“My feeling as an architect is that you are not after all trying to put a monument which will be remembered as a ‘Laurie Baker Building’ but Mohan Singh’s house where he can live happily with his family.” – Laurie Baker
It was this humbleness only which made Baker unique, and earned him the title of ‘Gandhi of Architecture’. His respect for nature led him to let the idiosyncrasies of a site inform his architectural improvisations, rarely was a topography line marred, or a tree uprooted. His responsiveness to never identical site conditions, quite obviously allowed him for the variegation that permeated his work.
The Hamlet is the Baker’s residence in Thiruvananthapuram, which aptly reflects the personality of Baker. It was built on a steeply sloping and rocky hillside with limited access to water that had hardly any vegetation when the construction was started. By reusing nearly everything, from brick to glass bottles, as building materials, Baker has adopted his aim to make low-cost a habit and a way of life.
The History of the Hamlet
Baker began the development of Hamlet as a solitary room made of wood and thatch cover, as in a hut of timber, which housed a library of clinical or medical books and his study. Later on, more long-lasting and permanent structures, for example, the kitchen were made of customary conventional brick and tiles. With time, the requirement for isolated live and work additionally approached, which required the extension along the roofline, however inside was chosen by the contours of the site. The journey to Baker Home resembles the concrete jungle of Thiruvananthapuram to the newness and shade of suburbia. This house served Baker and his family for over 10 years. Curiously, the family ate in the kitchen just for these long years. Indeed, even the electrical wires in the villa were not covered. Whenever his four nieces came to Trivandrum (presently Thiruvananthapuram), he made a different house on the lower contour of the site, called the ‘Niecery’. Another two-roomed house was worked for his child, Tilak, that confronted the tree connecting the ‘Niecery’. The attack of the construction on the actual site isn’t felt. Baker has figured out how to bind the structure to an area that is effectively available but confined by weighty foliage.
The Story of the Site
The site was an awkward trapezium of stone and bushes with high contours. Over years of occupation, the arid rockiness of the site was transformed into a contoured formation of grass, shrub, and coconut plantation. But Baker did not disturb even a single rock or cut even a single tree, which made the Hamlet popularized as ‘Right in the Rock’. Baker chose a spot on the half-an-acre of land purchased from the bishop, at the apex end from where the long line of hills was easily and wisely visible.
The Artistic Architecture
Every part of Hamlet resembles the philosophy of Baker. The passage leading to the entrance of the Hamlet was cut into the steps out of the rocks of the site. The entrance on the roadside was made of cast iron bars with interesting ethnic patterns on them. The serpentine stairway made out of random rubble, a bit recessed from the land throughout, and is almost a ceremonial pathway to the ‘temple’ placed atop the hill carved into the stone. On the higher contour where the residence was located, there is a low verandah to the open terrace, from a waterbody to a living area pepping towards the terrace.
The entrance has a small stone sitting area for the visitors, a calling bell was also installed for the visitors to announce their presence, the walls were decorated with broken pottery, glass, and pens, the inner courtyards made the house close to nature, and arches led into the beautiful open rooms, which shows Baker’s fondness for arches. The courtyards have many gardens and ponds. The house was roofed with a pitched roof made of Mangalore tiles. There were gables for proper air circulation and ventilation, also providing natural light. He always designed to utilize the sunlight effectively and minimize the need for artificial lighting. The windows were traditional and simple yet cost-effective and beautiful, having the grills made out of bits and pieces. Conical structures were also used in the hamlet. Baker used louvered windows, and stained-glass effects to enhance the beauty of the hamlet. A water tank was also installed to harvest the rainwater.
Baker played well with the natural lighting in the interiors. He even used integrated furniture, generally made out of bricks and stones. Baker’s bedroom resembled a long railway compartment. Creative wall fixtures and brick jali works were done in the Hamlet. Baker innovatively used the discarded bottles inset in the walls which gave a very good effect of light and created an illusion of stained-glass effect. The Hamlet has an irregular pyramid-like structure on the roof, whose one side is left open and tilting into the wind. The upturned and horned roof helped the hot air rise and thus create insulation and stack effect.
Baker even took care of his dog while designing the Hamlet. He gave place to the dog over the entrance gate with a well-placed jali to let morning light filter in. The entrance gate had a doorbell and a newspaper holder made out of reused woods. The entrance gate door was made from two traditional old Kerala doors- from an old building which was torn down which Baker brought and joined together to create this unique door.
Baker used extensive use of timber in the Hamlet, as in the living room, the detailing in wood and mud bricks are simply amazing. The living room was the integration of new buildings and salvaged timber from traditional buildings that were being demolished. He created a variety of textures and patterns by simply manipulating how bricks were placed in the walls.
The materials that were used in Hamlet were from unconventional sources. Baker generally used materials from other demolished structures, as in wooden planks from the old boat jetty. He also used old bottles in the structure. These kinds of materials made the Hamlet close to its natural state.
Baker used corbelling instead of the lintel above the frame, which helped reduce the cost of R.C.C. lintels. He used a lesser number of bricks by making use of rat-trap bonds to make the wall of the same thickness and provided cavities in between for insulation, along with cutting the cost. Baker made the use of brick jali works which provided ventilation, light, and reduced the material costing. Material costing was reduced by reducing the unnecessary cost of a window with a shutter.
The Hamlet is the reciprocation of the philosophies of Laurie Baker, which not only teaches how to create a cost-effective building but also to make a sustainable structure that is close to nature as well as its residents.
- wikipedia.org. (2021). Laurie Baker. [online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurie_Baker
- Goel. Sheetu. (2015). Hamlet. [online]. Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/SheetuGoel/hamlet-48886864
- pdfcoffee.com. (n.d.). Hamlet. [online]. Available at: https://pdfcoffee.com/hamlet-26-pdf-free.html