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LAURIE BAKER

Laurence Wilfred "Laurie" Baker (2 March 1917 1 April 2007) was a British-born Indian architect, renowned for his initiatives
in cost-effective energy-efficient architecture and for his unique space utilisation and simple but aesthetic sensibility. Influenced
by Mahatma Gandhi, he sought to incorporate simple designs with local materials and achieved fame with his approach
to sustainable architecture as well as in organic architecture. He has been called the "Gandhi of architecture"
Baker became well known for designing and building low cost, high quality, beautiful homes, with a great portion of his work
suited to or built for lower-middle to lower class clients. His buildings tend to emphasize prolific - at times virtuosic - masonry
construction, instilling privacy and evoking history with brick jali walls, a perforated brick screen which invites a natural air flow
to cool the buildings' interior, in addition to creating intricate patterns of light and shadow. Another significant Baker feature is
irregular, pyramid-like structures on roofs, with one side left open and tilting into the wind. Baker's designs invariably have
traditional Indian sloping roofs and terracotta Mangalore tile shingling with gables and vents allowing rising hot air to escape.
Curved walls enter Baker's architectural vocabulary as a means to enclose more volume at lower material cost than straight
walls, and for Laurie, "building [became] more fun with the circle." A testament to his frugality, Baker was often seen
rummaging through salvage heaps looking for suitable building materials, door and window frames, sometimes hitting a stroke
of luck as evidenced by the intricately carved entry to the Chitralekha Film Studio (Aakulam, Trivandrum, 197476): a capricious
architectural element found in a junk heap.
Baker made many simple suggestions for cost reduction including the use of Rat trap bond for brick walls, having bends in walls
that increased the strength and provided readymade shelves, thin concrete roofs and even simple precautions like shifting dug
up soil into the built area rather that out of it. He advocated the use of low energy consuming mud walls, using holes in the wall
to get light, using overlaid brick over doorways, incorporating places to sit into the structure, simpler windows and a variety of
roof construction approaches. He liked bare brick surfaces and considered plastering and other embellishments as superfluous.
Baker's architectural method is one of improvisation, in which initial drawings have only an idealistic link to the final
construction, with most of the accommodations and design choices being made on-site by the architect himself. Compartments
for milk bottles near the doorstep, windowsills that double as bench surfaces, and a heavy emphasis on taking cues from the
natural condition of the site are just some examples. His Quaker-instilled respect for nature lead him to let the idiosyncrasies of
a site inform his architectural improvisations, rarely is a topography line marred or a tree uprooted. This saves construction cost
as well, since working around difficult site conditions is much more cost-effective than clear-cutting. ("I think it's a waste of
money to level a well-moulded site") Resistant to "high-technology" that addresses building environment issues by ignoring
natural environment, at the Centre for Development Studies (Trivandrum, 1971) Baker created a cooling system by placing a
high, latticed, brick wall near a pond that uses air pressure differences to draw cool air through the building. Various features of
his work such as using recycled material, natural environment control and frugality of design may be seen as sustainable
architecture or green building with its emphasis on sustainability. His responsiveness to never-identical site conditions quite
obviously allowed for the variegation that permeates his work.

LAURIE BAKER'S INDIAN COFFEE HOUSE, TRIVANDRUM


One of the prominent landmarks in the Thampanoor area of Trivandrum, where both the railway station as well as the bus
terminal are located, is the Indian Coffee House designed by Laurie Baker. This building, courtesy of its unusual design has
become one of the most recognisable structures in Trivandrum. The entire building is conceived as a continuous spiral ramp,
with a central circular service core and with dining spaces provided on the outer side. The form of the building is thus
unconventional & bears Bakers trademark jaalis to let in light & ventilation. The building is well proportioned, a cylindrical brickred spiral continuing for a couple of floors and then terminating in a smaller cylindrical volume on top, giving a very
unsymmetrical balance to the whole structure.

What one needs to appreciate is Bakers masterful intervention in a very small plot in the middle of a busy urban area. The
solution to the design programme is bold and unusual, yet, one which successfully integrates all the elements of the programme
and one which creates a comfortable and interesting dining experience. Most of the people who see this building are
automatically drawn into it due to curiosity. On the inside, Baker has successfully solved the programmatic requirement of
providing eating spaces by creating modules of built-in table and seating, with an individual table and its two benches placed on
an individual horizontal platform. Thus, on the outer side abutting the external jaali wall, there are continuous horizontal
platforms incrementally rising in height along with the slope of the spiral.
The material palette is again typical Baker. The walls are made of exposed brickwork which has been painted over white on the
inner side & brick-red on the exterior. There are no windows jaalis serve to bring in plenty of light & ventilation, ensuring that
the interiors are nice & comfortable. The table and the seats are built-in. The table consists of a concrete slab fixed to the wall &
with a semicircular taper on one side. This slab is resting on a small brick arch which serves as the legs. The seats are again
interestingly designed and accommodate 2 people comfortably on either side. The seats of adjacent tables are abutting back to
back, but are at 2 different levels to accommodate the slope. The seats are again made in brickwork and are finished with blockoxide on top and the backrest. The remarkable thing about these built-in furnitures is that Baker has designed them so very
precisely ergonomically that they are very comfortable to use, inspite of being so simple.
There is a circular service core in the centre, which consists of 2 concentric circles. The inner smaller circular core is a narrow
vertical shaft open on the top, with openings at different levels. This shaft provides ventilation to the central areas and works on
the principle of Stack effect, a very simple but effective solution that is so typical of Baker. Around this circular core are the
service areas, especially the toilets & handwash. The kitchen is placed on the ground floor and has a separate service entrance.
Now although the building is unique in design, there are a few functional issues. Due to the placement of the kitchen on the
ground level, it becomes difficult for the serving staff as they have to continuously climb up and down the ramp to place the
orders & then to serve the people sitting on the upper levels. Thus, they in fact ask the customers to occupy the lower seating
first before going up the spiral. Also, the slope of the ramp is a bit steep, which contributes to a slippery slope which sometimes
results in a few falls. Yet, one cannot deny the ingenuity of Baker to come up with such a design solution in such an urban
context, creating a memorable building.