In addition to being one of Pakistan’s most respected architects and an advocate for preservation of historical sites, Yasmeen Lari has the distinction of being Pakistan’s first woman architect. After retiring from a career in architecture which spanned over thirty-five years, these days she is devoting her time to writing and serving as an advisor to UNESCO project, Conservation and Preservation of Lahore Fort. She is also the executive director of Heritage Foundation and the Chairperson of Karavan Initiatives, both are organizations devoted to historic preservation. (See more on Women of Pakistan).
Yasmeen Lari – Pakistan
One of the first Pakistani women architects, Yasmeen Lari is instilling a sense of civic pride and national unity by promoting awareness of cultural heritage and conservation of cultural assets among a population divided on ethnic, religious, class, and political lines in Karachi and other cities in Pakistan. Through a carefully orchestrated cultural campaign of street festivals and other educational activities, Yasmeen brings together citizens to reclaim their urban spaces and participate in activities that enable citizens and government organizations to demonstrate pride and a strong sense of belonging to their common home.
The New Idea
Yasmeen has created Karavan–a space for citizens from all segments of society to interact and participate in building a citizenry that is rejuvenated, aware, and proactive in solving its own problems. She aims for all of society to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Karachi. Yasmeen’s innovation is to hold street festivals to instill a sense of pride and belonging within the city’s diverse inhabitants.
Yasmeen’s Karavans are strategically grandiose events aimed to attract media attention and offer a large number of people the opportunity to organize and participate in the production. The success of the idea is rooted in mobilizing large-scale and high-profile citizen initiatives around an even larger circle of schools and government agencies. For example, weekly poster-making workshops are held at schools year-round; they provide momentum for the events and culminate with an exhibition of the works at street festivals. The Karavan is an opportunity for citizens to demonstrate their love for their city and simultaneously learn about their heritage.
The initial success of Karavan Karachi has captured the imagination of citizens in other cities in Pakistan and there are Karavans now sprouting in other major cities in the country. (See more of this article on ASHOKA Fellows).
Yasmeen Lari was born in the town of Dera Gazi Khan and spent her early years in and around Pakistan’s bustling city, Lahore. Her father was working on major development projects in Lahore and other cities. He realized the lack of qualified architects in Pakistan at the time. “He just said [to me] one day, ‘You know it would be good if you became an architect.’ Somehow that stuck with me,” recalls Yasmeen when describing her reasons for studying architecture. She was 15 years old when she first left Pakistan to go to London with her family. Initially there for a vacation, she and her siblings ended up enrolling in school in London. “I went for an interview to get admission to the School of Architecture and they [asked], ‘Well, can you draw, young lady? And I said ‘I couldn’t.’ So they said, ‘You better go learn to draw first at an art school.” So that is what she did. Before she could enroll in an architecture school, Yasmeen studied art for two years London. After which she enrolled in an architecture school, obtaining her degree in architecture from the Oxford School of Architecture in London.
While still in school in London, Yasmeen was married to Suhail Zaheer Lari and about a year later gave birth to their first daughter. “My husband was very supportive,” she says. “Both my husband and I were studying so we [took] turns looking after the baby. My teachers were very nice. They said ‘You can bring the baby to the staff room and we’ll look after her.’ Oxford is a small place so it was very nice.” …
… She also says that having her family’s support was extremely important in starting out her career. “If you have a supportive family then that helps a lot. You don’t have to fight on a different front then. You don’t have to worry about people [at home] who don’t want you to work. That I think helped me a lot. My whole family, my husband’s family, everybody was very supportive.”
Some of Yasmeen Lari’s publications include: Slums and Squatter Settlements – Their Role and Improvement Strategy, Our Heritage in Muslim Architecture, Tharparkar and Sialkot after the War, ‘Traditional Architecture of Thatta’. In 1997, Yasmeen Lari and her son, Mihail, published the book The Dual City: Karachi During the Raj, and in 2001, Yasmeen and Suhail published Karachi: Illustrated City Guide. (Read more about her, by Laila Kazmi, on jazbah.org).
Book available: The Dual City : Karachi During the Raj at Amazon;