Dezeen Magazine

Yasmeen Lari wins 2023 RIBA Royal Gold Medal

Yasmeen Lari wins 2023 RIBA Royal Gold Medal

Pakistani architect Yasmeen Lari has been awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects' Royal Gold Medal for 2023 in recognition of the humanitarian work "she has undertaken since her retirement".

Lari, who was Pakistan's first female architect, is the second woman to receive the accolade in her own right following Zaha Hadid. She was recognised for her socially conscious work and for creating homes for the country's most marginalised communities following her retirement from formal practice.

Aerial view of a bamboo pavilion in Makli
Yasmeen Lari's works include a giant bamboo community centre in Makli

"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," said the award's citation.

"In the last 23 years Lari and The Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, which she founded with her husband, have 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."

Pakistan's first public housing scheme
She designed Pakistan's first public housing scheme

Born in Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan, Lari moved to the UK with her family aged 15 and went on to study architecture at Oxford Polytechnic, which is now Oxford Brookes University. At 23 she returned to Karachi in Pakistan and established her studio Lari Associates, which became successful in creating numerous offices and housing projects.

These include Pakistan's first public housing scheme, the Anguri Bagh project and landmark buildings such as the Finance and Trade Centre and the Pakistan State Oil House in Karachi.

However, it was her work focused on creating low-impact buildings for Pakistan's marginalised communities that drew global attention.

Pakistan State Oil head office in Karachi by Yasmeen Lari
While at Lari Associates she also designed the Pakistan State Oil head office in Karachi

Her work through the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, which she co-founded in 1980 with her husband Suhail Zaheer Lari, has seen the creation of 50,000 sustainable self-built shelters and over 80,000 ecological cooking stoves.

Since her "retirement" in 2000, she has dedicated herself to the foundation and humanitarian causes.

"I was so surprised to hear this news and of course totally delighted!" Lari said about receiving the honour.

"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."

Yasmeen Lari designed an ecological cooking stoves
Lari has developed an ecological cooking stove

Lari is an advocate for utilising traditional materials including mud, lime and bamboo. In an interview with Dezeen, she said using "ancient wisdoms and techniques" can lead to carbon-neutral buildings.

"You're building something that's really affordable but at the same time there are no carbon emissions," Lari told Dezeen.

"There are lots of ancient wisdoms and techniques that have been used over the years but I can't imagine most so-called starchitects would even look at them."

Raised village by Yasmeen Lari
She designed a raised village to be resilient to flooding

Recent projects in Pakistan by the architect, who was a Dezeen Awards judge in 2022, include a giant bamboo community centre in Makli and working with disadvantaged communities to create terracotta tiling for a street in the historic heart of Karachi.

At the recent Islamic Arts Biennale in Saudi Arabia, she created a trio of bamboo pop-up mosques.

Mud, lime and bamboo Lari Octa Green cottages in Makli
The Lari Octa Green cottages in Makli use mud, lime and bamboo

The award, which was the first personally approved by King Charles, is the latest accolade for the Pakistani architect who was awarded the Jane Drew Prize in 2020 for raising the profile of women in architecture.

She becomes the sixth woman to win the award following Ray Eames, Patricia Hopkins, Sheila O'Donnell, Zaha Hadid and Grafton Architects founders Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell.

Last year's Royal Gold Medal was awarded to Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi, while the previous year British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye won the prize.

Previous recipients of the award include Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Norman Foster.