Pakistan’s First Female Architect

Editor’s Note: This blog celebrates the contribution of women. inspired by the men of the lives. This week we feature Pakistan’s first female architect, in a country where it is exceptional for women to advance academically. This is a good read from Dwell Magazine, and my husband is an avid reader. I encourage you to explore Dwell and visit often to get unique ideas on architecture and sustainability.

As profiled in our “Women of Influence” roundup in our July/August 2012 issue, Yasmeen Lari is the closest thing Pakistan has to a design superhero. After years working as an architect, designing buildings for a wide range of clients, from corporate campuses to low-income housing, she left private practice in order to focus on issues close to her heart, including developing sustainable and vernacular disaster relief housing and dedicating herself to writing, research, and her work with the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, the ambitious nonprofit she developed with her husband. Here, we ask her  questions about her architectural work, her philanthropical passions, and the unique challenges of working in her homeland.


Were you really “the first female architect in Pakistan”? What does this mean, and can you give us some context?

Yes. I believe it is so. It was not really planned. When I returned from England after my studies I found that I was the first one. There were very few qualified architects at the time in any case, so I was also one of the few qualified professionals in my field. At the time that I took up my architectural studies, only selected professions seemed to be open to women —for example, medicine or education. Today, of course, the situation has changed entirely; not only are women in diverse professions, some very tough ones even, such as pilots, but they excel in their studies and are doing well in almost all fields that they choose to be in.

Tell us a bit about your background. What drew you to design, what road did you take to get where you are today?

In early days I had taken up drawing and sketching but did not really know much about the requirements to become an architect. My father had been a bureaucrat (he started off in the Indian Civil Service, when Pakistan and India were ruled by Britain), and after the independence of Pakistan in 1947, he became known as one of the most dynamic in the field. When I was growing up, he was responsible for developing huge tracts of desert into urban centers as well as heading the planning and development organization of the historic city of Lahore, and he often discussed the limited number of professionals in architecture and planning disciplines. I guess that stayed with me and when I went to England for my studies at the age of 15, I opted to take up architecture.

How has the architecture and design scene evolved in Pakistan since you were a student?

Having been trained as an architect in the West, for me there was a period of unlearning as I tried to relate to the reality of the country, and roamed our amazing historic towns for inspiration.

During the early days of my career, most people were not aware of the role that an architect played in shaping the built environment. Today, the profession of architecture has become much stronger and there is now acceptance of the essential role of an architect. As president of Institute of Architects at the time, I had the privilege to lead the movement for creation of legislative measures to provide recognition to the professions of architecture and planning through formation of Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners in 1983.

Most of us who had begun their careers during the 20th century had been influenced by the modern architectural movement taking root in the West. More recently, there is a focus on regionalism and search for more appropriate local alternatives. However, most buildings, especially for the corporate sector continue to be international in character.

As a result of the research that I have carried out on vernacular methodologies through construction of almost 2,000 sustainable shelter units since 2005, a great deal of technical information for building sustainable green structures has now been developed. Because of the vast data that is now available through our work in the last six years, it is my hope that architects in Pakistan will begin to use our findings to design buildings that incorporate local materials and improved vernacular techniques.

Read more via this bloglink: Pakistan’s First Female Architect/Dwell Magazine

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