Laurie Baker was an award-winning British-born Indian Architect, eminent for his leadership in cost-effective energy-efficient Architecture for his exceptional space utilization. For him, bricks are like faces. All of them are made of burnt mud, but they vary slightly in shape and color. Small variations give tremendous character to a wall made of thousands of bricks, so he never dreamt of covering such a unique and characterful creation with plaster, which is mainly dull and characterless. He liked the contrast of textures of brick, of stone, of concrete, of wood.

The design that is the utmost illustration of baker’s architecture is the Centre for Development Studies in Trivandrum. He faced the challenges of his architectural practice such as – The sympathy towards nature, the building blocks of a site, and the ideal implementation of the materials.

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Centre for Development Studies is the campus for the research institute, located in Thiruvananthapuram. The 10 acres highly populated site comprises the Library, Auditorium, Computer Centre, Residential houses, hostels, etc. As Laurie Baker believed, ”The Architecture should merge with the surrounding landscape, rather than standing out. It should not compete with nature, but in harmony with it.” Therefore, the institute shows responsiveness towards the contours & appears to magnify the genuine nature of the site merging with trees.

Philosophy

As Laurie Baker’s Architecture is a contemporary version of the vernacular, it is factually depicted in his designs as well. The structure of the institute seems to merge with the site & its topography. Especially, the curves of the form coiled along with the trees. Baker was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. The idea of development was to take advantage of raw materials. The design has traditional sloping roofs & terracotta Mangalore tiles glowing with vents, which allows the hot air to escape. 

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Conceptual Approach

Centre for Development Studies occupies its blocks as the spaces around the pocket courtyards which depicts the prolongation of the structure. The pools filled with water regulate the microclimate employing evaporative cooling. The roofs with strange openings were Baker’s explication of the gables which were oblique into the wind direction transforming it into space. 

Laurie Baker has emblematically not presented a front gateway. The structure is entirely straightforward, depicting the research aura of the space & its objective to encourage research into empowering the poor. 

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The Structure & its impressive elements

Laurie Baker evolved an inventive technique of curved double walls which turned out to be cost-effective & energy-conserving as well. The elements mainly are the jaalis, the traditional roofs, the stepped arches, the overhanging eaves, and the skylights. The entrance is magnificent with extensive steps sloping outwards. The focal point is the administrative building of the campus. Yet the 7-story library tower dominates the design, inhabiting the hilltop. 

The circular tower along with the “jaali wall” circumscribes the circular staircase. The shaft is created to ensure a ventilation system inside the spaces. The stack effect is the principle applied for the same. The purpose was to supply sufficient air to all the respective floors & escaping the hot air out. Natural light is welcomed through the perforated jaali wall for reading. The other building blocks such as offices, classrooms are dispersed along the contours of the site yet strongly united through airy corridors & courtyards with attractive landscaping.  

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Materials & techniques

Laurie Baker believed that every district has its traditions and, by trial and error, over thousands of years, people have learned how to use, and to cope with, all the many factors which are involved in Architecture – Site, Topography and Geology, climate and vegetation, available local materials, religious and cultural patterns of living, and the main local occupants. Unsatisfactory items have long since been discarded and alternatives have been tried until a satisfactory solution has been found.

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The use of exposed brick walls in attractive patterns for adequate air & light is done. Mangalore tiles are used as filler slabs on concrete sloping roofs & jaalis of various designs are creating notable patterns of diffused light inside the building. Rubble granite diverging with brick is laid on the plinths of the structures. Lime mortar is prepared from burning sea shells few kilometers apart. Red oxide is used to form comfy flooring. False external jaali screen is developed in the computer lab, to insulate the space. The technique is to trap the air in between & further insulate the building within.

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Baker’s Legacy

Laurie Baker righteously said, “My feeling as an architect is that you’re not after all trying to put up a monument which will be remembered as a ‘Laurie Baker Building’ but Mohan Singh’s house where he can live happily with his family.” 

His architecture is people-oriented, learning from the ordinary people & realizing their needs & embellishing them into structures is his style. Young Architects should take it forward & implement it in the future for the prosperity & welfare of society.

Author

Srajati is an explorer with a bundle of nerves; Architecture to her is a paradigm of service & opinions are her ruling passion. A scribbler exploring endless stories believes in sharing them with the world around to connect architecture with all that is.

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