“Manners maketh the man and also make good architecture”.” Translation of two-dimensional drawing into three-dimensional structures is the absorbing part of practicing architecture”.” Bricks are like faces made of burnt mud but differing slightly in shape and color which defines the character of a structure and covering it with plaster is not even in the dreams” and so on. Every word spoken by Laurie Baker every statement made by him symbolizes his philosophies revolving around every wall constructed in LBC, through every jali wall created, in every mason teaching there and, in every student, or professional learning there. A culmination of all these emphasizes on the legacy left behind sowing a seed of inspiration in every individual to carry it forward and to not detract from it. It promises a sustainable future and fulfills the dream of establishing a green habitat.
Laurie Baker was a Master Architect, a cartoonist, an environmentalist, and a writer dedicated towards public service and building homes for the poor people making the construction cost-effective, environmental-friendly and local resource-based alternative materials.
After meeting Gandhiji accidentally in Mumbai and getting influenced by his words of wisdom, Baker realized how the building was important for the people who need it and then Baker with the help of a few of his friends namely Shri C. Achutha Menon and late Professor K.N. Raj formed the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD) to extend his work and ideology of constructing cost-effectively in India.
In 2006, Baker with COSTFORD began to construct a community living center called Navayatra in Thiruvananthapuram but with his sudden demise in 2007, the community construction was taken forward by COSTFORD with all of his gathered admirers following every philosophy and legacy of Baker, which was later registered as a society, now renowned as the ‘ Laurie baker Centre of Habitat Studies’ (LBC).
The objective behind the center was propagation and development towards a green habitat having an alternative paradigm of architecture and building construction by his admirers, followers, and students.
Over the years, LBC has started to conduct workshops, summer schools, exposure programs, and customized training programs for all the people from different fields and of different age groups on the very campus in Trivandrum to build in them the unique vision Baker had for this country.
The LBC campus was built on natural contours with existing rocks minimizing the need for a foundation consisting of seven buildings designed with curvilinear slabs, rat trap bond walls, row lock bond lintels, and other earthy materials to blend with the natural landscape which was itself an opportunity to feel and inculcate the sensitivity of Baker’s work in an individual through these workshops. The spaces were segregated into an office block, dormitory block, mess hall, watchtower, guest house, construction yard, and office annex. The pattern and patience with which every brick was placed inspired architects who knew his work and non-architects like economists, civil engineers, teachers, and professors who simply got intrigued by it.
There are several workshops held at LBC including mud workshop, brick workshop, rubble masonry, and bamboo workshop. The smallest part of the workshop was teaching verbally, as Baker believed in himself working with the masons and trying everything with hands, LBC followed the same provision of having done everything hands-on. The students were taught to construct arches and rat trap bonds from country burnt mud brick, bamboo slabs, and rubble masonry walls. Furthermore, the masons at LBC who conduct these workshops are the same masons who have worked with Baker and grasped his essence with admirability and were all enthusiastic to pass it to the young ones.
The workshop teaches them how Baker’s works are a complete deviation from the standard of architecture yet are implemented intimately, through site visits to places like Kanthari, Karimadom Colony, Loyola Chapel, and Centre for Development Studies (CDS) and hand-on construction.
Today, every emerging young architect wants to construct a masterpiece or some might even believe that cement and steel are the materials of the future because they have been taught so. At LBC, following one program through the several offered, the small steps which are taken unknowingly imbibe the feeling of soothing ness towards earthy materials, how every construction method and design principles is well carried out and implemented are observed and slowly the bubble of deviating from local materials cannot provide equal outcomes is burst. The method of feeling the material first and then constructing the observation one has felt inspires the students to pay tribute to his bequest for the next hundred years if not thousands.
The notion of the baker that small is beautiful is measured and felt at LBC by every individual. Every philosophy that Baker has left is not just conveyed to the people coming to LBC but practically made sure that one gets an essence of it and only concludes by believing in it.
As one starts staying there day and night, one starts to notice how the material shifts temperature according to nature, how every wall is not just any wall but with definition and patterns casting a play of light and shadow, how all the seven existing structures have been constructed keeping in conscious the play of levels, how the bunk beds provided at night are not ninety degrees yet equally comfortable and the belief of Baker’s that mud walls breathe is well proven and instilled in every individual.
The sensitivity and emotions which flow between people and nature are felt at LBC. The idea of contributing to the vast existing concrete jungle starts to vague as if they have not found an alternative to concrete but how development has made concrete an alternative. LBC helped young aspirants perceive the connection between their soul and nature around, to conceive other’s dreams as theirs and to refrain from copying but carrying forward the tradition with one’s wisdom through the workshops attended, education values learned and inference with a built urge to abide by Baker’s philosophies.