An octogenarian engineer working to make Pakistan more resilient to floods

Lari, Pakistan’s first female architect, has abandoned multimillion-dollar projects in the megacity of Karachi to develop pioneering flood-resistant bamboo homes.

The few experimental homes built in Bono Colony village saved families from the worst monsoon floods that inundated a third of the country last year.

Now, Larry is campaigning to expand the project to one million homes made from affordable local materials, creating new jobs for residents of the most vulnerable areas.

“I call it a kind of co-construction and co-creation, because people have an equal role in beautifying it and making it comfortable for themselves,” she said.

The UK-trained architect has designed some of Karachi’s most iconic buildings including the headquarters of the Pakistan Petroleum Corporation as well as a series of luxury homes.

While she was contemplating retirement, a series of natural disasters, including the massive earthquake of 2005 and the floods of 2010, prompted her to continue working with the Pakistan Heritage Foundation, which manages her rural projects.

“I had to find a solution, or a way in which I can develop the capacities of the population so that they can fend for themselves instead of waiting for outside help,” she told AFP.

“My motto is zero carbon, zero waste, zero donors, which I believe leads to the eradication of poverty,” she added.

traditional techniques

Scientists say climate change is making monsoon rains heavier and more unpredictable, increasing the urgency of strengthening the country’s resilience to floods, especially as the poorest people live in the most vulnerable areas.

Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous country, is responsible for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather.

Bono Colony, a village of about 100 homes, was established a few months before the disastrous monsoon rains arrived last summer, displacing eight million people.

The village’s elevated houses are protected from rushing waters while their bamboo structures, embedded deep in the ground, can withstand the pressure without being uprooted.

Mud huts, known locally as ‘chanwara’, are an improvement on the traditional one-room homes dotted along the landscapes of the southern province of Sindh and the state of Rajasthan in India.

It requires only locally available materials: lime, clay, bamboo and straw. After direct training of the local population, it can be collected at a cost of about $170, about one-eighth of the cost of a brick and mortar house.

In rural Sindh, tens of thousands of people remain displaced and large parts of farmland remain stagnant, nearly a year after the worst floods the country has ever seen.

The World Bank and Asian Development Bank estimated in a joint study that Pakistan had incurred $32 billion in damages and economic losses and would need $16 billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Royal appreciation

Larry recalls her work in social housing in Lahore in the 1970s when local women showed her blueprints and asked where their chickens would live.

“Those chickens stayed on my mind, and women’s needs were my priority when designing,” she said.

When redesigning, the engineer had to raise the stoves off the ground.

“In the past, the stove was at ground level, so it was very unhygienic. Small children would burn themselves when it was on fire and stray dogs would lick the pots, spreading germs,” ​​said Champa Kanji, who was trained by Lari’s team to build home stoves in Sindh.

“Seeing women become independent and empowered gives me great pleasure,” Larry said.

Larry has been recognized for her work by the Royal Institute of British Architects who awarded her a 2023 Royal Gold Medal for her dedication to using architecture to transform people’s lives.

“As an inspiring figure, she has transitioned from a large practice centered around the needs of international clients to focusing solely on humanitarian issues,” said Simon Alford, president of the institute.

Larry commented, “It feels great. But of course, it makes my job more difficult. I have to ensure that I fulfill my obligations now.”

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