‘Ancient Wisdom and Techniques’ Can Reduce Emissions, Says Yasmeen Lari
A return to traditional building materials and techniques could help eliminate carbon emissions, according to Pakistani architect Yasmeen Lari, who has built more than 45,000 houses from mud, lime and bamboo.
Designed for victims of natural disasters in Pakistan, the houses, built since 2005, form “the largest zero-carbon shelter program in the world,” according to RIBA.
“You are building something that is really affordable but at the same time there are no carbon emissions,” Lari told Dezeen.
“There are a lot of ancient wisdoms and techniques that have been used over the years, but I can’t imagine most so-called starch makers would even look at them.”
“We must rethink everything”
Lari, who became the first woman to qualify as an architect in Pakistan in 1963, was responsible for the design of some of the country’s iconic commercial buildings, such as the Finance and Trade Center and the Pakistan State Oil House .
But since retiring and closing her practice in 2000, Lari has advocated for a different kind of “barefoot social architecture,” which uplifts impoverished communities while lightly walking the planet.
This involves replacing expensive, high-emission materials such as concrete and steel, which must be transported to the site, with local, low-carbon, low-cost ingredients used in vernacular constructions. for thousands of years.
“When you feel like you’re a computer scientist who knows everything, then you’re not looking at the past at all,” said Lari, who last year won the Jane Drew Award for raising the profile of women in architecture.
“Most of the time you look to the future and the future has always been very bright,” Lari added. “I built these buildings in the 1980s, which were shiny, a lot of cement, a lot of steel, reflective glass and everything.”
“But that was a different time and a whole different world. With climate change, with global warming, with Covid-19, we have to rethink everything and we have to do it now.”
“Every family in Pakistan” could build a shelter
Lari studied architecture at Oxford Brookes University before returning to her home country of Pakistan, where she has lived ever since.
She began her work in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in 2005, when one of the most destructive earthquakes in modern times devastated the Kashmir region, killing over 80,000 people and leaving 3.5 million homeless.
In the absence of sufficient financial assistance, Lari developed a plan for a shelter that could be built by anyone using traditional earthen construction.
“There was donor fatigue and there was no other way to do it but follow my technique,” she recalls.
Since then, the 80-year-old has trained thousands of locals in building these shelters through the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, which she co-founded with her husband, as well as through open source YouTube tutorials.
“Every family in Pakistan can do it, even below the poverty line,” she said. “And we have over 50 percent of our population living below the poverty line.”
Over time, the cabins have adapted to withstand different natural disasters. Some are raised on stilts for protection from flooding, and most feature cross-braced bamboo frames, based on a traditional building technique known as dhijji, which is not life-threatening in earthquakes.
“We’ve had so many of these disasters almost every year,” Lari said. “I am very aware of the impacts of climate change as we are probably the fifth or seventh in line for disasters.”
“But it gave me the opportunity to work with different materials, which are local and natural,” she added.
“And it turns out they’re all pretty good at [a carbon] point of view.”
“It can be reused 100 times”
This helps create buildings that can withstand the effects of global warming without contributing further.
Even though Lari hasn’t undertaken a full lifecycle assessment of the shelters, she believes they are at least carbon neutral.
“I can’t say I did any assessment, but I know the Earth has no carbon emissions,” she said. “It is locally sourced, it is biodegradable, it can be reused 100 times.”
Lari’s other ingredient is lime, which has been used in buildings for millennia and was used by the Romans as an ingredient in concrete used to build monuments including the Pantheon in Rome.
Lime is produced by heating limestone, which is a type of calcium carbonate. This releases the carbon into the atmosphere and leaves behind calcium oxide.
This compound, also called quicklime, is then mixed with water. And as the mixture hardens, it reabsorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Lime continues to recarbonize throughout its life, slowing down its reconversion into limestone and reducing its carbon impact.
“The more you use it, the more carbon is absorbed,” Lari said.
The bamboo that Lari uses to strengthen her buildings is a rapidly growing renewable resource that sequesters CO2 throughout her life.
“I use a little bit of steel like hinges and bolts and so on,” Lari said. “But I presume that any small emissions that there might be are thwarted by these materials.”
According to the architect, its design also helps keep the building’s operational carbon footprint low, thanks to the natural insulation provided by the earth and ventilation through the thatched roof.
“I understand that not everyone will use bamboo, lime and earth, but everyone can make an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of each type of structure,” said Lari.
“Why don’t we use lime instead of cement in buildings? There are a lot of different permutations that are possible and we can use them. But the problem is, architects don’t think that way.
This article is part of Dezeen’s Carbon Revolution series, which explores how this miracle material could be removed from the atmosphere and used on earth. Read all content on: www.dezeen.com/carbon.
The sky photograph used in the Carbon Revolution graphic is by Taylor van Riper via Unsplash.