Laurie Baker

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For the American ice hockey player, see Laurie Baker (ice hockey). For other people, see Laurie Baker (disambiguation).
Laurence Wilfred Baker
Backer.jpg
Drawing of Laurie Baker
Born (1917-03-02)2 March 1917
Birmingham, England
Died 1 April 2007(2007-04-01) (aged 90)
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
Nationality Indian
Awards Padma Shri, MBE
Buildings Centre for Development Studies (Trivandrum), Literacy Village (Lucknow), Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) (Coimbatore), Chitralekha Film Studio (Aakulam), The Indian Coffee House (Trivandrum), Loyola School, Thiruvananthapuram, Attapadi Hill Area Development Society (Attapadi), Dakshina Chitra (Chennai), Chengalchoola Slum dwelling units (Trivandrum), Nirmithi Kendra (Aakulam), Tourist Centre (Ponmudi), Mitraniketan (Vellanad)

Laurence Wilfred "Laurie" Baker (2 March 1917 – 1 April 2007) was a British-born Indian architect, renowned for his initiatives in cost-effective energy-efficient architecture and for his unique space utilisation and simple but aesthetic sensibility. Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, he sought to incorporate simple designs with local materials and achieved fame with his approach to sustainable architecture as well as in organic architecture. He has been called the "Gandhi of architecture".[1]

He moved to India in 1945 in part as an architect associated with a leprosy mission and continued to live and work in India for over 50 years. He became an Indian citizen in 1989 and resided in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala from 1963 and founded COSTFORD (Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development), an organisation to promote low-cost housing.

In 1983 he was conferred with an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) at Buckingham Palace. In 1990, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri for his meritorious service in the field of architecture. In 1992, he was awarded the Roll of Honour by the United Nations. In 1988, he was granted Indian citizenship, the only honour he actively pursued in his life.

Early life[edit]

Baker was born into a staunch Methodist family, the youngest son of Birmingham Gas Department's chief accountant, Wilfred Baker and Emily. His early schooling was at King Edwards Grammar School. His elder brothers, Leonard and Norman studied law, and he had a married sister, Edna. In his teens Baker began to question what religion meant to him and decided to become a Quaker, since it was closer to what he believed in. Baker studied architecture at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, Birmingham and graduated in 1937, aged 20, in a period of political unrest in Europe.[2]

During the Second World War, as a conscientious objector, he served in the Friends Ambulance Unit in China and Burma.[3] In 1943, on a trip back to England to recuperate from ill health, he was waiting for a ship at Bombay when he happened to meet Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi told him that the knowledge he brought from the west was not useful to Indians and that the rural areas needed more thinking and not the cities. Gandhi's idea was that it should be possible to build a home with materials found within five miles of a site. This was to have a great influence in his later life.[4]

His initial commitment to India had him working as an architect for World Leprosy Mission, an international and interdenominational Mission dedicated to the care of those suffering from leprosy in 1945. The organisation wanted a builder-architect-engineer. As new medicines for the treatment of the disease were becoming more prevalent, his responsibilities were focused on converting or replacing asylums once used to house the ostracised sufferers of the disease – "lepers" into treatment hospitals.[5]

India[edit]

Moving to India in 1945, he began to work across the country. While in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, he stayed as a guest with an Indian doctor, P. J. Chandy and his family. The sister of his host, Elizabeth Jacob (Baker called her "Kuni"), worked as a doctor in Hyderabad with the same leprosy organisation. The two met when Elizabeth came to Faizabad to perform an operation on her brother and to take care of the hopsital duties while he recuperated. They found they believed in many of the same things in life and they decided to marry but there was considerable resistance and so they decided to wait. The work and travel allowed them only brief periods of time together. They both found that they did not agree entirely with the ideas of the mission and in 1948 both of the left the organisation and got married.[5] They travelled to the district of Pithoragarh on a honeymoon trek. Once the local tribals found out Elizabeth was a doctor they came to visit the couple in droves and so immediate was the need for medical help in the remote region that the locals offered to help Laurie build a home and hospital on the slopes of one of the hills on a piece of land no one wanted. The Bakers settled here and lived in Pithoragarh for sixteen years[6] before moving to Vagamon in Kerala in 1963 and some years later to Trivandrum. He became an Indian citizen in 1988.[7]

Architecture[edit]

While at Pithoragarh, Baker found his English construction education to be inadequate for the types of issues and materials he was faced with: termites and the yearly monsoon, as well as laterite, cow dung, and mud walls, respectively, Baker had no choice but to observe and learn from the methods and practices of vernacular architecture. He soon learned that the indigenous architecture and methods of these places were in fact the only viable means to deal with local problems.[8]

Inspired by his discoveries (which he modestly admitted were 'discoveries' only for him, and mere common knowledge to those who developed the practices he observed), he began to turn his style of architecture towards one that respected the actual culture and needs of those who would actually use his buildings, rather than just playing to the more "Modern-istic" tunes of his paying clients.

Eventually, he was drawn back to work in India as more and more people began commissioning work from him in the area. The first client being Welthy Honsinger Fisher, an elderly American woman concerned with adult illiteracy throughout India, who sought to set up a 'Literacy Village' in which she intended to use puppetry, music and art as teaching methods to help illiterate and newly-literate adults add to their skills.[9][10][11] An ageing woman who risked her health to visit Laurie, refused to leave until she received plans for the village. More and more hospital commissions were received as medical professionals realised that the surroundings for their patients were as much a part of the healing process as any other form of treatment, and that Baker seemed the only architect who cared enough to become familiarised with how to build what made Indian patients comfortable with those surroundings. His presence would also soon be required on-site at Ms. Fisher's "Village," and he became well known for his constant presence on the construction sites of all his projects, often finalising designs through hand-drawn instructions to masons and labourers on how to achieve certain design solutions.

Architectural style[edit]

The Indian Coffee House in Thiruvananthapuram, which was designed by Laurie Baker

Throughout his practice, Baker became well known for designing and building low cost, high quality, beautiful homes, with a great portion of his work suited to or built for lower-middle to lower class clients. His buildings tend to emphasise prolific – at times virtuosic – masonry construction, instilling privacy and evoking history with brick jali walls, a perforated brick screen which invites a natural air flow to cool the buildings' interior, in addition to creating intricate patterns of light and shadow. Another significant Baker feature is irregular, pyramid-like structures on roofs, with one side left open and tilting into the wind. Baker's designs invariably have traditional Indian sloping roofs and terracotta Mangalore tile shingling with gables and vents allowing rising hot air to escape. Curved walls enter Baker's architectural vocabulary as a means to enclose more volume at lower material cost than straight walls, and for Laurie, "building [became] more fun with the circle." A testament to his frugality, Baker was often seen rummaging through salvage heaps looking for suitable building materials, door and window frames, sometimes hitting a stroke of luck as evidenced by the intricately carved entry to the Chitralekha Film Studio (Aakulam, Trivandrum, 1974–76): a capricious architectural element found in a junk heap.

Baker's works, such as this house, blend seamlessly into the natural settings.

Baker made many simple suggestions for cost reduction including the use of Rat trap bond for brick walls, having bends in walls that increased the strength and provided readymade shelves, thin concrete roofs and even simple precautions like shifting dug up soil into the built area rather that out of it. He advocated the use of low energy consuming mud walls, using holes in the wall to get light, using overlaid brick over doorways, incorporating places to sit into the structure, simpler windows and a variety of roof construction approaches. He liked bare brick surfaces and considered plastering and other embellishments as superfluous.

Baker's architectural method is one of improvisation, in which initial drawings have only an idealistic link to the final construction, with most of the accommodations and design choices being made on-site by the architect himself. Compartments for milk bottles near the doorstep, windowsills that double as bench surfaces, and a heavy emphasis on taking cues from the natural condition of the site are just some examples. His Quaker-instilled respect for nature lead him to let the idiosyncrasies of a site inform his architectural improvisations, rarely is a topography line marred or a tree uprooted. This saves construction cost as well, since working around difficult site conditions is much more cost-effective than clear-cutting. ("I think it's a waste of money to level a well-moulded site") Resistant to "high-technology" that addresses building environment issues by ignoring natural environment, at the Centre for Development Studies (Trivandrum, 1971) Baker created a cooling system by placing a high, latticed, brick wall near a pond that uses air pressure differences to draw cool air through the building. Various features of his work such as using recycled material, natural environment control and frugality of design may be seen as sustainable architecture or green building with its emphasis on sustainability. His responsiveness to never-identical site conditions quite obviously allowed for the variegation that permeates his work.

Death and legacy[edit]

The Hamlet at Nalanchira in Thiruvananthapuram, which was home to Baker and his wife since 1970. The house, which resides on a hill top, was constructed by Baker.

Laurie Baker died at 7:30 am on 1 April 2007, aged 90, survived by wife Elizabeth, son Tilak, daughters Vidya and Heidi and his grandchildren Vineet, Lisa and Tejal. Until the end he continued to work in and around his home in Trivandrum, though health concerns had kept his famous on-site physical presence to a minimum. His designing and writing were done mostly at his home. His approach to architecture steadily gained appreciation as architectural sentiment creaks towards place-making over modernising or stylising. As a result of this more widespread acceptance, however, the "Baker Style" home is gaining popularity, much to Baker's own chagrin, since he felt that the 'style' being commoditised is merely the inevitable manifestation of the cultural and economic imperatives of the region in which he worked, not a solution that could be applied whole-cloth to any outside situation. Laurie Baker's architecture focused on retaining a site's natural character, and economically minded indigenous construction, and the seamless integration of local culture that has been very inspirational.

Many architects studied and were inspired by the work of Laurie Baker. The workers and students called him "daddy".[12] Laurie Baker's writings were published and are available through COSTFORD (the Center Of Science and Technology For Rural Development), the voluntary organisation where he was Master Architect and carried out many of his later projects.

Awards[edit]

  • 1981: D.Litt. conferred by the Royal University of Netherlands for outstanding work in the developing countries.
  • 1983: Order of the British Empire, MBE
  • 1987: Received the first Indian National Habitat Award
  • 1988: Received Indian Citizenship
  • 1989: Indian Institute of Architects Outstanding Architect of the Year
  • 1990: Received the Padma Sri
  • 1990: Great Master Architect of the Year
  • 1992: UNO Habitat Award & UN Roll of Honour
  • 1993: International Union of Architects (IUA) Award
  • 1993: Sir Robert Matthew Prize for Improvement of Human Settlements
  • 1994: People of the Year Award
  • 1995: Awarded Doctorate from the University of Central England
  • 1998: Awarded Doctorate from Sri Venkateshwara University
  • 2001: Coinpar MR Kurup Endowment Award
  • 2003: Basheer Puraskaram
  • 2003: D.Litt. from the Kerala University
  • 2005: Kerala Government Certificate of Appreciation
  • 2006: L-Ramp Award of Excellence
  • 2006: Nominated for the Pritzker Prize (considered the Nobel Prize in Architecture)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jain Ak (2010). "Humble, humane and harmonious houses of Laurie Baker". International Journal of Environmental Studies 67 (5): 781–794. doi:10.1080/00207233.2010.517297. 
  2. ^ Laurie Baker's creative journey Frontline, Volume 20 – Issue 05, 01 – 14 March 2003.
  3. ^ Knowles, Pat (2007). "Obituary: Laurie Baker: pioneering architect". The Friend: 18–19. 
  4. ^ Bhatia 2003, p. 8.
  5. ^ a b Bhatia 2003, p. 9.
  6. ^ Bhatia 2003, p. 10.
  7. ^ Bhatia 2003, p. 15.
  8. ^ Baker, L. Mud. Costford. 
  9. ^ Citation for The 1964 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding: Dr. Fisher
  10. ^ Ms Fisher was the author of To Light a Candle New York, McGraw-Hill. 1962, an autobiography.
  11. ^ World Education website: Our founder page (extract from Sally Swenson Welthy Honsinger Fisher: Signals of a Century, 1988.) (accessed 13 February 2008)
  12. ^ Kuriakose, Benny (2007). "Laurie Baker- the unseen side...". Architecture and Design: 34–42. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]