The Brick Screen: Parametric Approach to Traditional Pakistani Jali WITHIN The Digital Divide
Muhammad Talha Muftee1,2*, Shaikh Abdul Basit3
1Doctoral Student, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning - Ghent University, BELGIUM, email@example.com
2Lecturer, Department of Architecture - COMSATS University Islamabad, Lahore Campus, PAKISTAN, firstname.lastname@example.org
3Principal Architect, Fun-e-Tameer, PAKISTAN, email@example.com
With concerns regarding climate and need for more sustainable practices, practitioners try to appropriate advance design tools for their efficient problem-solving capabilities. In regions like Pakistan, architects are met with challenges of the digital divide due to which they must improvise and develop hybrid methodologies, bridging the gaps between digital tools and analogue construction techniques. While it imposes a limit on the selection of tools, it leads to new opportunities to embed performative qualities and novel tectonics in region specific material systems.
In this paper, authors explain the process and challenges behind a recent large scale parametric brick façade titled the Brick Screen in Karachi, Pakistan designed and fabricated for the ACPKHI (Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi) in 2022. Challenges consisted of local perceptions of risk, cost, sceptical attitudes regarding technology, and lack of existing examples of parametric design within the region. By using parametric design tools in a contextually grounded manner and optimization for manual fabrication, the architects were able to reintroduce the idea of the traditional jali (hence the name Brick Screen based on the Urdu word jali - جالی ) which existed as an ornamental, climatically efficient device in the region interfacing with sunlight, natural ventilation, and privacy. Parametric design tools such as Grasshopper (a parametric design plugin for Rhino3D) helped develop not only brick patterns based on sunlight, spatial functions, and ornamentation, but a secondary script helped translate and optimize the generated patterns into human-readable fabrication drawings. This allowed linking of digital design process with existing construction practices that architects and stakeholders were familiar with. Constraints of manual brick masonry led to abstraction of thousands of bricks into simple sequences (or chal - چال as understood in colloquial construction terms), resulting in an efficient, economically feasible assembly process on site.
The project sets a precedent in the region for working at extremes of the digital divide and digital tools as means to transform existing practices. By using materials and building systems which are already accessible, digital tools can embed additional performative qualities in brick in a contemporary and regionally sensitive manner without the cost barriers of advanced materials or fabrication systems. Without access to advanced fabrication platforms ideal for transforming local practices at a fundamental level, architects can still work within limitations of technology, practice, and industry to achieve solutions that are more appropriate for the future.
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