W.Baker, well known as Laurie Baker, was born in Burmingham,
England on 2nd March 1917, as the youngest child with two
elder sisters and a brother. Father - Charles Fredrick Baker,
Mother- Milly Baker.
British-born architect has lived and worked in India for more
than 50 years. He has taken Indian citizenship and now resides
in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala.
turning point - The education
he was seventeen, he went on a cycling tour of Europe with
friends. Fascinated by the unfolding vistas of nature, landscape,
cities, the different life patterns of people and the differences
in the houses from place to place, that tour proved to be
a turning point in his life. Back from tour, he thought of
a career in architecture and soon after he joined the Birmingham
School of Architecture.
Inspiration - Mahatma Gandhi
Returning to England in 1944, Baker was delayed in
Bombay for three months waiting for a steamship. Through Quaker
associates, he was introduced to Mohandas Gandhi, who expressed
concern over the state of Indian architecture and asserted
that much good could be done in rural India by committed architects.
Baker returned to England briefly and then, taking Gandhi’s
words to heart, returned to India to see how his skills might
best serve the communities of Uttar Pradesh in northern India.
Baker met and married an Indian medical doctor, Elizabeth
Jacob, and the two of them worked for years in the Himalayas
building and operating schools and hospitals, working with
lepers and the poor.
1963, Baker and his wife moved to the southern state of Kerala,
Elizabeth’s homeland, establishing themselves in the city
of Trivandrum in 1970. Working with local materials and exploring
indigenous architectural traditions, Baker’s reputation began
In India, he is well known for designing and building functional
brick homes, with special features utilizing natural air movement
to cool the home's interior. A 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 with gables and vents
allowing rising hot air to escape.
Laurie Baker has been committed to not only learning from
and using traditional Indian architectural techniques and
technology, but also building with traditional Indian materials.
Gandhi once exhorted builders to only use materials gathered
within five miles of a construction site. And though this
Gandhian ideal is not always possible, Baker has promoted
the use of brick, lime, tile, palm thatch, stone and local
granite in place of ‘modern’ materials like steel, glass and
can’t get more sustainable or renewable a resource than mud,
and Baker is its champion. Approximately 58 percent of all
buildings in India today are made of mud brick, some as many
as 50 to 100 years old. Mud is gathered either at the construction
site or very nearby, formed into bricks and dried in the sun.
It is readily available and can be made by people with limited
initial training—all resulting in projects that can be built
at a fraction of the cost of those using concrete and steel.
Baker is especially fond of mud’s total recycle-ability: simply
add water and reuse it.
has truly adopted his motto to “make low-costery a habit and
a way of life” by reusing everything, from brick to glass
bottles, as building materials. “One of the things I’m noted
to be crazy for is that I use old colored bottles set in cement—they
give a nice light,” comments Baker. His own home, made entirely
of mud brick, is a model of his recycling ethos; including
timber salvaged from an old boat jetty. Other signature elements
of his design include the use of circular walls, which use
far less brick than rectangular walls. In addition, when he
does use concrete for a roof, he embeds chipped or broken
terra cotta roofing tiles into the mixture. These tiles, which
normally would be thrown away, contribute to the strength
of the roof, allow less of the expensive concrete to be used,
and reduce the structural load of the building.
Baker believes in creating dwellings
that respect the earth and the homeowner equally.
Baker playfully uses curved forms.
The living room at 'The Hamlet'. An integration of new building
and salvaged timber from traditional buildings that were being
Hamlet', Laurie Baker's home in Thiruvananthapuram, built
on a steeply sloping and rocky hillside that hardly had any
vegetation when Baker started constructing it , is now a visual
innovative use of discarded bottless, inset in the wall at
Col. Jacob's residence in Thiruvananthapuram, creates a stained
Loyola Chapel, reflecting Baker's mastery over light.
Computer centre at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.
Here Baker evolved an innovative system of curved double walls
to save on cost and to conserve the energy that goes into
air-conditioning a building of this scale and purpose.
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