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On Stillness

The sea water sparkles in the sunlight. ‘Where do the seagulls sleep?’ asked Maha as they flew past merrily.

The sun rising over the creek floods the sea with light, slowly, painting the horizon with streaks of oranges, purples and deep blues.

The sea, in the meanwhile flows soothingly in shades of deep blues, and aquas. The waves in the morning are calm, receding back in gulps and breaking gently and softly at the shore. The sea in winter mornings is still, calm like a lake.

The kayak glides across it effortlessly, the clear water glitters, and we can see into its depths. We roll up our pants, and stand in the water, listening to gentle rolling waves, fleeting conversations, a steamer in the distance. We look for the fish in the sea, lines of light reflect the flow of the current. We note the patterns it makes. We see a jellyfish! Its sinuous curves dance in the moving water. There are lots of little sea snails - hard forms, with soft bodies sneaking out like fans. They move across the sand at the base of the sea.

We are still. We let ourselves stay still, to see, to hear and to feel.

Our musings with stillness started a month ago, when M decided to experience the sea at sunrise. The sea-face is incredible as the sun sets over the sea, though experiencing the world light up and come to life every morning is a life changing epiphany.

He would come to Sandspit at 5 am, and watch the sun go up.

‘And he’s back to the shore.’ Hira interrupts my train of thought. Today, we have come to experience the morning stillness collectively. And M is not still.He goes into the sea, he comes back, he kayaks, he sits in one spot and then in another, then he naps.

Maha and Hira paint. They try to capture the essence of their experience. Hira paints boats, Maha paints blues.

Two weeks ago, we started off the new year at the beach, with the whole studio. We pitched a tent, lit a fire and watched the sun set on the first day of the year.

Our individual experiences with our city, with our sea and our people teach us important lessons. These lessons collectively come together to inform our practice, as we strive to design good spaces, objects and landscapes.

‘Oooh. It swooped, it's still in there. There must be fish there. These seagulls always remind me of Finding Nemo, have you guys watched it?’

Snippets of conversations.

‘Oysters, mussels or clams?’ We come across a group of children wading through the sea collecting these to sell for 80 rupees a kilo. ‘Iske andar gosh hai, angrez khaate hai issey. Mujhe machli zyada achi lagti hai.’ They borrow our kayak and zoom through the water, offering to go to the fishermen’s boats and get us some fresh fish.

These snippets are interspersed between conversations on context, on sunlight and culture.

One morning, M observed a flock of seabirds. They would run into the water to eat, and run back with the waves. They wouldn’t get wet. One evening, as the sun set over the water, these birds came back. Today they are not there. But there were seagulls.

The day we spent our evening at the beach - we set up a tent, built a fire and went kayaking. These experiences were special. They left us with memories to cherish, and lessons to ponder upon. They made us stronger as a team, and helped us grow as individuals.

The Tent

As we went about pitching our tent at the beach, we were a group of architects faced with the question - How does one set up a tent? And the question deepened to - Is this the making of architecture?

Bisma and I opened the tent and laid it out on the ground. Then we went about joining the metal poles.We had assumed there would be many, but there were just three. They were folded with the help of elastic rubber bands. Someone asked Bisma, do you know what is happening? She answered - I am just following the instructions, I have no idea how this will shape up.

Suddenly, the tent was up. It had a simple structure, practical common sense joints. So many little details to make it comfortable. Places to store our things, a loop to hang a light, doors and windows. A skylight. All folded up neatly into one backpack.

We were 10 people in the tent, pitched amidst what felt like massive structures when we looked back from the sea. We had our cushions, a feast laid out in the centre and we enjoyed a cosy meal amidst peals of laughter and trips down memory lane.

While pitching the tent we were faced with many questions, simple ones, with simple answers - but deep ones, with important lessons.

The first was, where shall we pitch it - will the tide come up and reach us? We were divided, Currim insisted we would get wet, but the rest of us wanted to be as close to the sea as possible. So we set up where the wet sand met the dry, and Dania drew a line in the sand - she said, when the water reaches here we shall move back.

We drew three lines over the course of the evening, moving further and further away. Six people held the corners and lifted the tent, and Dania drew the next line. Finally, the sea came right at us and blew out our fire, which is when we realised it was time to wrap up and go home.

The next question we grappled with was which direction should the tent face? The sea is visible across the horizon, and the wind will blow in a specific direction, it shouldn’t blow the tent away and the sides need to protect us from the sun - so we set it up the way the huts were structured along the coast.

The day was windy when we spent the morning at the beach, and the wind kept blowing the tent ahead. We hadn’t fixed it with stones, since it was a temporary shelter but once it almost blew down we set about fixing it. We didn’t have rope, but the boys with the clams in a matter of minutes helped us find stray pieces of waste rope from boats and fishing nets. These tied together with washed up rocks from dilapidated beach huts helped us ground the tent to the sand. M opened up a window to let the wind flow, and that eased the pressure enough to reduce the resistance by almost 50%. We were stable.

This reminded us of Rahul Mehrotra’s words on the kinetic city and ‘Jugaar’, on simple solutions based on common sense and on using resources around us. The solutions needed to solve our problems and create a comfortable, stable space could be found within a 20 foot radius of where we were pitched. We just had to think, and to look.

We wanted to build a bonfire outside our tent. We had brought some wood from the city, but it wasn’t enough. We did not know how to stack it, or how to make it last longer.

The caretaker of the huts helped us find some driftwood. This is washed up along the shore, collected, dried and sold as firewood. He showed us how to make a small hole in the sand, stack the pieces up to create a cone and light the fire from within.

The wind needed to blow smoke away from us. Again we had to think about how to place it on site, how to make it structurally stable, and how to keep it alive and warm.

The pitching of the tent helped us to understand the earth better, the wind better. Just by letting the wind flow we learned to react to things in a light way, to remove resistance and embrace the small common sense lessons life teaches us.

On Kayaks

The more often we visit the beach, the better we get to know the sea, and the better it gets to know us.

The tent helped us understand the land we were on, and the kayak helped us understand the water.

When we went to the beach as a studio, everyone went into the water. Some of us could swim, some couldn’t - but all of us wanted to try to float. The sea was slightly rough, it was low tide in the afternoon when Rejah drifted a bit too far away. The rest of us, without realising it, followed her in too deep and almost got caught in a current. A helpful lifeguard and good luck ensured we came out unscathed - touched, but safe.

This encounter made us realise the power of the ocean, and the importance of conversations with water. The importance of trusting intuition, and of knowing when to stop.

It is an incredible experience to kayak, especially in the calm winter sea at sandspit. You can glide effortlessly across the water, fuelled by the wind. The design of the kayak splits the water at the front, and the buoyancy allows you to float. Slowly, the kayak teaches you how to adjust your weight with the movement of the water, so as to maintain the balance - even when waves bounce you up and down.

While kayaking, looking back at the shore, reflecting, estimating the distance, creating a safe boundary and ensuring you stick to it are incredible life lessons. The kayak teaches us to flow, to float, to be like water - and to go where there is space to flow.

While M lay back on the Kayak and let it bob freely, Hira and I had an interesting conversation about the scope of architecture. In this day and age, architecture is not solely defined by a specific type of building, it may be digital, it may be a virtual space, a pavilion, an object which defines a space. It may be many things. It may include the design of a Kayak floating on water. The ergonometric relationship a kayak has with a person, and the way it sits on the sea lead us to exciting conversations about the possibilities that lie in creating spaces that may be in the water. There are multiple ways a person may occupy them. One could float, be partially submerged, move with the tide, or be fully submerged.

‘How does one create foundations in the water? How does one tether a space to the sea?

Should structures by the sea be lighter? What are the different ways to build by our sea? Can there be a different approach?’

It is a wonderful time to be a multidisciplinary practice. To allow ourselves to dream, to write, to experiment with small objects and to strive to design and build better spaces.

Kayaking in the open sea also took us back to a cherished memory - floating on a kayak amidst the huge limestone cliffs of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. The sea there is very different from the sea in Karachi. The flatness is replaced by giant rock monoliths that one must navigate. The current is different, the views are different and the horizon is different.

Some years ago a few of us travelled to Vietnam together. The kayaks in Ha long bay were accessed from a ship, and were two person kayaks. Two person kayaks teach us how to work in sync, to not give up, and use natural forces to guide the flow.

A funny incident from that experience was our quest to fall into the sea and swim amongst the cliffs. While moving from the kayak to the ship, I tried hard to slip and fall, but, in that effort the kayak got misbalanced and M plopped into the sea instead of me.

Working as a team has its ups and downs, but trust, support and faith helps us float through our work and our life whilst aiding our growth and enriching each experience.

The kayak has been a great vessel to converse with the sea, and try and understand its ebb and flow, learn from its movement and enjoy the sparkling sunlight, see the fish floating beneath and the wonders of the flat horizon and distant mist.


conceptualised by:

Murtaza Nooruddin

written by:

Shehrebanu Nooruddin

curated and edited by:

Hira Rasool & Wajiha Ashraf

This set of 7 postcards is a companion to the written piece ' On Stillness' - Moments by the sea, the first in our series of writings about our experiences and perceptions of Karachi, the moments of magic we can find around us, and the lessons we have learned from it as individuals, and as a collective studio. You can order the set on the link below.

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1 Comment

Moyena Ahmed Niazi
Moyena Ahmed Niazi
Jan 21, 2022

Simply beautiful 😍

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