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Rebel Architect #2: Yasmeen Lari and traditional architecture

The second in a series on radical architects shows how a return to traditional building techniques has helped those affected by natural disasters in Pakistan

Yasmeen Lari - Pakistan’s first female architect - designed many of the most notable buildings in Karachi, including the Taj Mahal Hotel (1981) and the headquarters of the Pakistan State Oil Company (1991), a towering glass and granite monolith which would not look out of place in any ‘Western-inspired’ business district.

Pakistan State Oil house designed by Yameen Lari (completed 1991).

Pakistan State Oil house designed by Yameen Lari (completed 1991).

However, alongside these large commissions, Lari set up the non-profit Heritage Foundation in 1980, a humanitarian design and build organisation which uses traditional materials and building techniques to create relief shelters and flood-resistant homes.

‘A Traditional Future’ – directed by Faiza Ahmad Khan and the second in Al Jazeera’s series Rebel Architecture – follows Lari as she revisits Sindh province, where she worked to provide shelters following the damage caused by the 2010 floods, to see how her designs coped with another flooding disaster in 2013.

Yasmeen Lari shows students how to use bamboo in the construction of houses. Image: Al Jazeera.

Yasmeen Lari shows students how to use bamboo in the construction of houses. Image: Al Jazeera.

‘I often tell my colleagues, let us not treat disaster-affected households as destitute, needing handouts,’ says Lari. ‘Rather let us give them due respect and treat them as we would a corporate-sector client.’

Much of the shelter provided by international agencies takes the form of tents, which provide temporary relief immediately following a flood or an earthquake, but which are no help should another disaster strike.

Lari’s flood shelters, however, are permanent structures raised on bamboo stilts to provide a safe place out of reach of floodwater, and can double up as storage depots or women’s centres when not needed as a refuge.

An illustration explains how water from the flood flows away leaving the stilt structure intact. Image: Al Jazeera

An illustration explains how water from the flood flows away leaving the stilt structure intact. Image: Al Jazeera

The film also shows how traditional building materials – mud brick and lime mortar – were more resistant to flood damage than government-funded homes constructed from industrial baked bricks.

The Heritage Foundation has built more than 36,000 shelters since 2010, and part of the foundation’s work involves teaching local people the traditional techniques used to construct their homes, so that they can help each other to build new housing or remedy problems to their homes when damaged by the elements.

‘In 2005 a lot of funding poured into Pakistan,’ says Lari. ‘But I feel donor fatigue has set in, and it’s a good thing. Now we’ve got to find ways to help ourselves.’

 

 

 

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