Image of Yasmeen Lari by Anam Baig, courtesy of RIBA
Yasmeen Lari by Anam Baig, courtesy of RIBA

Visiting professor Yasmeen Lari wins 2023 Royal Gold Medal for architecture

Congratulations to Visiting Professor Yasmeen Lari who has been awarded the prestigious 2023 Royal Gold Medal for architecture by The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). 

This award - the first to be personally approved by His Majesty The King - acknowledges Yasmeen Lari’s work championing zero-carbon self-build concepts for displaced populations.

One of the world's highest accolades for architecture, 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. Presented since 1848, past Royal Gold Medallists include Balkrishna Doshi (2022), Sir David Adjaye OBE (2021), Dame Zaha Hadid (2016), Frank Gehry (2000), Lord Norman Foster (1983), Frank Lloyd Wright (1941) and Sir George Gilbert Scott (1859).

The Royal Gold Medal will be officially presented to Yasmeen Lari in June 2023.

With a long and illustrious career, Lari has been a revolutionary force in Pakistan. She has had immeasurable influence of the trajectory of the architecture and humanitarian work in the country. Since officially retiring in 2000, she transferred her attention to creating accessible, environmentally friendly construction techniques to help people below the poverty line and communities displaced by natural disasters and the impact of climate change. In 1980 she co-founded the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan with her husband, Suhail Zaheer Lari, pioneering the design of self-build sustainable shelters and housing, creating 50,000 dwellings. Lari is also known for the design of the Chulah Cookstove, of which there are now over 80,000. An eco-alternative to a traditional stove, it significantly reduces emissions, tackling unfavourable environmental and health issues associated with cooking on an open fire.

Born in 1941 in Pakistan, Lari moved to London with her family aged 15. After finishing school, she studied art for two years before being accepted into the School of Architecture, Oxford Brookes University, then Oxford Polytechnic. After graduating in 1964, Lari returned to Pakistan at age 23 with her husband, Suhail Zaheer Lari, to establish her own architecture firm Lari Associates, going on to work for major government, business, and financial institutions. Since her ‘retirement’ in 2000, Lari has focussed solely on her humanitarian work, focusing on low cost solutions to regional problems and the role of women in leading change.

She is currently the Sir Arthur Marshall professor in Sustainable Design 2022/23 and as such has a residency at Jesus College for the academic year, recently leading a discussion with the College's Intellectual Forum about her work rehabilitating flood-hit communities in Pakistan and her vision for the future of sustainable architecture. 

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

"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. 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."

RIBA President, Simon Allford said: "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. 

"Lari’s work in championing zero carbon and zero waste construction is exemplary. 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. 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."

The 2023 Royal Gold Medal selection committee was, chaired by architect and RIBA President Simon Allford, and comprised: 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 at Walters & Cohen.