Domus met Yasmeen Lari during the Oslo Architecture Triennale – After Belonging. Accompanied by her son Michael, this lovely Pakistani architect – wrapped in a traditional shawl – enthusiastically discussed her projects. After her degree in London in 1964, she returned to Pakistan, as the nation’s first woman architect, and opened her studio with which she built various constructions, including the Anguri Bagh Housing (1978) in Lahore and the Pakistan State Oil House (1991) in Karachi. The fact she is a woman made her start difficult, when the workforce was not willing to acknowledge the authority of a female architect.
In 2000, she closed her studio and has devoted all her time to the non-profit organisation she founded together with her husband, the Heritage Foundation Pakistan, which is also engaged in safeguarding architectural heritage. Since 2010 she has built over 36,000 houses for flood and earthquake evacuees in her country. Her work is based on salvaging traditional techniques, subject to control through the latest structural verification systems before being built. Making homes as well as stoves, on which she has written for DomusWeb, is, as a rule, entrusted to those who will later use them and who have been trained for the task.
Yasmeen Lari firmly believes that architecture can be a tool of social transformation, and the fact that she believes in this makes it a reality. The Pakistan Chulah addresses the plight of women in rural areas of the Third World. Since it is mostly women who cook for their families, they are the worst sufferers. The eye and respiratory diseases they acquire largely remain unattended throughout their lives. The food cooked on floor-mounted single-stoves leads to unhygienic food and is a major cause of diarrhea, particularly among infants and children.
The creative expression of women who built their cook-stoves has been outstanding. Keeping the original elements of the stove design, they have adjusted these to their own requirements. They have used their imagination to embellish their stoves with folk motifs that have been taught to them by their mothers and their mothers before them. They have brought the excitement of vernacular design and traditions to personalize that are usually seen as mundane earth cook-stoves. Thus, they have customized each one as a designer stove, showing the pride and ownership of the initiator.