Lahore is the second largest city in Pakistan after Karachi. It is the cultural capital of Pakistan. It is an ancient urban centre. It was one of the major cities of the Mughals in the 17th century. Its location as an important crossroads in the northern Punjab brought riches as well as invading armies. As a result the city cultivated a rich architectural heritage that reflects the political fortunes of its conquerors. The modern city of Lahore, however, is organised along a pattern set mostly by the British during their approximately one hundred years of colonial rule over the Indian sub-continent.
Today Lahore has almost seven million inhabitants plus innumerable migrant workers from the surrounding small villages. Its precarious location between the Ravi River to the West and North and the Indian border to the east forced the city to grow mostly southward.
The Walled City of Lahore covers an area of 256 ha with a population of 200,000. The city walls were destroyed shortly after the British annexed the Punjab in 1849 and were replaced with gardens, some of which exist today. The Circular Road links the old city to the urban network. Access to the Walled City is still gained through the 13 ancient gates, or their emplacements. The convoluted and picturesque streets of the inner city remain almost intact but the rapid demolition and frequently illegal rebuilding, which is taking place throughout the city, is causing the historic fabric to be eroded and replaced by inferior constructions. Historic buildings are no exception and some have been encroached upon. The few old houses one can still see in the city are usually two or three storeys tall, with brick façades, flat roofs and richly carved wooden balconies and overhanging windows.
The Pearl Mosque in Lahore, completed in 1991, is located at the rear of a large hotel complex. It is intended for use by the hotel staff and guests. Its programme consists of a simple prayer room, ablution facilities, temporary imam quarters, a small library for religious texts, and restrooms. The owner left the architectural expression of the building up to the architect and was exceptionally receptive to the idea of breaking away from the traditional mosque semiotics (the minaret, the dome, and the minbar).
The mass of the building is very simple: a square volume with each side equivalent to about four times its height, with two small towers located at diagonally opposite corners. The two front sides of the square are carved out to create an arcade. The arcade on the north and east sides of the building acts as a buffer between the square plan of the prayer hall and the main grounds of the hotel. An open portico at the northeast corner of the arcade leads diagonally to the prayer hall. The north extension of the arcade around the prayer hall conceals the ablution area and the restrooms. The ablution area is accessed from the entrance portico, while the restrooms are accessed from the rear through a door in the tower. The auxiliary functions of ablution, restrooms, imam, and library rooms are concealed by a concrete block screen wall. The screen wall is placed between the columns of the arcade and does not disturb the rhythm of the arcade.
The 45° rotation of the floor pattern and the 1:2 ratio of the prayer rug created a rigid yet simple system of proportioning in the building. This proportioning system was carried into the elevations. The architects devised a concrete block screen wall system. This system is particularly reminiscent of the Mughal screen walls known locally as jali screens. Each screen wall is square in shape. Simple white pillars separate the screen segments. The building uses extremely simple modern elements. No attempt at traditional ornamentation was intended. The mosque had to maintain the modernist look of the original hotel.