Laurie Baker

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Laurence Wilfred "Laurie" Baker
Title RIBA
Born March 2, 1917; Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
Died April 1, 2007; Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
Education Birmingham School of Architecture
Firms Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD)
Notes

Contents


Works in Chronological Order

Discussion

Laurence Wilfred "Laurie" Baker (March 2, 1917 – April 1, 2007) was an award-winning British-born Indian architect, renowned for his initiatives in cost-effective and low-cost housing. He went to India in 1945 in part as a missionary and since then lived and worked in India for over 50 years. He obtained Indian citizenship in 1989 and resided in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala. In 1990, the Government of India awarded him with the Padma Shri, the nation's fourth highest civilian award, in recognition of his meritorious service in the field of architecture.

In the Architect's Words

"When I am designing a new building, there are a few basic principles that guide me.

"The first, of course, is that I want to get to know my client and what is in his mind. If he merely wants to show off or flaunt his wealth, I don't take him on. Otherwise, I enjoy getting to know him (or her, a family, an institution or even a Government department).

"Then I have my own principles, which I am unwilling to abandon. I dislike falsehood and deceit. A building should be truthful." – Laurie Baker, 1999.0801

Education and missionary work

Baker was born into a staunch methodist family. Later, 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 in Birmingham, England|Birmingham and graduated in 1937, aged 20, in a period of political unrest for Europe. His initial commitment to India had him working as an architect for an international and interdenominational Mission dedicated to the care of those suffering from leprosy. 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 Ostracism|ostracized sufferers of the disease - "lepers". Finding 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 the vernacular architecture. He soon learned that the indigenous architecture and methods of these places were in fact the only viable means to deal with his once daunting problems.

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.

Gandhian encouragement and initial work

After India gained her independence and Mahatma Gandhi (a personal acquaintance and powerful influence on Baker's building philosophy) assassinated, Baker lived in Kerala with Doctor P.J. Chandy, from whom he received great encouragement and whose sister he would later wed. Herself a doctor, Elizabeth Chandy and Laurie were married and moved to Pithoragarh, a small village on the borders of Tibet and Nepal in the Himalayas, where they lived and worked for 16 years. Elizabeth's medical training would be put to use aiding the afflicted in the village while Laurie continued his architectural work and research accommodating the medical needs of the community through his constructions of various hospitals and clinics. It is here that Baker would acquire and hone those skills from the local building community which had so fascinated him during his missionary work.

Baker sought to enrich the culture in which he participated by promoting simplicity and home-grown quality in his buildings. Seeing so many people living in poverty in the region and throughout India served also to amplify his emphasis on cost-conscious construction, one that encouraged local participation in development and craftsmanship - an ideal that the Mahatma expressed as the only means to revitalize and liberate an impoverished India. This drive for simplicity also stemmed from his Quaker upbringing and faith, one that saw indulging in a deceitful facade as a way to fool the 'Creator' as quite pointless. Instead, Baker sought to provide the 'right' space for his clients and to avoid anything pretentious.

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. An aging 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 realized 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 familiarized 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 finalizing designs through hand-drawn instructions to masons and laborers on how to achieve certain design solutions.

Architectural style

Throughout his practice, Baker became well known for designing and building low cost, high quality homes, with a great portion of his work suited to or built for lower-middle to lower class clients. His buildings tend to emphasize prolific - at times virtuosic - masonry construction, instilling privacy and evoking history with brick jali walls, a perforated brick screen which utilises natural air movement to cool the home's interior and create 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 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. His responsiveness to never-identical site conditions quite obviously allowed for the variegation that permeates his work.

Death

Laurie Baker died at 7:30 am on April 1 2007, aged 90. 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 modernizing or stylizing. 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 of Laurie Baker's writings were published and are available through COSTFORD (the Center Of Science and Technology For Rural Development) the voluntary organisation which supervised many of his projects, at which he was the Master Architect. COSTFORD is carrying on working towards the ideals that Laurie Baker espoused throughout his life.

Details

  • Associate of the Royal Institute of Architects (ARIBA), 1938.
  • Fellow of the Indian Institute of Architects, 1970.
  • D.Litt conferred by the Royal University of Netherlands for outstanding work in the Third World, 1981.
  • Recipient, Order of the British Empire, MBE, 1983.
  • Recipient, Indian National Habitat Award, 1987 (first time awarded).
  • Recipient, Indian Citizenship, 1988.
  • Recipient, Indian Institute of Architects Medal - Outstanding Architect. 1989.
  • Recipient, Padma Sri, 1990.
  • Recipient, Grand Masters Award - Architect of the year, 1990.
  • Recipient, UNO Habitat Award and Roll of Honour, 1992.
  • Recipient, International Union of Architects - World Habitat Award, 1993.
  • Recipient, Sir Robert Matthew Prize for Improvement of Human Settlements, 1993.
  • Recipient, People of the Year Award, 1994.
  • Awarded Doctorate from the University of Central England, 1995.
  • Awarded Doctorate from Sri Venkateshwara University, 1998.
  • Recipient, Coinpar MR Kurup Endowment Award, 2001.
  • Recipient, Basheer Puraskaram, 2003.
  • D.Litt from the Kerala University, 2003.
  • Recipient, Kerala Government Certificate of Appreciation, 2005.
  • Recipient, L-Ramp Award of Excellence, 2006.
  • Nominated from the Pritzker Award (considered the Nobel Prize in Architecture), 2006

Publications

  • Laurie Baker's mud / text and sketches by 2nd ed. Trichur, India : Centre of Science & Technology for Rural Development, 1993.
  • Laurie Baker's rural community buildings. Trichur : Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development, 1997.
  • “Alternative building materials: timeless mud.” In: Architecture & design, vol. 3, no. 3 (1987 Mar./Apr.), p. 32-35.
  • “Architecture and the people.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.69-73. English and Japanese.
  • “Building at a low-cost.” In: Design (Bombay), v. 18, n. 2, (1974 Feb.), p. 27-33.
  • “Laurie Baker's cost-reduction manual.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.116-129. English and Japanese.

References

  • Parts of this document are taken from Wikipedia.org and are displayed here under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
  • Laurie Baker: Profile. Web page. Viewed on 2007.0412. http://www.keral.com/celebrities/lauribaker/life%20.htm
  • Laurie Baker. Web page. Viewed on 2007.0412. http://www.keral.com/celebrities/lauribaker/buildings.htm
  • Laure Baker: A Selective Bibliography. PDF. Viewed on 2007.0412. http://www.aaschool.ac.uk/library/baker.pdf
  • Laurie Baker turns 89. Web page. Viewed on 2007.0412. http://www.keral.com/celebrities/lauribaker/index.htm
  • “Anganvadi Day Nursery, Naranchira, Trivandrum, Kerala, India, 1999-2000.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.[135]-139. English and Japanese.
  • “Architect's house: the Hamlet, Nalanchira, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1969-.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.22-29. English and Japanese.
  • Bhatia, Gautam. “Architecture and tradition.” In: World architecture, no. 7 (1990), p. 54-61.
  • Bhatia, Gautam. “Laurie Baker, der Handwerker.” In: Architekt, n.2 (1993 Feb.), p.93-95.
  • Bhatia, Gautam. “Laurie Baker [interview].” In: Spazio e società, v.15, n.59 (1992 July-Sept.), p.36-49.
  • Campbell, Fred. “Laurie Baker in India.” In: Architectural design, v.65, n.5-6 (1995 May-June), p.viii-ix.
  • “Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1970-1971.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.30-41. English and Japanese.
  • “Corpus Christi School, Kanjikkuzhi, Kottayam, Kerala, India 1971-1972.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.42-51. English and Japanese.
  • Cunha, Gerard da. “Baker of India.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, , n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.9-15. English and Japanese.
  • “Dolas House, Kumarapuram, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1991-1994.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.88-97. English and Japanese.
  • “Fishermen's housing colony, Thankassery, Kollam, Kerala, India 1996-1998.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p. [104-115]. English and Japanese.
  • Gupta, Arbind. “Satellites of hope: can new towns save Indian architecture?” In: World architecture, no. 76 (1999 May), p. 30.
  • Kato, Yoshiko. “India, Kerala, and Laurie Baker.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.140-143. English and Japanese.
  • “Laurie Baker: teachings and travel writings.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.4-[8]. English and Japanese.
  • “Lt. Col. John Jakob house, Kulasekharam, Trivandrum, Kerala, 1985-1988.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.[81]. English and Japanese.
  • Matheou, Demetrios. “A message from India.” In: Architects' journal, v.201, n.26 (1995 June 29), p.16-17.
  • Mayer, Gunter. “Laurie Baker : a visit to southern India.” In: Bauwelt, vol. 81, no. 35 (1990 Sept. 14), p. 1716-1721.
  • Mostafavi, Mohsen. “Enriching identities: the architecture of Laurie Baker.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p. 16-21. English and Japanese.
  • “Nalini Nayak House, Anayara, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1984-1986.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.74-80. English and Japanese.
  • “Namboodripad House, Pattom Palace, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1972-1973.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.52-56. English and Japanese.
  • Petrilli, Amedeo. “Laurie Baker, life, work, writings [by] Gautam Bhati [book review].” In: Spazio e societa, v. 15, n.58 (1992 Apr.-June), p.122-123.
  • “Reflections by Laurie Baker.” In: Architecture & design, vol. 14, no. 5 (1997 Sept./Oct.), p. 104-106.
  • “Rural Industrial Trading Corporation, Naranchira, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1999-2000.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.130- 134. English and Japanese.
  • “Sivanandan House, Vattiyorkavu, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1982-1985.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.64-68. English and Japanese.
  • Spence, Robin. “Laurie Baker: architect for the Indian poor.” In: AAQ, vol. 12, no. 1 (1980), p. 30-39.
  • “St. John's Cathedral, near Market, Tiruvella, Kerala, India 1972-1974.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p. 57-63. English and Japanese.
  • Varughese, P. G. “A questing conscience: the life and mission of a radical sage.” In: Architecture & design, vol. 1, no. 5 (1985 Jul./Aug.), p. 12-27.
  • “Zilla Panchayat office building, Kollam, Kerala, India 1996-1998.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.[98]-103. English and Japanese.

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