THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Any visitor to Kerala is sure to notice quaint brick red homes and dancing structures that swirl and twirl in and out of the surrounding greenery, so much so that they seem to be one with Nature. Keralites have long considered the maker of these symphonies in brick as one of their very own.
In a true tribute to Laurie Baker - the poor man’s builder and the father of green architecture in India - his grandson has come out with a documentary ‘Uncommon Sense: The Life and Architecture of Laurie Baker’.
“The biggest thing my grandfather showed me through his life was not to care about what people have to say, not to care about detractors, to take risks in life, be brave and go ahead and do what you believe in,” says Vineet Radhakrishnan, Baker’s grandson who directed the docu.
Even though Baker passed away in 2007 at the ripe old age of 90, he left behind a lasting legacy that continues to attract the masses on the lookout for homesteads or buildings in tune with Nature. “The joy that came of knowing him was to see that there was no connection between money and beauty,” observes noted writer Arundhati Roy in the docu. Baker’s low-cost buildings were more beautiful and continue to be so than any in the vicinity, she adds.
His reputed works in Kerala include Houses for the Thiruvananthapuram Archbishop, Muttom Tourist Resort, Loyola Buildings at Sreekaryam, Centre for Development Studies at Ulloor, St John’s Cathedral Tiruvalla, Nalanda State Institute of Languages, Chitralekha Film Studio, Mary Roy’s Pallikoodam in Kottayam, Poonthura Fishing Village, Vellanadu Mitraniketan, Krishi Vignyan Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, Indian Coffee House, Chengalchoola Slum Dwelling Units, to name just a few. A firm believer in the ‘No Waste’ policy, Baker made use of whatever raw material was readily available on site to create a building that stood in harmony with its environment. He proved to be more Indian than many natives themselves, with his absolute adherence to Indianness in both his designs and construction.
“It’s easy to pigeonhole and simplify, we all do it. I wanted people to see through this film that he was more than just someone who churned out low cost houses as the media has typically characterised him.
“Dig a little deeper and you can see that his philosophy to architecture was practical, modern and very pragmatic and in many ways can be applied to life itself. So it’s really not a film about architecture but about an approach to life,” Vineet says.
The Pritzker-nominated Quaker architect lived on the fringes of civilisation with his Indian doctor wife, catering to the locals with his own brand of signature eco-friendly buildings in the Himalayas and forests of India for over 20 years. After moving to Kerala, Baker carried forward, what he had begun in the mountains and forests of North India- his tradition of democratised architecture with unusually simple yet powerful designs that evolved into strong, green, beautiful yet cheap homes- a reality for thousands in India who could never have otherwise afforded a house.
Known to all as Daddy, Baker was usually sighted with his jhola by his side, out of which his mobile office functioned. He could always be seen furiously sketching away on scraps of paper that he had a knack of salvaging.
For those who had the fortune to work with him, his amazing sense of humour and ready wit kept them always grinning in his company. For information regarding film screening schedules and purchase options, visit lauriebaker.net