Conservation of the Urban Fabric
Walled City of Lahore, Pakistan

Zachary M. Kron


This case study on urban development in the province of Punjab focuses on the Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultant's efforts to create and implement an urban conservation plan for the walled city of Lahore in the early 1980's. With a population of four million in 1992,1 this old quarter of Lahore is under tremendous pressure from commercial and industrial interests, which as yet have little regard for the historic nature of the city. In addition to these active menaces, the city is struggling to integrate new municipal services into its existent tissue without obscuring its visual character. Although few interventions have actually been achieved, several higher profile "pilot projects" have been carried out in an effort to raise public awareness of the conservation plan.


Lahore is the capital of the province of Punjab, the most fertile area of Pakistan and chief producer of agricultural products for the country. The city is generally arid, except for two months of hot, humid monsoons, and receives less than 20 inches of rain during the course of a year.

The earliest credible records of the city date its establishment to around 1050 AD, and show that its existence is due to placement along the major trade route through Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The city was regularly marred by invasion, pillage, and destruction (due to its lack of geographical defenses and general overexposure) until 1525 when it was sacked and then settled by the Mogul emperor Babur. Sixty years later it became the capital of the Mogul Empire under Akbar and in 1605 the fort and city walls were expanded to the present day dimensions. From the mid-18th century until British colonial times, there was a fairly lawless period in which most of the Mogul Palaces (havelis) were razed, marking a "decrease in social discipline towards the built environment that has continued unabattingly till today."2 Much of the walled fortification of the city was destroyed following the British annexation of the region in 1849, as both a defensive measure to allow the colonists to better control the populous, and as a commercial enterprise in resale of the brick for new projects. In 1864 many sections of the wall had been rebuilt. Major physical contributions of the British to the old city consisted of piped water and well systems established just outside the former walls. The building of the railroad and a station well outside of the old city set the stage for later expansion.3

Social and Economic
A new wave of destruction washed over the city in 1947 following the partition of British Colonial India into the Hindu majority nation of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The resulting inter-communal strife destroyed wide areas of the urban fabric, some of which was repaired by the 1952 Punjab Development of Damaged Areas Act. Many of the arriving Muslim families from India moved into the emigrating Hindu residences, although the lower land values of the old city further established the concentration of lower income groups in the city center, with wealthier families residing outside. In the 1950's an organization called the Lahore Improvement Trust attempted to instate a plan for commercial development in the old city, but these efforts were largely without effect.4 Between the early 1970's and '80's, 29% of the old city population moved out.

The space left by emigrants from the old city has largely been filled by commercial interests, mostly small scale manufacturers and wholesalers, many of whom have national and international clients and do not serve the local community. The advantages for commercial interests are the readily available cheap labor force among the urban poor, as well as relative anonymity, which facilitates the evasion of most national and local taxation. Advantages for speculative developers lie in the absence of enforcement of building regulations, as well as in cheap plots. The resulting commercial encroachment demonstrates a pattern of abuse of building stock through inappropriate re-use of structures intended for small scale (cottage) industry and residential use, as well as destruction of older buildings replaced with quickly erected, lower quality structures.

To the northwest, in the city of Peshawar, and to the east, in Delhi, one can find buildings related in form and age to those in Lahore, although in Peshawar the residential construction is primarily of wood. Although Peshawar was controlled by the Moguls and populated with mosques and gardens as Lahore was during the 16th and 17th centuries, little of it remains to be seen. Peshawar also has it's share of British construction, (including the renovated Mahabat Khan Mosque built under Shah Jehan but largely redone in 1898), and many of the existing residential buildings date from the late 19th century. Like Lahore, the small grain of the urban fabric left intact can be attributed to the growth of the city within a walled fortification.


Significance of the Walled City
The walled city of Lahore is the product of the cultural influences of at least three major empires in the subcontinent of India: the Mogul Empire, the British colonial presence, and the modern nation-state of Pakistan. As a result of its position along a major trade route, it has also been influenced by many other, less dominant cultures, such as Afghanistan and China. Unlike Peshawar, which has lost much of it's larger scaled architectural past, and Islamabad, which can only boast Modern Monumental architecture of some merit, Lahore contains some of the best of all the empires which have touched it, as well as smaller scale vernacular architecture.

In addition to this object value, the walled city plays a central role in the daily functioning of Lahore. It remains a bustling center of commerce and represents the "living culture" of the city, an enduring continuation of and evolution from a much older way of life. As the city contains many heterogeneous physical attributes, the activities of the walled city include all aspects of urban life: residential, manufacturing, retail, educational, religious, and civic.


The Lahore Development Authority's Conservation Plan for the Walled City of Lahore is a series of recommendations concerning the physical decay of historic structures in the city, the "visual clutter" of newer structures and infrastructure, and the encroachment of various unregulated elements on the city's fabric. This program of conservation, headed by Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants Ltd. (PEPAC) is actually the expansion of a project begun in 1979, the "Lahore Urban Development and Traffic Study" (LUDTS). This study, undertaken by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) and funded by the World Bank, identified four areas for improvement. "1. Urban planning activities, leading to the production of a structure plan to provide a framework for action program within Lahore; 2. Neighborhood upgrading and urban expansion projects, to provide substantial improvements in living conditions for lower income groups; 3. Improvement of traffic conditions in congested parts of the street system of central Lahore: and 4. Improvements to living conditions within the walled city by improving environmental sanitation and providing social support program."5

Part of LUDTS' findings identified the precarious position of the physical fabric of the city. The report suggested (among other things) that any development and upgrading program that the city initiated should include measures "to protect national and regional cultural heritage," and to that end it recommended the development of a conservation plan. The World Bank made the creation of a plan a condition of the first loans to be issued to Lahore.

The study identifies some 1,400 buildings within the city as having high architectural or historical value and presents a series of conservation proposals. These recommendations include both conservation steps for the buildings themselves, as well as social and economic programs to halt the causes of their degradation. In general the study suggested the following:
1. Strategic policies and actions to be taken outside the walled city.
2. Planning activities and studies for both the central area and the walled city.
3. Institutional development including the full utilization of existing resources reinforced with an active training program, and the application of the legislative resources that already exist.
4. Urban management and controls to include production of a "Manual for Conservation and Building Renewal" and improved maintenance practices.
5. Traffic improvement and management program.
6. Upgrading and enhancing the physical fabric and the urban environment through upgrading the building stock . . . and through upgrading urban services.
7. Redevelopment with concern for conformity with the scale, height, densities and building typologies traditionally characteristic of the walled city to be demonstrated through projects undertaken by public authorities on state land and through regulated private sector activity.
8. Conservation of individual listed special premises or elements.


While the statement above outlines a general policy approach to the conservation effort, several pilot projects have been more specifically outlined and a handful have been implemented and funded by the World Bank through the Punjab Urban Development Project. The buildings are, in most cases, structures dating from early British colonial times, both residential and commercial, and more monumental structures from the Mogul Empire, although action has only been taken on government owned buildings.

One pilot project that has come directly out of this effort is the restoration of the Wazir Khan Hammam (bath house), built in 1638. The bath, which suffered mostly surface damage to the fresco work, is now being re-used as a tourist center with some facilities for computer education for women. While the structure itself was not in any particular risk of irreversible decay, this hamam is a particularly important site to the Development Authority because it is located on a popular entrance point for tourists coming to the city. For visitors it is the first logical stopping point on a walk that goes from the impressive Delhi Gate (Image 6) past the Wazir Khan Mosque and the Choona Mandi Haveli Complex to end at the Lahore Fort. This route is also well traveled by locals going to the wholesale cloth and dry goods markets. It seems that the choice of aiming the rather limited resources of the program at this project is an attempt to heighten the community interest in the conservation effort, rather than directly addressing sites with more desperate conservation needs.

Additionally, there are several proposals to deal with the conservation of areas surrounding historic monuments. Of particular concern is the area around the Mori Gate, which stands next to the well preserved UNESCO site of the Lahore Fort, and lies between the Fort and the Delhi Gate, immediately adjacent to the newly conserved and re-used Choona Mandi Haveli Complex. While the Fort itself is a vigorously monitored and controlled site, the area immediately surrounding it is "visually cluttered," to say the least. One exits the Fort to be confronted by a mass of electrical cables, transformers, and half a dozen steel recycling operations.

PEPAC's proposal involves the relocation of the steel traders (whom it claims are operating illegally) to a more suitable location and repopulating the area with a mixture of commercial and residential uses. The area itself does not contain artifacts of particular merit, but is amid a concentration of other historic elements.

In their statement of policy and issues, PEPAC refers to the exemplary conservation work done at the Choona Mandi Haveli Complex, and to its re-use as a degree college for women. While this is not a PEPAC project, it is identified as a model of the work they wish to see happening in the city, and claim that the project "came out of the conservation effort" that they are creating.7

While it is unclear from the literature who in fact has implemented the particular conservation of the Haveli Complex or what the connection is to the PEPAC effort, it is clear a particular region of the city has been identified as a primary site for conservation efforts. It seems sensible to concentrate on blocks of the city as specific focus areas for limited resources and as showpieces to use to solicit further funding, but it is curious that this is not stated as a strategy in the group's policy statements.

In addition to these concentrated areas of restoration, the main gates to the city have been chosen as pilot projects, several of which have already undergone restoration work. In order to determine how the restored gates should appear, PEPAC searched for clues not only in their existing condition, but also in historical documentation of the gates from the pre-colonial period. In particular, a wealth of information was found in the numerous renderings by French and British explorers from the 17th century who made paintings, drawings and etchings of the sites. After identifying the site and determining the changes that are to occur in the area, the site was "vacated of encroachers," who currently occupy the niches, hollows and shelters provided by the wall. Several of the gates have now been restored to their pre-colonial state, but the work has recently been halted due to the cessation of World Bank funding.


The example of the gates highlights several difficulties faced by PEPAC in the implementation of their conservation project. First, and perhaps most minor, is the fidelity to the historical record that the conservators wish to maintain. Although the accuracy of the sketches can be verified by different views supplied by different artists, it is not necessarily appropriate to restore the gates to the condition they were in during that particular era, especially at the expense of people who may have some claim to residency in portions of the site.

A more important criticism is that the definition of "encroacher" is inadequate. The Prime Minister has attempted to implement a policy to allot property rights to squatters as a way of instilling greater commitment in them to properly maintain the areas they occupy.8 However, PEPAC does not qualify the distinction between squatters, "encroachers," and residents. Furthermore, 20 million rupees that have been earmarked by the Punjab Urban Redevelopment Project for residents to use for the improvement of their own property was not dispersed due to the inability of the organization to identify legal residents.9

With no clear definition of who is a resident it will continue to be impossible to make a generalized policy. The total absence of legal enforcement of property rights further undermines any sense of ownership. An example is the rapacious acts of the speculative developer who buys a building and then digs a second basement, which effectively collapses the neighboring buildings. The owner, without legal recourse that would provide any results, is left with no choice but to sell their ruined plot to the developer, who then erects a cheap, commercial building.10

This dilemma underscores a central conflict in the policy of conservation enacted by PEPAC. On the one hand is the attempt to instate a series of guidelines and regulations which the residents of the city must follow, and on the other hand is the attempt to encourage a sense of ownership, pride and respect among residents for the architecture. The first effectively removes or reduces the choices of the resident in determining the form of their surroundings and relies upon a policy of rule enforcement. The second relies upon the living culture of a place to perpetuate the existing physical culture, although allowing for the changing needs of the people. Unless policy is made concerning ownership and enforcement, these two approaches, which are not necessarily in conflict, will not act in accord, and will each remain ineffectual.

It is interesting to note that the areas where the PEPAC conservation effort has been most effective is in exclusively government owned properties: schools, municipal dispensaries, monuments and civic buildings, as well as the homes of police officials.11

In the case of the other projects that have been implemented, PEPAC may be criticized for prematurely starting restoration work before active degradation is stopped, or even slowed. The resurfacing of the Wazir Khan Hamam and work on the area between the Delhi and Mori Gate are a prime example of this, a fairly stable area is being conserved while nearby buildings are being razed for newer construction or crumbling through neglect. (Image 9) However, given the dependency of virtually the entire conservation effort on World Bank funding, it must be a priority for the group to create a visible, finished grouping of conserved buildings in order to solicit further funding.

This example of trying to raise consciousness before actually acting to stop degradation is appropriate for any conservation project undertaken in Lahore. From the inception of the current conservation plan, the impetus for preservation has come from outside the city walls and has been hindered by a discrepancy between what is said in meeting rooms and what happens in reality. In the absence of a fairly oppressive and well-funded preservation enforcement program, conservation in the walled city will not be effective without the support and active interest from the people who inhabit it.


1. John King, and John St. Vincent, Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit: Pakistan, 4th Edition (Lonely Planet Publications, 1993), p. 191.


3. Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants Ltd, Lahore Development Authority: Conservation Plan for the Walled City of Lahore, Final Report, vol. 1, Plan Proposals (1986), p. 7.

4. Reza H. Ali, "Urban Conservation in Pakistan: a Case Study of the Walled City of Lahore," Architectural and Urban Conservation in the Islamic World, Papers in Progress, vol. 1 (Geneva: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 1990), p. 79.

5. Lahore Development Authority /Metropolitan Planning Wing, with the World Bank/IDA, "Lahore Urban Development and Traffic Study," Final Report/vol. 4, Walled City Upgrading Study (August 1980), preface.

6. Ali, "Urban Conservation in Pakistan," p. 87.

7. Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants Ltd, Issues and Policies: Conservation of the Walled City of Lahore, (Metropolitan Planning Section Lahore Development Authority, 1996), point 5.

8. Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants Ltd, Lahore Development Authority, Conservation Plan for the Walled City of Lahore, Final Report, vol. 1, Plan Proposals. (1986), p. 180.

9. Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants Ltd, Lecture given on the Walled City of Lahore Conservation Project (July 25, 1998).

10. (Sajjad Kausar)

11. PEPAC lecture (25 July 1998).


Ali, Reza H. "Urban Conservation in Pakistan: a case study of the Walled City of Lahore." Architectural and Urban Conservation in the Islamic World. Papers in Progress. vol. 1. Geneva: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 1990.

Background Paper: Lahore Pakistan. Prepared for Design for Islamic Societies Studio, MIT Department of Architecture and Planning, 1992.

King, John and St. Vincent, John. Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit: Pakistan, 4th Edition. Lonely Planet Publications, 1993.

Lahore Development Authority /Metropolitan Planning Wing, with the World Bank/IDA. "Lahore Urban Development and Traffic Study," Final Report/vol. 4. Walled City Upgrading Study. August 1980.

Nadiem, Ihsan H. Lahore: A Glorious Heritage. Lahore: Sang-e-meel Publications, 1996.

Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants Ltd. Lecture given on the Walled City of Lahore Conservation Project. July 25, 1998.

Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants Ltd. Monographs on the Walled City of Lahore.

Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants Ltd. Lahore Development Authority. Conservation Plan for the Walled City of Lahore. Final Report. vol. 1. Plan Proposals. 1986.

Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants Ltd. Issues and Policies: Conservation of the Walled City of Lahore. Metropolitan Planning Section Lahore Development Authority. 1996.

Qurashi, Samina. Lahore: The City Within. Singapore: Concept Media, 1988.


All photographs and illustrations courtesy the Aga Khan Fund, MIT Rotch Collections, unless otherwise noted below:

1. Courtesy, KK Mumtaz.
2. Courtesy T. Luke Young.
4. Brian B. Taylor, MIMAR 24, 1987.
5. From Pakistan Environmental Planning and Architectural Consultants, Ltd, "Conservation Plan for the Walled City of Lahore."
6. Courtesy T. Luke Young.
7a. Brian B. Taylor, MIMAR 24, 1987.
9. Courtesy Hasan Uddin Khan.

















1. Map of the fortress of Lahore.

















2. Traffic outside the walled city.

3. Encroachment.

4. A bazaar in the Walled city













5. Inside View of the Wazir Khan Hamman, before and after restoration..



6. streets in the old area.

7a and 7b. Electrical infrastructure.

8. Sharanwalla gate.


















9. Electrical infrastructure.
Image10. View of the walled city.

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