Looking Back At The Extraordinary Legacy Of Pakistan’s First Female Architect

The life and times of Pakistan's first female architect.
The life and times of Pakistan's first female architect. L: The Guardian; R: Architekturzentrum Wien

The truly commendable tale of Yasmeen Lari is one for the books, celebrated as the first female architect of Pakistan, she revolutionised design through the lens of empathy and innovation. She pioneered disaster relief construction for humanitarian relief in the poorest regions of the country in addition to creating phenomenal brutalist villas and glass buildings within cities. While the architect has seen massive success in her professional life, even winning the Jane Drew Prize, it is her community projects that remain unparalleled. Her journey proves that only once we employ our skills for the aid of others, can we thrive as a society and as individuals.

Lari was the architect behind one of the most impressive buildings in Pakistan. One of these, The Pakistan State Oil House, is known for its powerful design, and stands tall with its polished granite and five-story atrium. She's also worked on a number of prestigious state commissions including Karachi’s finance and trade centre, a large hotel and a host of military barracks. However Lari describes this period of her life as an "egotistical journey", that ended once she decided to utilise her abilities to improve the lives of the most vulnerable individuals in our society. 

In 2000, she retired to primarily focus on writing books about Pakistan’s architectural history but her calm life soon came to an end when an earthquake of 7.6 magnitude hit northern Pakistan in 2005, killing 80,000 people and leaving 400,000 families displaced. After this point her tireless humanitarian work consisted of building shelters with the barest minimum of means. She believes in the power of co-creation and worked out a plan to rehabilitate the locals by employing their energies into the project. This contradicted the approach of international aid agencies who were busy erecting costly housing that lacked both functionality and soul. 

The Architectural Review

While speaking to The Guardian she explained the process of working with dispossessed families to rebuild their homes using mud, stone, lime and wood from the surrounding debris. She also trained the locals to use materials at their disposal to build sustainable and safer homes. Her disaster relief work kept on going from there as Lari worked on further developing agile, low-cost techniques of construction. Her work helped the survivors of severe flooding in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces in 2010 as well as earthquake survivors of both Balochistan and Shangla in 2013 and 2015 respectively.  

Lari also runs the Barefoot Social Architecture Foundation. Here, they employ a programme to inform and teach the impoverished communities in Sindh province, about the art of building components and products that they can sell to each other. In the process they are building self-reliant communities who are now above the poverty line. The innovative architect has set an example of how we can use our privilege for the benefit of others. She's now etched in history, not only as a South Asian woman who not only broke glass-ceilings and set a new precedent for other female architects to come, but also as a humanitarian who greatly improved the lives of her fellow human being.

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