About Baker
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  • 1. History ProjectAr. Laurie BakerThe ‘Poor Man’s Architect’Pragya Gupta, T.Y. B.Arch i.d.
    Brief History of Architect
    Laurence Wilfred " Laurie" Baker was born on March 2, 1917 into a very staunch Christian Methodist family. The family was deeply involved in church activities.
    After his matriculation, he joined the Birmingham’s School of Architecture and became an Associate Member of the Royal Institute of Architects (ARIBA) in 1938. Hardly had he got the opportunity to start working in England when World War II broke out just a year later in 1939.
    In his youth Laurie had participated quite devotedly in all church activities along with his family. However, now in his teens, the traditional teachings of the church were starting to seem less appealing to him. He came into contact with some Quakers or members of the Society of Friends who believed in the power of non-violence and to live in respect of every person small or big, rich or poor.
    He went to India in 1945 in part as a missionary and since then lived and worked in India for over 50 years.
    In 1948 Elizabeth Jacob, a doctor, and Laurie were married and moved to Pithoragarh, a small village in Uttarakhand, where they lived and worked for the next 16 years.
    1917: Born in Birmingham, England. Educated at King Edwards Grammar School & The Birmingham School of Architecture
    1938: Associate of the Royal Institute of Architects (ARIBA)
    1945: Came to India as the Chief Architect of the Mission to Lepers
    1948: he married Elizabeth Jacob, a like-minded Doctor from Kerala and until the mid-nineteen sixties they lived and worked in a remote Himalayan region where they built their own home, hospital and schools and brought up their children.
    1970: Fellow of the Indian Institute of Architects
    Meanwhile, with the advent of 'Development' into that Himalayan area, the Bakers decided to move to Kerala and again they chose a remote mountain area among the neglected tribals and settlers to build another home and hospital.
    Laurie Baker has been closely associated with allied Government and quasi-government work including work with the Planning Commission and as a member of the Governing Bodies of HUDCO and the National Institute of Design, the Scientific Advisory Council of C.B.R.I. etc.
    He also extended his work into the industrial field and was for many years architectural consultant to a large Industrial firm. At the same time, and with these industrialists his work on alternative energy systems relating to building grew.
    Laurie Baker in his 89th year is mostly to be found working on his building sites or training workers in their own remote territories to use twentieth century techniques while maintaining principals acquired over centuries to cope with India's own climate, materials, terrain and culture, not to mention increasing economic and population problems.
    536-9525What types of buildings does he design? What is his expertise in?
    He was an award-winning British-born Indian architect, renowned for his initiatives in cost-effective energy-efficient architecture and for his unique space utilization and simple but beautiful aesthetic sensibility.
    In time he made a name for himself both in sustainable architecture as well as in organic architecture.
    What is the peculiarity in his style of designing?
    Those living in these remote rural areas traded by the barter system rather than by buying and selling with money. This meant that it was extremely difficult to find money to pay for the building material, and so it was of the utmost importance to design and make buildings that were strong and durable, and as inexpensive as possible. For this and other similar reasons he became then, cost-conscious and spent a lot of time trying to find ways of reducing building costs in general—whether I was using local indigenous methods or building with the 'normal' twentieth century materials and techniques. Seeing millions of people living a hand-to-mouth existence made me come to abhor all forms of extravagance and waste.
    This brings us to the two important characteristics of a so-called Baker Architecture—that 'small' is not only 'beautiful' but is often essential and even more important than `large'; and that if we architects are even to start coping effectively with the real building problems and the housing needs of the world, we must learn how to build as inexpensively as possible.
    Anti-façade-ism has definitely been a very noticeable and is a deliberate characteristic of Laurie Baker's architecture, no matter what type of building is being designed.
    More importantly, his experiment with brick jali (especially noticeable is its use as a load bearing member), his on site presence and honesty in design as well as material have become his trademarks.
    What have been his inspirations/motivations/influences?
    When he came to india as a part of a missionary relief work during the world war 2, he was asked to design a leprosy centre. Clueless and confused when he tried to understand the cracked mud walls and cow dung coated floor of the given asylums, he started spending most of his time watching rural people build beautiful houses for themselves with mud and bamboo and dried grass and the poorest quality of timber. He observed round conical houses, up to six metres in diameter, built with pieces of timber no longer than a metre-and-a-half. They had round hoop purlins made of bundles of woven small twigs bound together with long fibres extracted from cactus, creepers and vines. Furthermore, these houses were built in areas that faced devastating cyclones every year and very often this type of indigenous architecture did a better chance of survival than the more 'proper' type of structure of bricks, mortar and reinforced concrete slabs.
    In his own words, “The incredible and fascinating part about all this new education I was having was that these strange systems were effective, and slowly I realised that many of the answers to my problems, which I thought I could never solve, lay before me and all round me wherever I went. I suppose it took many years before I really understood and wholeheartedly believed that wherever I went I saw, in the local indigenous style of architecture, the results of thousands of years of research on how to use only immediately-available, local materials to make structurally stable buildings that could cope with the local climatic conditions, with the local geography and topography, with all the hazards of nature (whether mineral, vegetable, insect, bird or animal), with the possible hostility of neighbors, and that could accommodate all the requirements of local religious, social and cultural patterns of living. This was an astounding, wonderful and incredible achievement which no modern, twentieth century architect, or people I know of, has ever made”.
    With his growing interest in rural Indian style of architecture, he also realized the lack of adequate housing for these people mostly due to heavy construction costs.
    His initial experiences in India led him to his now well known title of ‘poor man’s architect”.
    Detailed description of one of his projects
    Projects ranging from fishermen's villages to institutional complexes, low cost mud housing schemes to low cost cathedrals.
    Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, Trivandrum, 1971.
    Houses at Archbishop Compound, Pattom, Trivandrum, 1970.K.N.Raj's residence, Kumarapuram, Trivandrum, 1970.House for R. Narayanan, Golf Links, Trivandrum, 1972-73.Mitraniketan, Vellanad, Trivandrum - 1970 House for Dr A.Vaidyanathan, Kumarapuram, Trivandrum, 1972. House for Leela Menon, Golf Links, Trivandrum, 1973-74.
    House for Beena Sarasan (an Income Tax officer), Kowdiar, Trivandrum, 1989.
    On the half-an-acre of land purchased from the bishop, Laurie chose a spot, on the apex end from where the long line of hills was easily and widely visible.
    The site was an awkward trapezium of stone and bushes with a level difference adding up to nearly 15 meters sloping towards the road in Trivandrum.
    The Bakers started with a single room made of wood and thatch.
    Initially it was like “a third class railway bogie” with linearly distributed compartments each having a window in it
    The room served as a dining room, a living room, a bedroom, a study room and a library! But the rain was a problem for the document kept in the temporary looking structure.
    So a permanent structure was built consequently; in conventional bricks.
    The external end of this room which now serves as the bedroom of Laurie and wife Elizabeth on the so-appearing first floor has a slightly projecting traditional “Kerala” window, a beautiful wooden pattern made of reclaimed wood which with “great efforts” was acquired from local fishermen
    . The window covering the whole wall gives a kaleidoscopic view of the hills and valleys around.
    A few years later four daughters of Mrs. Baker’s brother came to Trivandrum for studies, and the “niecery” was built “which”, says Laurie, “is my most favorite structure in the whole complex”.
    . The two-storey 5 meter-diameter building was placed besides the main building as an independent structure. Years after when Tilak, his son completed his college, Laurie made another two-room independent house for him on a lower contour of the site.
    The consistent style throughout the process of additions and subtractions in years is amazing. The whole complex seems to have been constructed as a single clustered development of built environment equally suitable for living, for working or even for roaming about purposelessly.

    Above: Plan, Elevation Section of neicery.
    Materials Used:
    The choice of materials, obviously typical to Laurie’s style has deep influences of the local culture and cultures on it.
    The entrance on the road side is made of cast iron bars with interesting ethnic patterns on it.
    The serpentine stairway, made of random rubble, a bit recessed from the land throughout its flight reminds of the pathway to a Hindu temple placed on the hill top and carved into the stones. .
    The murals made out of stone, waste ceramics or bottles, the numerous collages and impressive paintings and sketches and cartoons and each small architectural detail (including the “call bells”) made by Laurie himself speak of the grand saga of an architect who, apart from being a noted technologist is also a passionate artist.
    Laurie Baker used material from other demolished structures like wood planks from an old boat jetty. He even used old bottles in another structure, which gives a different effect.
    The external end of this room which now serves as the bedroom of Laurie and wife Elizabeth on the so-appearing first floor has a slightly projecting traditional “Kerala” window, a beautiful wooden pattern made of reclaimed wood which with “great efforts” was acquired from local fishermen. The window covering the whole wall gives a kaleidoscopic view of the hills and valleys around