by Zohra KhanAug 01, 2023
Yasmeen Lari: Architecture for the Future is a timely exploration of the remarkable journey of Pakistan's first woman architect Yasmeen Lari, founder of the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, winner of the Jane Drew Prize in 2020, and most recently the recipient of the RIBA Gold Medal. The monograph of her work compiled and edited by Angelika Fitz, Elke Krasny, Marvi Mazhar, and Architekturzentrum Wien, and published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press in 2023, is accompanied by an exhibition by the same name and sheds light on Lari’s transformative trajectory from a trailblazing modernist architect to a pioneering force in the world of zero-carbon humanitarian architecture.
The significance of her approach to sustainable architecture continues to gain traction with every passing day, as the world becomes more exposed to the dire consequences of the man-made climate catastrophe. The book is a showcase of the impact Lari has had by championing climate activism through zero-carbon self-build movements, empowering communities with traditional technologies and low-cost materials, and fostering dignity and self-reliance. “She designs and tests a systemic approach that aims to tread lightly on the planet,” mentions Angelika Fritz as she describes Lari’s architectural thinking and actions.
The book traces Yasmeen Lari's prolific career and showcases her evolution from an early modernist in the 1960s to her emergence as a star architect or starchitect, responsible for designing iconic buildings that became symbols of the urban middle class in postcolonial Pakistan. Despite these defining examples of design, the heart of the narrative lies in her transition from the world of high-profile architecture to her current role as a climate activist and humanitarian. This progression of Lari is the soul of the book.
We need to do away with the prevalent colonial mindset and the desire to create imposing megastructures. – Yasmeen Lari
This evolution of architectural focus in Lari’s work was instigated by a devastating earthquake. In 2005 northern Pakistan experienced a disaster that left millions of people homeless. The tragedy underscored the urgent need for sustainable and disaster-resistant housing solutions. A witness to the calamity, Lari was fuelled by a deep sense of responsibility towards both people and nature and embarked on a mission to redefine architecture as climate activism.
The book expertly outlines Lari's efforts in creating a zero-carbon self-build movement for climate refugees and landless communities. It is a showcase of her abilities with traditional architecture and technologies, and working with low-cost materials like clay, lime, and bamboo. In the essay Essentials for Life, Angelika Fitz outlines how Lari sees the discipline of architecture as the duty to develop viable, sustainable solutions for zero carbon buildings. “It is about finding out which method is the most cost-effective, safest, and most eco-logical, and then implementing it en masse,” says Lari herself.
An extract from Fitz's essay reads, "Working in earthquake and flood areas, Lari has continuously developed self-construction methods for extremely inexpensive zero-carbon houses. Tens of thousands of such structures were built within a few years. The house forms are derived from vernacular traditions in different regions of Pakistan, the materials also vary regionally from stone to mud and straw. Transverse bracing made of bamboo and lime mortar guarantee stability that withstands even strong earthquakes. The possibility of prefabrication takes the time factor into account. With the Lari OctaGreen (LOG), accommodations can be erected in a very short time with serially prefabricated bamboo modules”.
The book also showcases previously unpublished material from Lari’s archive. Photographs and drawings from this archive become a visual treat that complements the various insightful essays contributed by international authors. The writings of these authors that include Angelika Fitz, Elke Krasny, Chris Moffat, Anne Krapf, and Anila Naeem, amongst others, effortlessly contextualise Lari's work within broader questions of architecture and its relationship to the future. Their perceptive words effectively use examples of Lari’s work to underscore the transformative power of architecture and its potential to create sustainable and humane societies.
Lari has translated the transformation of her perspective into practice. Her exposure to the work of development agencies following various natural disasters in Pakistan had made her sensitive to how those who need help are infantilized by the development mindset. – Rafia Zakaria (Yasmin Lari: Architecture for the Future)
Despite the inclusion of deep analytical essays and features of Lari’s work, the heart of the book is made of the heart of Lari’s architectural philosophy, which she dedicated to decolonisation and decarbonisation. Lari explained in the book, “We worked in the North; we worked in the South. And what it has done for me is help me understand what is necessary to give people safe structures and allow them to build them themselves."
In spite of, or perhaps because of, doing an intense amount of work to shape built environments on ground, Lari recognises the need to advocate for architecture's role in shaping policies, laws, and institutions. The book highlights her involvement in establishing the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners and the monument protection law in Sindh Province demonstrating her commitment to effecting positive change within the profession and beyond.
An extract from the essay by Fitz reads, “Lari has (co)founded civil society organisations, the most prominent being the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, with which she is still active today. She has created new public spaces, such as the Karachi Artists' Gallery, the first permanent exhibition space in Pakistan, which she founded in 1964 together with her husband Suhail Zaheer Lari. She has achieved the enshrinement of job descriptions for architects and town planners into law and the establishment of urban monument protection in Pakistan. She is very sceptical about the state and politics but, if necessary, she takes the path through state institutions and even served as a member of parliament for a short time.”
The book takes readers through nine distinct sectors of Lari's work, this includes the monograph categories such as Karachi Modernism, Housing Equality, Icons for a Karachi Boulevard, Material Ecologies, Heritage as Future, Building Policies, Laws, and Institutions, The Architect as Humanitarian Worker, A Zero-Carbon Revolution in Architecture, and Essentials for Life; it becomes evident that her vision for architecture is comprehensive and holistic. She envisions architecture as a means to address pressing human needs, such as shelter, water, sanitation, and livelihoods for women, ultimately highlighting the essential role of architecture in shaping a sustainable future for all.
Yasmeen Lari: Architecture for the Future is a compelling tribute to an architect who has challenged the status quo and redefined the boundaries of her profession. The book offers a reflection on the changing relationship between architecture and the future, compelling readers to consider the profound impact of their own work on the planet and its inhabitants. As the world grapples with the urgent need for sustainable solutions, Yasmeen Lari's approach to architecture provides a glimmer of hope for a more inclusive and sustainable future.