Sustainable Architecture(s) - Humane Cities
Mohallas as Fields of Identity Formation
N. Shah
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm


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Historically the typical features of traditional Muslim cities were mosques adjoining markets with great public squares, palaces, or forts. In the pre-Partition era, the pre-colonial Moghul towns of India (such as Lahore and Delhi) were clearly planned on the principles of politics and commerce. The streets holding the arcaded bazaars met at the squares between the masjid and the fort. The multiuse buildings that composed these bazaars had storefronts and warehouses in the back with living quarters of the merchants and traders above them. This traditional neighbourhood, district, quarter, or ward was called a ‘mohalla’. The mohallas were also segregated and organized along castes, class, religion, place of origin, and most importantly on occupational specialty.

This research paper investigates the current role of mohallas as fields of social, political, and economic organization of diverse groups of people in the post-colonial twenty-first century South Asan context. The eight-mile long stretch of Korangi Town in Karachi, Pakistan provides the opportunity to study the emergence of traditional mohallas in a post-colonial modern settlement, that was planned (1958) to house 500,000 inhabitants, as a refugee resettlement program. The objective of the study is to understand the saliant features of a mohalla and how it continues to dominate and sustain the lives of its residents. Such understanding will help in reimagining cities in the South Asian context.


Nadia Shah is currently adjunct faculty at Illinois Institute of Technology, from where she completed her PhD in architecture in May 2021.  Shah earned her master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of Memphis and her bachelor’s degree in architecture from National College of Arts, in Pakistan. Her main research interest is in equitable housing through inter- and transdisciplinary approaches in policy and design. Her work experience in the United States has been with community development corporations and her focus in research papers has been on cost efficient, affordable, and equitable housing solutions in the transcontinental context.

Shah’s PhD research centered on providing further insights on ‘why’ and ‘how’ the standardized planned and built settlements in the post-colonial Global South have been incrementally appropriated by their residents (both individually and collectively). Her research also focusses on mass housing projects and a theoretical framework for assessing incremental appropriations and development in housing schemes. She uses morphological inquiry, to capture the physical evolution of planned settlements chronologically, as a methodology for such study.