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Published by: Sudharsana Jeyaraman on Feb 23, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Understanding the nature of a low-cost architectural practice through the buildings of Laurie Baker 
Laurie Baker (1917–2007) was an Englisharchitect who settled in India in 1945. He mar-ried an Indian doctor, Elisabeth Chandy, andstarted assisting her with leprosy patients inthe remote district of Pithoragarh, in the Hi-malayas. The buildings in which the patientswere being treated were becoming increas-ingly inadequate for new developments in their treatments. Baker’s task often involvedrenovating old buildings and transforming oldasylums into modern hospitals with minisculebudgets. He worked with the local populace,observing them and gaining valuable knowl-edge of a variety of building techniques andmaterials. Becoming increasingly fascinated bythe age-old vernacular architecture and tra-ditional settlements of the Himalayan region,he started to question the text-book educationthat had been imparted to him at the Architec-ture School in Birmingham. Observing the pov-erty around him, he became engaged with theissue of shelter and of nding the least costlysolutions to housing the millions of Indians liv-ing under the poverty-line.In the Himalayas, Baker saw how the honestuse of local materials and age-old buildingtechniques and typology of spaces that hadevolved over several hundred years. He devel-oped a healthy respect for optimum and cau-tious use of scarce materials; for the timelessskills of local masons and craftsmen and for an architecture that was responsive in its styleand identity to the local region and climate.He became anxious with the dogma of mod-ern architecture, with its quest for a universaltechnology, that was decimating ancient ideasof place-making and regional identity.
The treatment ‘throne’ in the hospital (LB).
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Laurie Baker, an architect for the Indian poor 
Memories of Mountain Living The House and Home
Words of Mahatma Gandhi were to inuence Baker for the rest of his life:
“The ideal houses in the ideal village will be built from materials which are all found within a ve-mile radius of the house.” 
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Laurie Baker wrote:
“To me, this vernacular architecture was a perfect example of vernacular architecture. Simple, ef-cient, inexpensive....As usual this delightful, dignied housing demonstrated hundreds of years of building research on how to cope with local materials, how to cope with local climate hazards, and how to accommodate the local social pattern of living. It dealt with incidental difcult problems onhow to build on a steeply sloping site, or how to cope with earthquakes, and how to avoid landslid-ing areas and paths. The few examples of attempts to modernise housing merely demonstrated,only too clearly, our modern conceit and showed how very foolish we are when we attempt toignore or abandon these hundreds of years of ‘research’ in local building materials....” “Our ‘backward’ ancestors had learned how to live with and cope with the problems of climate.They had learned that a pitched or sloping roof lessened the effects of all these hazards. They knew the movements of air currents and placed their wall openings almost at ground level. They knew that hot air rises and allowed it to travel upwards from the low eaves to the openings at theend of the high ridge. They understood and applied principles of insulation; their roong materialsformed hollow cellular protective layers and their storage spaces provided insulation from the mid-day sun. They had understood that all wall surfaces can absorb and retain just as much heat as aroof surface, so they kept these walls as small in area as possible and never left them unprotected.They knew that eye-strain from working out in the sun could be alleviated by rest in an area whereglare was eliminated and they used smooth, hard, light-coloured surfaces sparingly and left thenatural materials-wood, laterite, brick, stone-exposed. Their practical knowledge of the propertiesof these differing building materials was amazing. They knew, for instance, how to design their timber and wood work to avoid warping, twisting and cracking.” “The necessity for speed was one of the big factors that contributes to that break with tradition. It  probably took a thousand years for us to nd out by trial-and-error how to make a mud wall imper-vious to rain and wind, another thousand years to learn how to keep termites out of it, and another two or three thousand years to learn how to build multi-storeyed mud buildings.”I The Rs.2,000 Demonstration House in Pattom,Trivandrum, 1970 Baker uses an ornamental brick-jali for light and ventilation in the humid climate of Trivandrum
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GREAT !! thanks for this informative architect post. you can see some Kerala house plans at http://www.keralahouseplanner.com/
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