Humble, just as his building materials made of earth, Architect Laurie Baker is truly The Gandhi of Architecture who believed in life and architecture that is simple & true to its context.
The English Architect found his affinity to the indigenous lifestyle ever since the early years. It only got amplified with exposure to Gandhi’s principles during the time he spent in India.
“It was also from the influence of Mahatma Gandhi I learned that the real people you should be building for, and who are in need, are the ‘ordinary’ people — those living in villages and in the congested areas of our cities.” –Laurie Baker
The understanding of the ‘ordinary’ lives of people paved the way for exploration of the regional architectural ideologies that responded with workability and affordability to the users. The Architect took his missionary life further when he and his wife decided to stay at Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand to serve the locals in the Himalayan town. During the period, he developed various solutions to the people that helped him explore and understand the indigenous principles primarily involving usage of locally available resources, which later became his strong principle.
‘The Baker Style’ involved extensive understanding of regional conditions, inculcation of effective functionality and productive life of the building across seasons. Brick and terracotta products, being the regional natural building materials were the primary resources. He developed various techniques using these resources that enhanced the building performance with better response to environmental conditions.
“Bricks to me are like faces. All of them are made of burnt mud, but they vary slightly in shape and color. I think these small variations give tremendous character to a wall made of thousands of bricks, so I never dream of covering such a unique and characterful creation with plaster, which is mainly dull and characterless. I like the contrast of textures of brick, of stone, of concrete, of wood” -Laurie Baker
Laurie Baker: Master of Bricks
He believes in giving ‘life’ to the buildings through the expression of the natural state of the materials. Exposed brick, terracotta tiles, etc. add a natural touch to the building, creating the beauty of its own. He further experimented with these materials that had a greater impact on the user experience, such as the Brick Jali works and fillers with recycled materials that brought in the bright sun rays of Indian landscapes in various patterns.
Loyola Chapel in Thiruvananthapuram, designed by Architect Laurie Baker has an image that deviates from that of a ‘typical chapel’ with its exposed brick walls and Jali patterns. Yet, the introduction of light towards the interior and its indirect reflection that appropriately illuminates the space creates the religious ‘ambiance’ expressed in a language of its own.
In works such as Indian Coffee House located in Thiruvananthapuram’s center, Laurie Baker effectively uses the minimal space availability with a Jali-lit, cylindrical volume and spiral ramp that would facilitate the easy access of the users amidst providing a unique dining experience. The use of cost-effective techniques has made the place still open to the ‘common population’.
His home located at Thiruvananthapuram, The Hamlet, reflects his ideologies and techniques through the volume of space under curvilinear exposed-brick walls, heat-reducing Mangalore-tile roof, and the jails & the timber windows that shed light on the natural timber furniture crowning the volume.
The planning of the residence mainly involved the usage of materials that would usually be neglected as construction waste. The entire volume is a balanced juxtaposition of materials from various sources.
Left: The entrance that had a rich artistic display made from broken stones, pottery pieces, glass, etc. accompanied by a traditional Indian bell marking entry. Right: The brightly lit living room that had furniture made of timber from an old boat jetty.
The use of corbelled arches for openings avoids the usage of R.C.C lintels, thus reducing building cost. The integrated furniture further adds to the cost-effectiveness.
The natural landscape around the built environment was left unaltered, with construction done around the existing landscape. The greenery and the natural materials gave a blend that made any human entering the space to experience a recognizable shift in temperature between the outdoors and the indoors.
Sitting on the hilltop with the entrance steps carved out its rock surface & building envelope with natural materials, the Hamlet appears to have ‘grown out of the earth’.
The entire structure, humbly nestled in a rocky hillside, truly reflects the ‘simple way of living’ that Laurie Baker pursued both in his life and his architectural style.
Laurie Baker’s involvement with the design from its emergence over sketches, to the actual ‘building phase’ had him interact with the workers, the materials and finally, with the building itself. He found happiness in seeing the building’s transformation from drawings to reality on the Indian soil.
The unique ‘Architectural practice’ that Laurie Baker pursued has inspired the emerging modern architectural fraternity and has pulled it from deviation from the contextual, regional understanding. The Laurie Baker Centre for Habitat Studies, Trivandrum, takes the understanding forward and opens opportunities for the young population to learn more about ‘The Laurie Baker style’ and take it further.