Published in Nov-Dec 2021
In 2017, The Dawood Foundation (TDF) established TDF Ghar on MA Jinnah Road in Karachi, to create an informal space where art exhibitions could be held and people could gather at a cafe located within the premises. This space is a mansion dating to the 1930s which has been restored with painstaking detail. Continuing with this vision of developing engaging public spaces, in November 2021, TDF inaugurated the MagnifiScence Centre – a state-of-the-art science museum on I.I. Chundrigar Road (the soft launch took place in September).
The MagnifiScience Centre has been built along an abandoned intra-city railway line inside a colonial warehouse that has been restored and installed with eco-friendly elements, such as solar panels and rain and wastewater recycling systems. Given that the neighbourhood is usually heaving with traffic, valet parking has been made available for visitors.
Sabrina Dawood, CEO, TDF, is the woman behind these ventures and by creating this Centre, her objective was to establish an environment where people could learn about and explore the wonders of science. Underpinning these objectives was a realisation that knowledge of science in Pakistan is not equally imparted.
“We wanted to create a space where children could learn about science, irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds,” she explains. She points out that Karachi lacks public spaces that encourage informal learning and the Centre will provide an opportunity for people from different backgrounds to share the same experiences and develop a sense of national identity.
“Cricket brings the nation together. We want to create a similar experience.” She is also of the view that learning has no age. “The Centre is an opportunity for adults and children alike to learn about science; when parents come with their children, they too discover scientific concepts.”
The Centre began in 2016 as a series of ‘travelling exhibitions’ for schools in Sindh and Punjab organised by TDF, to showcase scientific concepts in the form of exhibits developed by their team. Seeing the positive response, in 2018, the TDF MagnifiScience Studio was established in Civil Lines in Karachi and although it was a small space, its success provided the impetus to go bigger and better and the MagnifiScience Centre came into being.
Many exhibits from the Studio have been moved to the Centre, and countless more added. (The Studio was closed in August 2021 after the Centre opened). While the studio was spread over approximately 4,000 square feet, the Centre has over three floors (7,000 square feet floors each) with over 200 displays. An elaborate mangrove forest ecosystem with a suspended bridge, a life-size model of a beating heart, a mirror maze, a solar-powered car, and an anti-gravity room are a few of the examples of the ‘cool’ exhibits on display. The Science Garden is another attraction and includes a bush maze, a treehouse, and several species of plants. The cafeteria, Foodology, provides a fairly elaborate menu along with a peaceful ambience; it is spread over two floors and has an open-air terrace.
The majority of the exhibits were made in-house and therefore ‘Made in Pakistan’. TDF has worked with two consultants for the project: a Germany-based company to help with exhibit design and a US-based consultant specialising in museum staff hiring and training.
The state-of-the-art auditorium will host science shows and the Nature Series documentaries – another TDF project – so far, four documentaries (on Margalla Hills, the Karakorams, the mangrove forests, and Chitral) have been produced and can be seen on TDF’s website and more are in the pipeline. The auditorium is available for rent for seminars and events. “We are reaching out to people working on I.I. Chundrigar Road to hold their business meetings in our science garden or open-air cafeteria or just to have lunch there,” says Christoph S. Sprung, Director, MagnifiScience Centre.
According to Sprung, “the content is in Urdu and English and we plan to display them in Punjabi, Pashto and other regional languages as well to make them more inclusive. We value diversity and inclusivity in all ways and our staff is from multiple ethnic backgrounds, speaking different regional languages. Some are differently-abled and we employ all three genders.”
The museum is open from Monday to Thursday (8:30 am to 4:30 pm) and on weekends (10:00 am to 7:30 pm). Tickets cost Rs 700 per person on weekdays and Rs 800 on weekends. Group tours with dedicated guides can be booked for Rs 1,500-2,500.
The ticket prices, although subsidised by TDF, are on the high side especially for the less affluent income segments and according to Dawood “this is where the people of Karachi can come in to help us achieve our objectives.” In the last two months, school visits, including from schools located in less privileged neighbourhoods have been organised on a sponsorship basis.
She adds that “we do not offer discounts on school tours but we use our network to connect them with donors. We are a purely not-for-profit organisation and lack the financial leverage to give discounts.” Talking about the challenges of this undertaking, Dawood mentions the lack of expertise in museum curation, knowledge and management in Pakistan as well as the lack of funding.
“Museums are costly projects and are usually run and maintained by governments, not private organisations. When a private organisation takes up such a project, it needs the city’s help. The concept of a museum, and that too, a science museum, is so unfamiliar in Pakistan, that no one was ready to fund the project.”
In terms of publicity, digital will be the main platform. “We are at a stage where we are ironing out any kinks. Karachiites tend to get bored very quickly, so we are constantly updating our exhibits to encourage repeat visits. We are always working on something new – we never tire of innovation,” says Sprung. He sees the MagnifiScience Centre as a platform for the transfer of ‘science knowledge’ - at least in Karachi - and he hopes to be able to conduct workshops and teacher training sessions in collaboration with different universities.
Tourists visiting Pakistan are heading for the Centre and Dawood is hoping it will play a role in enhancing Pakistan’s image overseas. “This is why the people of Karachi must improve it and preserve it,” concludes Dawood.
Sadia Kamran is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org