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Yasmeen Lari wins 2023 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture

Pakistan Architecture News - Apr 27, 2023 - 13:32   2148 views

Yasmeen Lari wins 2023 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture

Pakistan's first female architect Yasmeen Lari has been awarded the 2023 Royal Gold Medal, known as the UK's highest honour for architecture given by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

Awarded annually, the Royal Gold Medal "is personally approved by the monarch and awarded to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence on the advancement of architecture."

Lari, who has a long and illustrious career, has been a revolutionary figure both changing the architectural landscape in Pakistan, and contributing to the field of architecture internationally with her "zero carbon and zero waste construction".

She is the country’s first female architect and a pioneer of "barefoot social architecture".

Lari has been awarded for her understanding on "the needs of international clients to focussing solely on humanitarian causes", alongside her exemplary works in championing zero carbon and zero waste construction.

"I was so surprised to hear this news and of course totally delighted!," said Yasmeen Lari. 

"I never imagined that as I focus on my country's most marginalised people — venturing down uncharted vagabond pathways - I could still be considered for the highest of honours in the architectural profession," Lari continued.

Yasmeen Lari wins 2023 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture

Zero Carbon Women Centre on Bamboo Stilts, Moak Sharif, Tando Allahyar, Sindh–2011. Image © Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

Lari, 82, has had immeasurable influence of the trajectory of the architecture and humanitarian work in the country. After she retired from her practice in 2000, she dedicated her life building houses for tens of thousands of people damaged by an earthquake in her country and advising UNESCO.

Her role was to draw attention to create "accessible, environmentally friendly construction techniques" aiming to help poor people and communities displaced by natural disasters and affected by the impact of climate change. 

She co-founded the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan in 1980 with her husband, Suhail Zaheer Lari, pioneering the design of self-build sustainable shelters and housing, creating 50,000 dwellings. 

The Chulah Cookstove is one of the most well-known works Lari designed, of which there are now over 80,000. 

Designed as an eco-alternative compared to a traditional stove, the stove "significantly reduces emissions, tackling unfavourable environmental and health issues associated with cooking on an open fire."

Yasmeen Lari wins 2023 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture

Mud Brick One Room House, Moak Sharif, Tando Allahyar, Sindh–2011. Image © Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

At the age of 15, Lari moved to London with her family. After finishing school, she studied art for two years before being accepted into the School of Architecture, Oxford Brookes University, then Oxford Polytechnic. 

After she graduated in 1964, Lari returned to Pakistan at age 23 with her husband, Suhail Zaheer Lari, to establish her own architecture firm Lari Associates to work for major government, business, and financial institutions. 

Yasmeen Lari wins 2023 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture

Angoori Bagh Social Housing, Lahore-1973. Image © Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

"There are innumerable opportunities to implement principles of circular economy"

When she retired from her practice in 2000, she has focussed solely on her humanitarian work, which has contributed to her international recognition.

"RIBA has heralded a new direction for the profession, encouraging all architects to focus not only on the privileged but also humanity at large that suffers from disparities, conflicts and climate change," Lari explained.

"There are innumerable opportunities to implement principles of circular economy, de-growth, transition design, eco-urbanism, and what we call Barefoot Social Architecture (BASA) to achieve climate resilience, sustainability and eco justice in the world," she added.

Yasmeen Lari wins 2023 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture

Mud Brick One Room House, Moak Sharif, Tando Allahyar, Sindh–2011. Image © Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

"[...] Lari's projects address the real and often urgent need for accommodation"

RIBA President Simon Allford said that "It was an honour to chair the committee that selected Yasmeen Lari. An inspirational figure, she moved from a large practice centred on the needs of international clients to focussing 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," Allford explained.

Allford continued that "she has reacted imaginatively and creatively making 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."

Yasmeen Lari wins 2023 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture

Lari House, Karachi–1982. Image © Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

"Her way of working also sets out to address the physical and psychological damage caused by major natural disasters – disaster that sadly inevitably will be ever more prevalent in our densely populated and climate challenged planet," Allford continued.

The 2023 Royal Gold Medal selection committee was chaired by architect and RIBA President Simon Allford. The selection committee was comprised of Ivan Harbour, architect and senior partner at RSHP; Cornelia Parker CBE RA; Neal Shasore, Chief Executive and Head of School at the London School of Architecture, and Cindy Walters, architect and partner atWalters & Cohen. 

Read the Official Citation on Yasmeen Lari by the 2023 RIBA Honours Committee:  


Having studied in the UK at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes), Yasmeen Lari took the decision to return to Pakistan where she became the country’s first female architect. She then overcame considerable challenges to establish her own commercially successful practice working for major government, business, and financial institutions.  

Whilst recognising the importance of her role in practice,as a symbol of change in Pakistan, it is the work she has undertaken since her retirement in 2000 that the Royal Gold Medal celebrates. 

In the last twenty-three years Lari and The Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, which she founded with her husband, has reacted imaginatively and creatively to the physical and psychological damage that a number of major natural disasters; earthquakes, floods and conflicts have inflicted on the people of Pakistan. Her work is distinguished by the fact that it has focused on developing robust, intelligent yet simple, architectural designs that allow those who are in distress to build for their own needs using the available debris of disaster. This is a very different, but also very relevant, model of re-use and reinvention that engages and empowers. 

Continuing to test the potential of this architectural activity further, Lari has developed and shared a design and construct self-build model for shelters, using readily available bamboo to create economical and beautiful braced frames for inhabitation. This is a model of structure and enclosure that fulfils the need for long life, loose fit, and in her case, zero carbon architecture. There is an inherent generosity in Lari’s architectural activity that responds to need, helps communities develop artisanal skills and always utilises available resource. Lari’s design for 60,000 Chulah Cookstoves structures are a self-build version of the traditional Pakistani stove that enhances food preparation, hygiene and quality while creating a place for community. Always working to empower the most challenged communities at the most difficult times, Lari has most recently developed designs for a system that allows the construction of 100 emergency shelters in four days. 

Now working on the repair and regeneration of a key district of historic Lahore, Lari’s work builds on her commitment to recycling materials and buildings. This suggests another model of conservation and builds on the promise of her important early work in Lahore: the Anguri Bag housing scheme.

Lari’s vital contribution identifies different ways of working which suggest how the international architecture profession can play an ever more useful role in helping communities to help themselves, while also responding to climate change. 

It is Lari’s focus on architecture as a complete and vitalsocial, cultural, economic and aesthetic model, as well as her mantra of ‘low cost, zero carbon, zero waste’ that makes her hugely relevant to all who practice today. 


First awarded in 1848, the past winners of the Royal Gold Medal include Balkrishna Doshi in 2022, David Adjaye in 2021, Dame Zaha Hadid in 2016, Frank Gehry in 2000, Lord Norman Foster in 1983, Frank Lloyd Wright in 1941 and Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1859.

Top image: Yasmeen Lari. Image © Anam Baig.

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