Lawrence Wilfred ‘Laurie’ Baker—a man as humble as his building material bricks—is known for his undeniable honesty in his life and architectural works. He is well known for his low-cost, eco-friendly, sustainable construction methods and designs which were true to its context. He always believed in simplicity and living an indigenous lifestyle, which was reflected in his design skills.
These philosophies got amplified when he learned about the Gandhian perspectives in his time in India. His sensitivity in his designs and hard work paid off when he was given the title of “The Gandhi of architecture”.
The Baker Life and Philosophies
Born in a strict methodist family in 1917, Laurie Baker had completed his graduation from Birmingham’s School of Architecture. At the same time, World War II broke across the world, and he sensed the urgent need for medical help in severely affected nations and went to China to offer his support with the Friends Ambulance Unit. There he volunteered to help the patients suffering from Leprosy when everyone refused. When he had finally decided to return to England, he came across the “Mission for Lepers” missionary, which later inspired him to work in India.
Baker had his sets of philosophies that he always followed in his architectural practice and recommended others to follow. He spent most of his time in Kerala and designed many buildings adapted to the tropical climate there. He also received the Padma Shri award for his remarkable contribution to India’s architecture.
He designed for the masses and devoted his life to building for the poor. He believed in designing according to the clients’ personality and that no two homes can be similar as everyone has one’s unique personality. He often told his students, “You will be putting up their building, not yours.” His designs stand as a testament to his love for local materials, simple lifestyle, and sensitivity towards human needs.
Computer Centre, Ulloor
One of the most renowned projects of Lauri Baker is The Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. The highly populated campus spread across 10 acres provides infrastructure for research studies and has several departments like Library, Auditorium, Computer Centre, Residential houses, hostels, etc. However, the Computer Centre of this campus is one of the salient features of the campus that should be studied about.
The whole design of this campus reflects how we need more similar designs that take into account the sensitivity of sites and the local context. The Computer Centre is a very unified and harmonious addition to this 25-year-old institute and successfully represents the baker’s philosophies.
Design Philosophies and Concepts
The Centre of Development Studies (CDS) is a reflection of his humanitarian design skills and is renowned for its facade treatment. Like all other Laurie Baker’s projects, CDS molds itself according to the sloped site topography and the vegetation rather than intervening in nature’s harmony. The campus looks as if it is a part of the site and completely merges with the surrounding. The Computer Centre was designed very thoughtfully to connect it with the CDS campus.
Unlike the rest of the campus, the computer center had to be built with technological sophistication. He came up with the proposal of lattice Wall Planning, with different patterns of punctures in its facade created by the arrangement of bricks. The look of exposed natural brickwork and stones made the center look a part of the site and added to its beauty. The breezeways and the tiny punctures in the brick wall provided a way for the air ventilation and resulted in the overall cooling of the building, making it naturally sustainable.
Planning and Functionality
In the design of the computer center, Baker had proposed a Double-walled building with an outer surface of intersecting brick circle jaalis. This Double-walled System proved to be very useful for the design. Designing a computer center meant considering the space required for all the Storage and wire connections seamlessly.
The internal area of this double-wall provided the space for computer connections and Satisfied all the constraints. The two walls have a gap in the middle, which is used chiefly for secondary computer center requirements like Storage and offices. The pattern of interlocking circles by which the stiff wall stands creates an engaging facade on the exterior.
The plan above shows the spatial arrangement of various spaces. The Computer Centre had a foyer, classroom, work area, office, and toilet. The outermost line represents the brick facade with overlapping circle rings. The planning is done organically according to the site’s topography. This is a very crucial aspect that everyone should consider in their designs as well.
Building Material and Techniques
Baker believed that each place had its own set of cultures that shapes the building and decides the material and techniques to be used. As most of his works were Kerala-based, he had developed many construction techniques that were true to the state’s context. He focused mainly on the use of local materials and aimed for the most economical and sustainable use of materials. Bricks were the most commonly used material by him.
The Computer Centre incorporates the use of exposed brick lattice which allows proper ventilation and adequate lighting. For the roof he used the Mangalore tiles in the filler slab which reduced the construction cost as less amount of reinforcement was needed. The sloped roof and the intricate jaali work on the facade create an aesthetic of its own that merges with the environment. False Jali screen was used in the computer lab, for insulation of space by trapping the air between both the walls which in turn insulated the building further.
Baker once said, “I have my own principles, which I am unwilling to abandon. I dislike falsehood and deceit. A building should be truthful.” Baker should be an inspiration for every single architecture student. In this modern era where we live, it is difficult for the majority of the people to stay truthful in their lives, leave aside the thought of working truthfully.
Baker is one of the gems who was able to display honesty in not only his life but in his designs as well. His designs were very humanitarian and nature-oriented. He spent most of his time with the workers and believed that they are the sources of his experience and knowledge. In the modern world, where we mostly build for our eyes, it is good to have a few as Lauri Baker and architects who build for the senses and heart. His rich yet simple principles are some things that every young architect should adopt in his projects to make the future of architecture a better place.