- Yasmeen Lari, Pakistan’s first female architect, is set to receive the 2023 Royal Gold Medal for architecture from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
- Lari is recognized for her work in championing zero-carbon self-build concepts for displaced populations and designing accessible and environmentally friendly solutions to help people below the poverty line.
- Through her work, Lari aims to democratize architecture and encourage practitioners to solve pressing social issues with their design skills, regardless of the cause.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has declared that Professor Yasmeen Lari, Pakistan’s first female architect, will be bestowed with the prestigious 2023 Royal Gold Medal for architecture. She is the first Pakistani to win the award and only the second woman to do so.
This award is one of the highest honours for architects and the first one to be personally sanctioned by King Charles III. The award is being conferred to Yasmeen Lari for her work in promoting zero-carbon self-build concepts for displaced populations. She will officially receive the Royal Gold Medal in June 2023.
Yasmeen Lari is known worldwide for her outstanding contributions to architecture and humanitarian work, making her one of the most powerful voices in Pakistan and around the world. Her designs focus on issues such as deforestation, pollution, and health hazards faced by women in rural areas.
She responds to their needs in a systemic and locally specific manner. Even though she officially retired in 2000, her focus has shifted towards creating accessible and eco-friendly solutions and construction techniques to help people below the poverty line and those affected by natural disasters, such as the 2022 floods that engulfed one-third of the country.
I was so surprised to hear this news and, of course, totally delighted! I never imagined that as I focus on my country’s most marginalized people — venturing down uncharted vagabond pathways – I could still be considered for the highest of honors in the architectural profession. -Professor Yasmeen Lari
In 1980, she co-founded the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan with her husband, Suhail Zaheer Lari, pioneering the design of self-built sustainable shelters and housing, which are easy to deploy in case of crisis. Since then, she has helped construct more than 36,000 homes for flood and earthquake victims in her home country. These structures have withstood subsequent natural disasters.
Yasmeen Lari has also designed a version of a Pakistani Chulah, an outdoor stove that replaces other unsafe cooking methods used by women in South Asia, which regularly exposed them to burns, fires, and respiratory issues. Using her knowledge of design and local building techniques, she developed a smokeless, low-cost mud, and line plaster stove that protects both women and the environment.
An elevated mudbrick platform also helps protect the installation from flooding and provides a more hygienic and ventilated workstation, further demonstrating the architect’s commitment to feminist and environmental activism.
Yasmeen Lari was born in 1941 in Pakistan and moved to London with her family when she was 15 years old. She studied art and then was admitted to the School of Architecture, Oxford Brookes University, and then Oxford Polytechnic.
At the age of 23, she returned to Pakistan with her husband to establish her architecture firm, Lari Associates. The office’s work includes projects for major governmental, business, and financial institutions. In 2020, Lari retired from the office, focusing solely on humanitarian work, and earning international recognition.
Through her entire body of work, Yasmeen Lari aims to democratize architecture and encourage practitioners to solve pressing social issues with their design skills, regardless of the cause. In 2020, Yasmeen Lari was awarded the Jane Drew Prize for her extensive humanitarian work over the last two decades.
It was an honor to chair the committee that selected Yasmeen Lari. An inspirational figure, she moved from a large practice centered on the needs of international clients to focusing solely on humanitarian causes. Lari’s mission during her ‘second’ career has empowered the people of Pakistan through architecture, engaging users in design and production.
She has shown us how architecture changes lives for the better.
Lari’s work in championing zero carbon and zero waste construction is exemplary. She has reacted imaginatively and creatively by doing affordable projects that address the real and often urgent need for accommodation, and basic services, but with generosity and an eye for the potential of everyday materials and crafts to make architecture at all scales.
Her way of working also sets out to address the physical and psychological damage caused by major natural disasters – disasters that sadly inevitably will be ever more prevalent in our densely populated and climate-challenged planet. – RIBA President, Simon Allford
The decision to bestow Yasmeen Lari with the Royal Gold Medal highlights RIBA’s new direction, encouraging architects to focus not only on privileged individuals but also on humanity at large, including those affected by disparities, conflicts, and climate change.
Previous winners of the Royal Gold Medal include Balkrishna Doshi in 2022, who was recognized for his visionary urban planning and social housing projects, combining modernism with Indian vernacular, and Sir David Adjaye in 2021, for his groundbreaking and worldwide interventions, ranging from private houses, exhibitions, and furniture design to major cultural buildings and city masterplans.
Kudos to Lari for her marvellous achievements.
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