Laurie Baker Centre: Perpetuating a legacy

C. GOURIDASAN NAIR
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SIMPLICITY PERSONIFIED: Laurie Baker and his wife Dr Elizabeth at their residence in Thiruvananthapuram a few years ago. Photo: S. Mahinsha.
THE HINDUSIMPLICITY PERSONIFIED: Laurie Baker and his wife Dr Elizabeth at their residence in Thiruvananthapuram a few years ago. Photo: S. Mahinsha.
Laurie Baker represented a unique tradition of architecture that blended man and nature. He emphasised local materials and traditional concepts in constructing dwellings, demonstrating a strong commitment to mass, affordable housing. Now a Centre started in his name in Thiruvananthapuram wants to take his work forward.
There are not many architects who have created an idiom of their own or left behind a unique architectural legacy that has had a deep impact on the way people conceive homes and public buildings. Standing tall among the select few is Laurie Baker, who was born and trained in architecture in England, but made India, more specifically Kerala, his home, leaving a deep imprint in the annals of Kerala’s architectural history.
Baker’s body of work is significant both in terms of its volume and sheer diversity and the innovative and practical concepts he introduced. He designed and built fishermen’s huts, hamlets for forest tribes, chapels and churches, factories, schools, film studios, orphanages, residences, technical institutes, leprosy homes, a literacy village, hostels, slum rehabilitation projects, an ornithology centre, government buildings and a museum. He also did pioneering work in earthquake and tsunami-resistant housing. Kerala alone has over 2,000 Baker-designed projects.
Underlying thought
Everything about Laurence Wilfred Baker (1917-2007) was rooted in the idea of co-existence and love towards all —both animate and inanimate. Simplicity and truthfulness were the hallmarks of his life and work. By living out these values, he evolved an unparalleled approach in the practice of architecture and redefined the profession. Baker’s philosophy and methodology have resulted in delightfully built environments, which are responsive to local climate, use energy-efficient materials, methods of construction and operation, remain truthful to the materials and methods used and demonstrate low environmental impact and admirable cost effectiveness.
Baker preferred locally available and renewable materials and enhanced the efficiency of materials used through skill-oriented innovations and quality assurance. He always emphasised conservation and management of vegetation, soil and water. The modest system of functioning that he insisted upon resulted in very low overhead expenses, which made his services more accessible to the poor and he declared his allegiance to the marginalised directly through constant interactions, writings and cartoons and indirectly through a sensitive practice of architecture.
Baker’s is a mission that calls for perpetuation. One major step in that direction is being taken with the formal inauguration of the Laurie Baker Centre (LBC) for Habitat Studies at Vilappilsala on the outskirts of the capital city.
To be managed by a governing council chaired by Baker’s wife, Elizabeth Baker, the not-for-profit centre is being set up at ‘Navayatra,’ the last project that Baker had personally overseen on a 3.42-acre undulating plot with several Baker-built buildings and extensive green cover. Originally set up as a learning centre for children by Baker’s friend and follower Keith Saldanah, ‘Navayatra’ in its new avatar would house the LBC training-cum-resource centre, a Baker archive and act as the nodal point for dissemination of the Baker philosophy of architecture. The Laurie Baker Centre has bought ‘Navayatra’ with financial assistance of Rs.80 lakh provided by the State government.
The Laurie Baker Centre, says P.B. Sajan, its member secretary, would have regular programmes on architectural design and aesthetics with special focus on planning, design and construction of human settlements for socially and economically disadvantaged groups.
Right technology
The Centre will also promote appropriate technology, especially in construction and public works, including development of building materials and technology relevant to green architecture, and will have special programmes on urban and spatial planning, natural resource management, eco restoration, environmental engineering and management and alternative sources of energy.
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Home Work List of Architectural Work
List of Architectural Work E-mail
Institutions and Buildings
Leprosy homes for Mission to Lepers across India
Pithoragarh house, school and hospital complex

Nepal Hospital
Allahabad Agricultural University
Lucknow Psychiatric Centre, Noor Manzil
Literacy Village, Lucknow
Centre for Social Studies,
Surat
Ahmedbad & Baroda – factories
Jyothi Pumps,
Baroda
Children’s Village, 1965, Kulashekaram, Tamil Nadu
Mitraniketan, Vagamon
Horst Kowski orphanages and homes across
India (other than Childrens Village Nagercoil)
Houses for the Archbishop of
Trivandrum
Tourist Resort near Muttam
Loyola Women’s Hostel, 1970, Sreekaryam
Loyola Chapel and Auditorium, 1971, Sreekaryam
Centre for Development Studies (CDS), 1971, Ulloor

St John’s Cathedral, 1973, Thiruvella
Nalanda State Institute of Languages, 1973, Nandankode
Chitralekha Film Studio, 1975, Aakulam
Pallikoodam (
Corpus Christi), 1972, Kottayam
Fishermen’s Village, 1974, Poonthura
Mitraniketan, Vellanad
Tourist Centre, 1980, Ponmudi
The Indian Coffee House, at Thiruvananthapuram,
Kerala, India
Chapel for Sacred Hearts Centre, at
Monroe Island, Quilon
Navjeevodayam, Thiruvalla
Nirmithi Kendra, 1987, Aakulam
CSI Church expansion wing
Paruthipara Church
Salim Ali Centre, Anakatti,
Coimbatore
The Hall near Jawahar Nagar
AHADS (Attapadi Hill Area Development Society)
Latur Eathquake buildings
Jilla Panchayat Office, Thevally, Kollam
Kanyakumari Boat-building Yard
Nrityagram,
Bangalore
Dakshina Chitra, Chennai, 1996
Building Centre at
Anna University, Madras
Some buildings in Kishkinta,
Madras
Sewa, Villapilshaala
International Blind Children’s School
Chengalchoola Slum Dwelling Units,
Trivandrum
Nava Yatra, Villapilshaala,
Trivandrum
Karimadom Colony,
Trivandrum
Residences
Jayan and Asha, Kakkanad
Neeta’s House
HUDCO Suresh
IAS Colony
Abu Abraham, 1989
Major Jacob, 1988, Kulasekharam
Leela Menon, 1973
Mr Narayan’s Mango house
Vellayani
A M Jacob
Anirudhin – 1969 first house in
Trivandrum to have a preponderance of jalis
Nambudiripaad, 1973, KEsavadasapuram
Nalini, 1989, Anayar
KN Raj, 1970, Kumarapuram
TN Krishnan, 1971, Kumarapuram
PK Panikar, 1974, Kumarapuram
Vaidyanathan, 1972, Kumarapuram
T C Alexander, 1982, Vikramapuram Hill
P J Thomas, 1972, Kuravankonam
Lt Gen Pillai, 1971, Jawahar Nagar
P Ramachandran, 1975, Pottakuzhy
Ravindranath, 1975, Gourishapattom
Varghese Jacob, 976, Kottayam
K V George, 1987, Karakullam
Vasanth Gawerekar, 1982, Manvila
Beena Sarasan, 1989, Kowdiar
Valiathan, 1985, Pulliyankotta
K J Mathew, 1984, Vattiyurkavu
C T Sukumaran, 1984, Vattiyurkavu
P Sivanandan, 1984, Vattiyurkavu
Sukhman, 1984, Vattiyurkavu
Uma Devi, 1989, Ulloor
House Modifications
Anna Mathew, 1986, Kuravankonam
K Peter, 1988, Nalanchira
Vinay Kumar, 1990, Kunjavuzni



Organisational Roles:
Served as the Chairman, HUDCO
Member of the governing body of NID (National Institute of Design), Ahmedabad
Consultant to UPDESCO (Uttar Pradesh Development Systems Corporation)
Member of the Advisory Board for the National Building Research Institute
Only non-government member of the Working Group of the Union Government Planning Commission
Served in an advisory capacity to the Kerala, Karnatak and Andhra Pradesh governments
Served as Chairman of COSTFORD ( Centre of Science & Technology for Rural Development)
Fellow of the Centre for Development Studies

Notable Projects:
International Leprosy Mission
Welthy Fisher's Literacy Village, Lucknow
Andhra Pradesh Quaker Cyclone Project
Latur Earthquake Proof Housing Project
Tsunami-proof Housing Project
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Booklets by Laurie Baker
(Published by the Centre of Science & Technology for Rural Development: COSTFORD)
Download Booklets 
Click the links below to download online copies of the booklets: 
1. Brickwork
2. Are slums inevitable?
3. Earthquake
4. Rural House Plans
5. Chamoli Earthquake Handbook
6. Houses - How to reduce building costs
7. Mud
8. Rubbish by Baker
9. Rural Community Buildings
10. Alleppey -
Venice of the East- A report.
11. Cost Reduction for Primary School Buildings.
12. Laurie Baker's Cost-Redution Manual.
The remaining booklets are available directly from COSTFORD or online here

 
Periodical Articles/Papers by Laurie Baker
 
“Alternative building materials: timeless mud.” In: Architecture & design, vol. 3, no. 3 (1987 Mar./Apr.), p. 32-35.
“Architecture and the people.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.69-73. (English and Japanese)
“Building at a low-cost.” In: Design (Bombay), v. 18, n. 2, (1974 Feb.), p. 27-33.
“Laurie Baker's cost-reduction manual.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.116-129. (English and Japanese)
Laurie Baker, `Low-Cost Buildings for All', Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 17 January 1974.
Laurie Baker, 'The Question of Taking Appropriate Building Technology to Pithoragarh', Science and Rural Development in Mountains, J.S. Singh, S.P. Singh and C. Shastri(eds.), Gyanodaya Prakashan, Naini Tal, 1980.
Laurie Baker, 'Is a Modern Indian Architecture Possible?', Spazio Societa, Milan, 1986.
Laurie Baker, 'The Housing Situation in the Light of Social Attitudes', Science Reel, Trivandrum University, Trivandrum, 1975.
Laurie Baker, 'Does Building Cost-Reduction Mean Sacrifice of Quality?', paper presented at a symposium on `Cost-Reduction Techniques in Building Construction', sponsored by GECSTA and the Department of Technical Education, March 1975.
Laurie Baker, `Cementlessness', Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 4 November 1974.
Laurie Baker, 'Architectural Anarchy', The India Magazine, August 1984.
Laurie Baker, 'A Spoilt Child's Toy Blocks', Indian Express, 21 March 1983.
Laurie Baker, 'Houses: How to Reduce Building Costs', Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD), July 1986.
Laurie Baker, 'The Industrial Designer and Housing', paper presented at the seminar on 'Design for Development', at the National Institute for Design, Ahmedabad, 1979.



Biography Summary E-mail
1917: Born in Birmingham, England. Educated at King Edwards Grammar School & The Birmingham School of Architecture
1938: Associate of the Royal Institute of Architects (ARIBA)
1945: Came to India as the Chief Architect of the Mission to Lepers
1970: Fellow of the Indian Institute of Architects
1981: D.Litt conferred by the Royal University of Netherlands for outstanding work in the Third World
1983: Order of the British Empire, MBE
1987: Received the first Indian National Habitat Award
1988: Received Indian Citizenship
1989: Indian Institute of Architects Outstanding Architect of the Year
1990: Received the Padma Sri
1990: Great Master Architect of the Year
1992: UNO Habitat Award & UN Roll of Honour
1993: International Union of Architects (IUA) Award
1993: Sir Robert Matthew Prize for Improvement of Human Settlements
1994: People of the Year Award
1995: Awarded Doctorate from the University of Central England
1998: Awarded Doctorate from Sri Venkateshwara University
2001: Coinpar MR Kurup Endowment Award
2003: Basheer Puraskaram
2003: D.Litt from the Kerala University
2005: Kerala Government Certificate of Appreciation
2006: L-Ramp Award of Excellence
2006: Nominated from the Pritzker Award (considered the Nobel Prize in Architecture)



Brick Master : Laurie Baker Architectural Genius Part 1