Shariq M. Shah *

شارق م. شاہ

Designer and researcher investigating climate, technology, and culture

at the
Harvard University
Graduate School of Design.

︎ About

︎ Architecture
︎ Design
︎ Research
︎ Field Studies

The media are not toys… they can be entrusted only to new artists, because they are art forms.
(McLuhan, 1954)

Entangled Territories *

Material Memory, Relationality, and Local Practice from
Ancient Mohenjo Daro to Post-Colonial Sukkur, Pakistan

Bachelor of Architecture Thesis
Spring 2022

Carnegie Mellon University
School of Architecture
The thesis situates our planetary climate crisis within the entanglement of two territories: the ancient city of Mohenjo Daro and the post-colonial city of Sukkur in present day Pakistan.

It investigates, through territorial kinships and tensions, the uncharted entanglement of
colonial infrastructure, erasure of local practice, and civilizational precarity over a 4000-year historiography.

The precarity of the planetary condition is made visible through accelerating timescales of  ecological collapse beginning at the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization. Here, design is leveraged as a framework for orienting the local knowledges and relationships that arise in response to crisis.

The thesis leverages design as an investigative method, examining the urban-ecological relations that arise in response to crisis. Rather than simply ameliorating responses, these relations are traced as the construction of their own territority. Ecological stewardship practices are at the same time making visible the spatial implications of crisis as they are responding to the expansion of colonial and post-colonial territory.

Ultimately, the thesis asks the fundamental question of how investigative design might make visible the territories and kinships that arise in response to our planetary crisis. 

In 1922, the 4000-year-old city of Mohenjo Daro was discovered just inland of the Indus River, revealing a telling set of ancient urban-ecological relationships.

In the absence of palaces, temples, or monuments, Mohenjo Daro’s urban fabric was instead inscribed with the tracings of water management practices. Networks of wells were nourished by seasonal floods, while intricate plumbing systems and irrigation canals intertwined everyday urban life with water management practices.

Early excavations established the knowledge of the ancient world’s most advanced irrigation system and the earliest evidence of urban planning. The event would situate a civilization spanning a larger area than the contemporaneous ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations.

At the same time,  just 50 miles north of Mohenjo Daro,

British Lords were unfolding plans to break ground on the world’s single largest integrated and state-controlled irrigation system. It would span from Punjab through much of the Sindh region, bringing the entirety of the Indus Valley under British cultivation. Under British rule, the network of dams and barrages would construct Pakistan's agricultural and textile economy almost entirely on the shoulders of this network of water management infrastructure. 

Controlling water in the Indus River basin, a dry and hot region with lower rainfall, posited a clear governance strategy for a most violent concentration of power at the colonial seat.

In 1923, just six months after the discovery of ancient water management practices at Mohenjo Daro, British engineers began construction on the Lloyd Barrage in the colonial city of Sukkur, Pakistan. 

Constructed canals spanned nearly double the length of the Suez canal and irrigated vast agricultural landscapes cultivating cotton, wheat, sugar-cane, and rice. The region’s food supply, textile economy, and agricultural economy had become constructed upon the barrages’ mediation of flooding.

Mapping Monsoons + Vegetation

The convergence of these two tales at the world stage arises from the socio-political and socio-ecological developments in post-colonial Sukkur. 

The mass migration inland, crumbled healthcare infrastructures, and exaggerated exclusive land ownership systems made visible the erasure of local practices and ecologies. 

Sir John Marshall’s texts on
Mohenjo Daro and the Indus Civilization Vol-i (1931)
In order to investigate a high fidelity historical change in flood patterns as a result of colonial and post-colonial water management practices, the thesis leveraged rigorous geospatial analysis, LIDAR scanning methods, and flow simulation.

1. Multiple decades of satellite imagery and open source Sentinel maps were compiled and compared.
2. Once overlayed, these maps were filtered and categorized according to land areas that were seasonally dry vs. flooded.

3. These areas were then assigned to depth values, with regularly flooded areas assigned a greater depth factor. 

4. The associated depth values were then mapped to a digital surface model and seasonal bitmaps were generated for each year. 

5. Using general vector values of the Indus River, directional flow analysis was run to determine how river flow was responding to the evolving bathymetry over time. 

“Today the Sukkur Barrage, while critical to the lower Indus basin economy, is also responsible for enormous water logging and salinity problems.

These are among the reasons why the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro fifty miles to the south is threatened and cannot be further excavated.”

At Sukkur, the thesis documents the interspecies alliance between Michare (local fishermen) and Bhulan (Indus River Dolphin).

The thesis maps the ecological patterns of the Indus River to everyday fishing practices. The barrage, energy infrastructures, and river dams have destroyed and fragmented the habitats of the Bhulan, stifling migration patterns and lowering water levels to dangerous points.

Michare, the local fisherman at the Sukkur riverbank, are deeply in tune to the migration patterns of bhulan, the endangered Indus River Dolphins, which indicate the health of river ecology. In response, michare note and rescue dolphins threatened by pollution, commercial fishing, and volatile river health.