Gandhi of Architecture

“I think I am subconsciously often strongly influenced by nature, and much of nature’s `structural work’ is not straight or square. A tall reed of grass in a windy, wild terrain is a long cylinder or a hollow tube; tree trunks and stems of plants that carry fruit and leaves are usually cylindrical and not square. Curves are there to take stresses and strains and to stand up to all sorts of external forces. On top of it all, they look good and beautiful and are infinitely more elegant than straight lines of steel and concrete”- Laurie Baker

Poor man’s architect, fondly known to his peers and clients, alike, as ‘daddy’. Lawrence Wilfred Baker was born in Birmingham in the year 1917. He is an alumnus of Birmingham School of Architecture. He met Gandhi ji through his Quaker friends and was instantly inspired by his life and ways. On seeing the city slums, Laurie Baker decided to do something about it. Baker was initially discouraged by the nationwide animosity to the Raj and to all Westerners. But the Mahatma reassured him that though the Raj must quit, concerned individuals would always find a welcome place to work with Indians. Baker was convinced by Gandhi to stay back and work for the provision of low-cost housing for the poor. Gandhi’s idea was that it should be possible to build a home with materials found within a five-mile radius of a site. This was to have a great influence in his later life.

Baker was a man on a mission. He proved, time and again, that low-cost housing need not be only categorized for the poor. His work was a complete deviation from everything that defined architecture and he defied the profession in every way. In the late 50’s when the word sustainability did not even exist, Baker’s work was much beyond its time and an exemplary specimen of sustainable architectural design. He strived to make optimum use of locally available materials, waste minimization, avoiding energy-intensive materials and absolute cost-effectiveness. One can easily notice how seamlessly his buildings blend in with nature. Baker also improvised and innovated various bonding techniques for bricks which allowed him to make half-of brick thickness. Often his designs would have a steeped or a curved form incorporated in them, in order to add rigidity to its form.

An anesthetic, a nurse, a missionary and above all- an architect like no other; Laurie Baker died on 1st April 2007 in his house in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, where he lived and worked since 1970. He left behind a legacy of beautiful ingenious designs that inspire the mind with endless architectural possibilities.

picture credits:, Pinterest.

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