Yasmeen Lari (born c. 1941; Urdu: یاسمین لاری) is Pakistan's first female architect. She is best known for her involvement in the intersection of architecture and social justice. Since her official retirement from architectural practice in 2000, her UN-recognized NGO Heritage Foundation Pakistan has been taking on humanitarian relief work as well as historical conservation projects in rural villages all around Pakistan. She was awarded with the prestigious Fukuoka Prize in 2016.
Yasmeen Lari was born in the town of Dera Ghazi Khan and spent her early years in and around Lahore in a renowned clan of Iraqi Biradari. Her father Zafarul Ahsan, an ICS officer, was working on major development projects in Lahore and other cities, through which Lari was exposed to architecture. Her sister is Pakistani politician Nasreen Jalil. When she was 15 years old, 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 her rejection from architecture school, Yasmeen Lari studied two years of arts in London before being accepted into the Oxford Brookes University School of Architecture.
After graduating from the Oxford School of Architecture in 1964, Lari returned to Pakistan at 23 with her husband, Suhail Zaheer Lari, and opened her architecture firm Lari Associates in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. She became the first female architect in Pakistan. Initially, she faced difficulties when workers at construction sites would challenge her authority or knowledge because of her gender.
Her later projects included housing, such as the Angoori Bagh Housing (ABH) (1978), and commercial 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 retired in 2000 from architectural practice. However, she remains active with her historical preservation by serving as the advisor of the UNESCO project, as the executive director of Heritage Foundation Pakistan, and as the chairperson of the Karavan Initiatives.
Since 2010, among other projects, Lari has built over 36,000 houses for those affected by Pakistan's floods and earthquakes as of 2014. Lari implements traditional building techniques and local materials in rebuilding the Sindh Valley region of Pakistan.
On architectural practice in Southeast Asia, Lari has said, "The two ends of the spectrum of the two worlds we live and work in are best captured in the words of two famous architects, Mies van der Rohe and Hassan Fathy. Mies van der Rohe, a master of putting the elements of a building together and the grand master of detail, has said: "I am first interested in a good building. Then I place it in the best possible spot.' In contrast Hassan Fathy, who has spoken more forcefully than any other on the beatify of the vernacular and the importance of tradition, states: 'You must start from the beginning, letting your new buildings grown from the daily lives of the people who will live in them, shaping the houses to the measure of people's songs, weaving the pattern of a village as if on the village looms, mindful of the trees and the crafts that grow there, respectful of the skylines and humble before the seasons.'"
- Naval Officers Housing, Karachi
- Angoori Bagh Housing (also known as ABH) (1978)
- Taj Mahal Hotel, Karachi (1981)
- Finance and Trade Center (also known as FTC Building), Karachi (1989)
- Pakistan State Oil House (also known as PSO House), Karachi (1991)
Historical conservation and restoration projects (incomplete)
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
- 1993 – Traditional Architecture of Thatta
- 1997 – The Dual City: Karachi During the Raj (co-authored with her son, Mihail Lari)
- 1997 – The Jewel of Sindh: Samma Tombs on the Makli Hill (co-authored with her husband, Suhail Zaheer Lari)
- 2001 – Karachi: Illustrated City Guide (photography by her husband, Suhail Zaheer Lari)
- 2003 – Lahore: Illustrated City Guide
In 2006, Lari was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, one of the highest civil awards by the Government of Pakistan, in recognition of her services to the architectural profession and to heritage conservation of historical sites in Pakistan.
In 2011, she received the Pakistani "1st Wonder Women of the Year Award".
Yasmeen Lari lives in Karachi, Pakistan with her husband, Suhail Lari. She has three children and a grandchild.
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