Born in Karachi in 1935, Habib Fida Ali, who passed away on January 7, was among Pakistan’s foremost architects. He studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) in the 1950s and was the first Pakistani student there. After returning to Pakistan, he worked with the American architect William Perry, before beginning his own practice in 1965.
In the years that followed, Habib Fida Ali became an icon in his own right; his work was visible across Pakistan and his portfolio included a diversity of buildings ranging from schools, mosques, offices, malls, hotels and residences, including the National Bank of Pakistan, the CAS School, The Forum, the Burma Shell Building and LUMS. Habib Fida Ali was also the recipient of several awards over the years for his work.
In The Architectural Style of Habib Fida Ali by Hasan-Uddin Khan, Anjalendran C, a leading architect based in Sri Lanka commented: “Habib Fida Ali’s architecture is uncompromisingly modern. Most of his buildings… exhibit a sense of resolution and refinement. Such clarity is rare amongst Asian architects… His buildings have an abstract sculptural quality, which makes them stand out like a prism in the confused city of Karachi.”
One of the characteristics that differentiated Habib Fida Ali’s work was what he called his “less is more” approach. This came through in minimalistic and modern designs that defined his work, and was perhaps exemplified by the use of ‘fair face’ concrete that typified his work.
“I simply idolise fair-face,” he said. “It is an adventurous material and one can produce wonders with it… it is much like clay… a sculptural material to play with.” Another characteristic was a lack of colour; this, he explained was because he thought that “colour is too strong and detracts from the special qualities of a place…”
Habib Fida Ali played a pivotal role in the restoration of the Mohatta Palace Museum, as well as his home, which he made in an old colonial building in Karachi; tastefully decorated, it serves as a testament to his impeccable taste and exudes the symmetry, elegance and minimalism that was apparent in his work.