century had introduced threats to the structural stability of the mosque. These included the settlement of the southwest wall by 45 centimetres, leaning of supporting walls and the collapse of the pitched roof and the Tibetan tower. Consequently, the mosque was no longer in use as a place of worship or a pilgrimage site.

Conservation Approach

The project aimed to retain the maximum original fabric of the structure and to replace decayed parts with similar or identical materials. As part of the overall conservation strategy, the project’s designers also chose to employ local artisans and to restitute traditional building techniques. Community members were enlisted in the work itself, not only as a means of training local artisans, but also to draw from the well of existing knowledge of traditional construction techniques and materials. The team consulted with the local community to determine their expectations for the project. The team wanted to know how the community felt it might benefit from the restoration of the mosque and wanted to gauge what community members considered significant.

The initial steps in the conservation process included an analysis of the building’s components and finishes and the identification of underlying problems. The AKCSP team carried out detailed written and graphic documentation to determine the original building sequence and to note later changes or additions. The team then turned to considering ways of reinforcing existing features and the application of corrective measures.

From the analysis of the building’s components, the team found that the foundation required increased depth and width in order to prevent further settlement and to minimize the changes in soil compression due to the effects of frost. To accomplish this, workers elevated the sunken portion of the structure by means of seven hydraulic jacks. This procedure allowed for the placement of slate slabs beneath the structure, providing a more stable footing for the foundations.

One of the factors that had contributed to the settlement of the walls was the damp condition of the underlying soil, which was a result of the building’s close proximity to an irrigation channel. Workers redirected the channel away from the structure to provide a buffer between the channel and the mosque’s foundations.

Following the compaction of the soils around the structure and the realignment of the channel, the team then reconstructed the leaning walls. As an added stabilization measure, masons applied plaster to the walls and inserted it into the crevices of the walls. This treatment also helped protect the structure against penetration by rats and other vermin.

The final task of the conservation project was to repair and conserve the two-layered roof to stabilize the structure and ensure its durability. The top layer of the roof originally sat on the lower, flat layer, supported by a single wooden column, which stood in the prayer chamber, and four upper beams resting on the lower roof. Roof thatching covered the inclined portion, but as a consequence of the settlement of the structure the thatch itself had started to fall off the roof and no longer served its proper function as a rain shed.

To adhere to the guiding principle of maximum retention, artisans reused most of the original roof timbers. These were coated with linseed oil for protection from the elements. The workers then adjusted the four upper beams so that they gained additional support from the walls rather than being dependent solely on the roof. Following the realignment of supporting members, the roof could be restored to its original pitch and configuration. Workers laid birch bark over the timbers to prevent their decay.

Conservation and the Community

Local community members played a central role from the beginning of the project, contributing their own ideas about how to proceed and on what they hoped might be the final result of the project. Following requests from the community, the project added a place for ablutions, toilets and a morgue. The land required for these facilities, located beside the mosque, was donated by two community members. Following the completion of the conservation work in 1998, the mosque was returned to the local inhabitants, and the mosque is once again used as a place of worship. Community members also established a small museum to explain the story of Amir Kabir Sayed Ali Hamdani and to display personal effects of the Muslim cleric that were discovered in the roof of the mosque. Fees collected from the use of ablution spaces and morgue cover the costs of basic repairs and maintenance of the mosque.

Quote from the Project Team 

"One of the major impacts of this conservation project was the realization that if this fragile structure had been allowed to collapse, Shigar clearly would have lost its major landmark and an important part of its cultural identity.”