Sister of politician Nasreen Jalil, Yasmeen Lari was born in the town of Dera Ghazi Khan and spent her early years in and around Lahore. Her father was working on major development projects in Lahore and other cities. Yasmeen Lari was exposed to architecture through her father. She was 15 years old when she first left Pakistan to go to London with her family. Initially there for a vacation, she and her siblings ended up enrolling in school in London. Upon the rejection of the architecture school for not being able to draw, Yasmeen Lari studied two years of arts in London before finally being accepted into the Oxford School of Architecture.
After graduation, in 1964, at the age of 23, Lari returned to Pakistan with her husband and opened Lari Associates in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. She became the first female architect among the dozen architects in Pakistan. Initially she faced many difficulties when workers at construction sites would be challenging.
She was president of the Institute of Architects in Pakistan from 1980 to 1983. In 1967, Lari and her firm designed the Generals Combatant Headquarters (GHQ), and later designed the MOD's Naval Combatant Headquarters (NHQ).
Her later projects included housings, such as the Angoori Bagh Housing (1978), and business buildings, such as the Taj Mahal Hotel (1981), the Finance and Trade Center (1989), and the Pakistan State Oil House (PSO Company headquarters) (1991) in Karachi.
Lari is also interested in researching and developing solution for old towns and low-income housing. She studied slums and squatter settlements in Karachi to improve her designs. She has stated:
"For the low income groups, you have to understand their needs. If it is housing, I always talk to women because they are the ones who spend most of their time in these houses, we need to see where the children will play, if they need to grow something [in the garden] to supplement food for the kids. Also the outer spaces become very important like the sahan, the roof terrace where they can have the open sky. So you just think about it (the design) and sometimes it's torture for several days and then you suddenly wake up and things fall into place… When you are in the design process, it is with you all the time. Whether you are sleeping or you are awake, doing something else, it's with you in your mind".[this quote needs a citation]
Beside the design, the cost is also important, and that is why for ABH (1978) she built it with the cheapest local bricks in Karachi while still maintaining the quality of the building.
Lari also has her interests in preserving historical buildings, monuments, and cities in Pakistan. She founded the Heritage Foundation Pakistan to advocate the documentation and preservation of historical sites and buildings. Her effort was rewarded when the Pakistani government was persuaded to set up a law in 1994 to protect buildings and landmarks with cultural heritage. As a result, over 600 buildings were legally protected by 1997. In 2002, the Heritage Foundation received the Recognition Award from the United Nations System in Pakistan for its efforts and results. In 2011, she received the Pakistani "1st Wonder Women of the Year Award".
- Naval Officers Housing, Karachi
- Angoori Bagh Housing (1978)
- Taj Mahal Hotel, Karachi (1981)
- FTC Building, Karachi (1989)
- PSO House, Karachi (1991)
Lari retired in 2000. However, she remains active with her historical preservation by serving as the advisor of the UNESCO project, the executive director of the Heritage Foundation, and the chairperson of the Karavan Initiatives.
Some of Yasmeen Lari's publications include:
- Slums and Squatter Settlements: Their Role and Improvement Strategy
- Our Heritage in Muslim Architecture
- Tharparkar and Sialkot after the War
- Traditional Architecture of Thatta
In 1997, Lari and her son, Mihail, published the book The Dual City: Karachi During the Raj, and in 2001, she and Suhail published Karachi: Illustrated City Guide.