Dating from 1848 and approved by the monarch, the Royal Gold Medal is assigned by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence on the advancement of architecture.
In 2023, the medal goes to professor and Pakistan’s first female architect Yasmeen Lari, acknowledging her humanitarian work championing zero-carbon, self-build architectural concepts for displaced populations. The award ceremony will take place on June 13.
The 2023 Royal Gold Medal selection committee was chaired by RIBA President and Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’s co-founder Simon Allford, and comprised Ivan Harbour, 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, partner at Walters & Cohen.
Yasmeen Lari, born in Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan, in 1941, studied in England at the School of Architecture of Oxford Brookes University and at Oxford Polytechnic, where she graduated. She later moved back to her home country, where she founded her own architecture firm Lari Associates. Thanks to the humanitarian work she carried out since she stopped practicing architecture in 2000, she has levered international recognition.
Lari has been a revolutionary force in Pakistan. Despite her not working as an architect any longer, she is focused on developing and promoting accessible, environmentally friendly construction techniques to help people below the poverty line and communities displaced by natural disasters and the impact of climate change. A commitment she took on already in 1980 with the establishment of Heritage Foundation of Pakistan with her husband Suhail Zaheer Lari. Together, they created 50,000 sustainable dwellings and 80,000 “Chulah Cookstove”, an eco-alternative to a traditional stove that significantly reduces emissions, tackling unfavorable environmental and health issues associated with cooking on an open fire.
“It was an honour to chair the committee that selected Yasmeen Lari. An inspirational figure, […] 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”.
RIBA President Simon Allford
“In the last 23 years, Lari and the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan [..] has 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. Her work is distinguished by the fact that it has focused on developing robust, intelligent yet simple, architectural designs that allow those who are in distress to build for their own needs using the available debris of disaster”. “It is Lari’s focus on architecture as a complete and vital social, cultural, economic and esthetic model, as well as her mantra of ‘low cost, zero carbon, zero waste’ that makes her hugely relevant to all who practice today”.
2023 RIBA Honours Committee
All images courtesy of RIBA