Dictator of design: Laurie Baker
An avid advocate for even-handed and sustainable architecture in India, British born Lawrence Wilfred ‘Laurie’ Baker is often referred to as the ‘Gandhi of Indian architecture’. Each brick veneer and unrestrained roof exhibited and sustained Gandhi’s beliefs of candor and catered to the less fortunate sub groups, along with displaying benevolence to available natural resources purely aimed at creating beautiful memories with them. Baker's works stood for sustainability, in a time where the true meaning of the term was yet to be publicly coined and it was his raw brick masonry that brought life to this term by expressing the beauty in purpose. A truly humble being, with exemplary work to his name, Mr. Baker sought out to instill a soul in structures through his low cost, and energy efficient approach to architecture as well as life.
Born to a Methodist family in Birmingham, England, in 1917, it was Baker’s peaceful contribution as a medical aid during World War II that brought him to India, where he went on to stay a lifetime and build his legacy. Baker kept in mind India’s tropical climate as he designed buildings, especially in the state of Kerala where the Padma Shri awardee spent most of his life. Laurie Baker’s principles in India were based on his thought that, ''The ideal house in the ideal village should be built using material that is found within a five-mile radius of the house''. Proving that there isn't automatically a bond between beauty and money, Bakers works drastically deviate from the building narrative and norms of the times he lived in. His architectural reasoning did not discriminate between the rich and the poor, as he went on to state that a wall in the end is merely a wall, irrespective of whether it’s a wall in a rich man’s house or poor man's dwelling. Baker also spent a lot of his time in India navigating through Uttarakhand where he served the locals in this town. It was through the help of the natives in this Himalayan town that he understood the manner of usage of locally available resources, which further went on to be his core principle.
Comprehensive understanding of provincial conditions, incorporation of effective components and unhampered stability of the buildings across seasons was what composed ‘The Bakers Style’. The primary resources used in his buildings went on to be terracotta and bricks, as those were the building materials available regionally at hand. He enumerated multiple approaches using these resources that augmented a better environmental response from the buildings.
Laurie Baker often expressed his fondness with the use of bricks in structure, and the raw and captivating appeal it displayed. He was often caught saying...
“Bricks to me are like faces. All of them are made of burnt mud, but they vary slightly in shape and color. I think these small variations give tremendous character to a wall made of thousands of bricks, so I never dream of covering such a unique and characterful creation with plaster, which is mainly dull and characterless. I like the contrast of textures of brick, of stone, of concrete, of wood”
Baker believed that a design of exposed terracotta tiles, bricks, etc. brought life and beauty into a structure through the unadulterated natural usage of the raw material. Furthermore, he experimented with these materials that had an immense jolt on the user's involvement, such as the fillers with recycled materials that brought in a panorama of bright sun rays of the Indian landscapes in multiple patterns as well as his Brick Jail works. Right from the initial sketches to the final building stage, Baker’s involvement with the design had him relate and corporate with the workers, the materials and in the end the final building itself. He found immense joy in witnessing the building’s revolutionary turn from a drawing to actual reality on the Indian soil.
Laurie Baker’s unique architectural practices did not dissolve with his death, as his enticing works inspired the emerging of a new era of modern architectural fraternity that subsequently deviated from the orthodox school of thought, shedding new light on this form of art. This can further be seen through the standings and practices of The Laurie Baker Center for Habitat Studies, Trivandrum that keeps alive the Laurie Baker Style, opening new opportunities for young architects by taking it a step further.