Indian Architect -Laurence Wilfred Baker (Laurie Baker)


2. Laurie Baker



Laurence 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. Early education at – King Edwards Grammar School.

Higher Education:

When 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.

His Career and Activities:

Prior to the period of completion of his professional apprenticeship, the Second World War broke out. During the war, Baker enlisted in the Friends Ambulance Unit and was sent to China for service as part of a surgical unit, in the war between China and Japan. He then went to Burma, and in the midst of war, was involved in tending to the injured victims.
Later he worked with the people, especially those suffering from leprosy. Owing to his deep involvement in work and the hardships that followed, his health suffered and he was sent back to England for recuperation.
On his way back, while waiting for a ship at Bombay, he had a chance encounter with Mahatma Gandhi, whose philosophy had a major influence in his work. While in England, hearing of a worldwide organization dealing with the treatment and rehabilitation of leprosy people in India, he joins them as an architect.

That was way back in 1945, when he came to India, to convert old refugee centers into actual treatment hospitals, with knowledge of leprosy and its treatment, apart from his planning and building experience. At one of these hospitals in Uttar Pradesh, Baker stayed with one Mr.Chandy and family, whose sister Elizabeth Jacob, had been working as a doctor in a hospital in Hyderabad. They got married in 1948.

The Bakers remained in Pithoragarh for the next sixteen years. Living there, in a hilly terrain in the most adverse climatic conditions, amidst the poor, he understood the importance of Himalayan domestic architecture, which to him was a perfect example of vernacular architecture.
They left Pithoragarh in 1963 and moved to a similar hilly area in central Kerala, a remote village-Vagamon, inhabited by tribal people and Tamil migrants. There they built schools and leprosy treatment centers and worked for the people.

Laurie- Baker- with -his- workers- in- Kerala

Laurie Baker with his workers in Kerala

In 1965, they moved to Trivandrum and got involved in the leprosy work and also built homes and institutions for a wider clientele. Today, over a thousand families in the district live in Baker model houses and the evolution of his style can be traced through his work in and around the city.

His Architectural style: The Characteristic Elements Of Baker’s Style:

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.

While the jalis, the traditional roofs, the stepped arches, the overhanging eaves and the skylights etc., are some of the well-known elements that characterize Baker’s style, it is his high regard for nature that makes him unique.

In any project, Baker is particularly sensitive to the existing contours and the other elements present on the site. Before planning anything; the location of each tree is taken into consideration. Even the levels in his design are not artificially created but are made to follow existing contours or steep slopes on the site.

Baker strongly believes in the optimum use of the locally available materials, which are appropriate to the existing climatic conditions. The local materials like brick, tile, lime, palm thatch, stone, granite and laterite thus replace the conventional steel and glass of modern architecture. These materials suit the hot, wet and humid climate of Kerala and also encourage minimal use of non-renewable resources. Also the small-scale industries required for the manufacturing, cutting, polishing, and other various treatment of theses materials help in increasing the employment amongst the poor localities.

Concrete is rarely used ; most often in a folded slab design. The waste and discarded tiles are used as fillers, thereby making the roof light and inexpensive. Baker also innovated different bonding techniques for brick, which allowed him to build of half- brick thickness. To add rigidity, many a times these walls were designed in a stepped or curved form.

Glass windows, frames and sills are replaced by traditional jalis. One can easily recognize Baker’s structures by the presence of jalis on them. The jali used in Baker’s structure, is a perforated screen made of bricks. The bricks are placed in a peculiar fashion so as to produce tiny regular openings in the walls. These jalis can be designed in various patterns as desired. This jali catches light and air and diffuses glare; while allowing for privacy and security; thus acting as a window and a ventilator both at the same time. It encourages airflow, yet the construction of this form of ventilation requires neither special materials nor special skills.

Jali -Work

Jali Work

The spanned openings in a brick wall are made economical by using ‘stepped’ or ‘corbelled’ arch. In this technique the bricks on each course are cantilevered out a few inches beyond the course below, until the required span is reached. In case of a rectangular opening reinforced brickwork is used which capitalizes on the composite action of the lintel with the masonry above.

Where contemporary architects seek to impose control on nature by shutting it out with the advantage of artificial ventilation and temperature control system; Baker does exactly the opposite. Being sensitive to nature; he skillfully manipulates the natural elements to gain thermal comfort. In the canteen of Center of Development Studies; the high latticed brick walls and a pond are used to draw air across it’s surface and cool the building – a cooling system achieved in a vernacular way. Also by gently stepping up the singly loaded building at C.D.S., he attempts to create continuous breezeways to temper the humid climate in a deceptively simple way .

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.”

Laurie- Baker- work

IISE Office, Trivandrum

Eco-friendly Architect and Engineer, known as the ‘brick master of Kerala,’ He has transformed individual creativity into collective expression through his efforts at addressing the housing problems of the country. Known for integrating the factors of simplicity, order and regularity in his design, he had offered successful solutions to the roofless millions through low-cost housing, in accordance to the needs, climate, lifestyle and preferences of clients.


Brick Genius

Not a traditionalist, Baker does not reject modernism and technology but uses it sensibly and sparingly, often working on the site himself to help build economic and affordable buildings which work with, rather than against, local skills, materials, culture and climate. He has practiced and preached a frugal lifestyle, has been a prolific pamphleteer, educator and committed advocate of social housing constantly refreshing the local tradition of construction to reduce cost, to provide service and to minimise waste.

In one of the exhibition rooms, there is a chart written in his own hand listing the many things of wisdom, he discovered through his extremely productive working life as an architect and a humanist:

  • Only accept a reasonable brief and one which you think you are capable of carrying it through.
  • Discourage extravagance and snobbery and don’t take on a job which is either.
  • Always study your site and see potential relating to the soil, drainage, power, fuel etc.
  • See potential services- (water, drainage, access, power fuel, phone etc. If not possible or available what will you do?).
  • You yourself get accurate site details and in-situ facts
  • Every building should be unique; no two families are alike, so why should their habitation be alike?
  • Study and know local materials, cost, building techniques and construction
  • Study the energy used in the production of materials and transport
  • Don’t rob national resources; don’t use them extravagantly or unnecessarily
  • Be honest in design, materials, construction, costs and your own mistakes
  • Avoid opulance and showing-off by using currently fashionable gimmicks
  • Get your conscience out of deep-freeze, and use it
  • Look closely at your prejudices and question them
  • Have faith in your convictions and have the courage to stick to them – but respect those of other people.
  • Make cost efficiency your way of life – not merely “ Low cost for the poor”. Practice what you preach.
  • Keep your information and knowledge up-to-date, but make sure the latest ‘Fashions’ are better than established ways before changing.
  • Don’t do that which is not necessary. Explain this to your client when you think their demands etc are not necessary.
  • Above all use common sense. ( I think you had better not asked me what ‘common sense’ is? ). Have fun in designing.
  • Trim your drawings, staff, equipment, travel and transport, paper and expenses.


Laurie Baker died at 7:30 am on April 1, 2007, aged 90. Until the end, he continued to work in and around his home in Trivandrum, though health concerns had kept his famous on-site physical presence to a minimum. His designing and writing were done mostly at his home. His approach to architecture steadily gained appreciation as architectural sentiment creaks towards place-making over modernizing or stylizing. As a result of this more widespread acceptance, however, the “Baker Style” home is gaining popularity, much to Baker’s own chagrin, since he felt that the ‘style’ being commoditised is merely the inevitable manifestation of the cultural and economic imperatives of the region in which he worked, not a solution that could be applied whole-cloth to any outside situation. Laurie Baker’s architecture focused on retaining a site’s natural character, and economically minded indigenous construction, and the seamless integration of local culture that has been very inspirational.

Many of Laurie Baker’s writings were published and are available through COSTFORD (the Center Of Science and Technology For Rural Development) the voluntary organisation which carried out many of his later projects, at which he was the Master Architect. COSTFORD is carrying on working towards the ideals that Laurie Baker espoused throughout his life.

Bakers Projects:

  • Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, Trivandrum, 1971.

In 1967,Laurie Baker was asked to design a Centre for Research in Applied Economics, in Ulloor; a suburb of Trivandrum. This turned out to be one of the most important projects of his career.

This 10-acre campus is one of Laurie Baker’s significant early works. The center is sited on a hill about 8km from the center of Thiruvananthapuram. Built inexpensively in brick and other local materials, the campus features offices, classrooms, an 8-story library, and housing for students and staff.

On over a land of ten acres; have been accommodated the administrative offices, a computer center, housing and other components of an institutional design. The design exhibits a range of concepts applied by Laurie Baker, to the individual buildings as per suiting to their needs of function, scale, and dimensions. Also these buildings are a good example of the saying ‘Form Follows Function’. Other features include circular courtyards, serpentine brick walls built around existing trees, and artful brick detailing throughout.

centre -for- development- studies,- ulloor, -trivandrum, -1971

Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, Trivandrum, 1971

On a hillside overlooking paddy fields the site rises in a difficult gradient of rocky soil up to the crest of the hill.
At the center, stands the dominating seven-storey library tower.The administrative offices and the classrooms are scattered randomly; their positions being determined by the directions of the slopes. These buildings remain tightly connected through corridors, which lead towards the central staircase of the library.

Centre- for- Development- Studies,- Ulloor,- Trivandrum,- 1971

Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, Trivandrum, 1971

The four storey Men’s Hostel is set apart from this complex across an informal amphi- theatre fashioned from excess building material and made by mere consolidating the contours. Further down is a students’ canteen and a Girls Hostel.
Further ahead near the entrance gate, are located the houses for the staff members.

Men’s Hostel: –

It was the then Chief Minister of Kerala, Sir Achutha Menon, who suggested that such a new important centre of economists should very obviously and definitely, express and demonstrate, in a practical way, the whole concept of economy.

This is seen in the simplified design of the men’s hostel; through the organization of the plan, the nature of the construction and the materials used.

  • The four storey building; on each floor consists of eight rooms; planned in a linear fashion; to maintain individual privacy. This organization is offsetted by the playfulness of the circulation and the entrance block both which move away from an excessive rectilinearity into the magical realm of curved walls, circular staircase and deep set wall niches. This composition results in startling contrast of light and shade. About the curved wall, Baker explains,

    “I was very keen to demonstrate the use of four and a half inch thick load-bearing wall. When such a wall is taken to four storeys the curves and circle give it that added stiffness.”

The hostel was completed on 15th January 1975.the total cost Rs.2, 21,945.The total covered area of structure is 975 sq.m: -i.e. it cost just over Rs.226 per sq.m.

Women’s Hostel: –

The rooms, in this hostel have a rigid layout of undifferentiated rectangles; all opening into the silent forest behind. In his own words, “This time the rooms. The balcony and the staircase were much more orthodox. But made the connecting corridors very unorthodox by enclosing them in jail walls of rather florid building shapes.”
Here, the wall is made curved not only for structural stiffness, but also to add a feminine playful and interactive quality to circulation space. Low seats are built into the walls; kitchen platform and sinks follow the jali surface, dropping built in tables, work areas and ironing boards.

Computer Centre: –

Here the question was as to how would the brick and stone architecture, with open lattice planning and breezeways; satisfy the electronic needs and controlled environment required for a sophisticated computer centre. Adding to this, the centre was to be designed keeping in mind the aesthetic look of the existing structures in the centre.

Baker solved the problem by providing a double-walled, two storied building. The outer wall made of intersecting circles of brick jalis serves the purpose of maintaining a harmonious look with the rest of the building of the 25-year-old institution. The wall is one brick thick; and for additional support and stiffness, the mid-level slab is fused with the wall. Computer like punchouts have been made to suggest the functions housed by the structure.

The inner wall; provides the protected shell required for the controls and constraints of a computer laboratory. Larger corbelled windows are incorporated in the inner wall, which control the diffused light of the outer wall, creating a continuous glare-free atmosphere.
The entrance lobby (computer center-lobby) is lit by a skylight, so that the officers; feel a sense of openness and not totally bound by the heaviness of the double walls. The roof provided is of folded concrete slab.

Centre- for- Development- Studies,- Ulloor,- Trivandrum,- 1971-(2)

Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, Trivandrum, 1971

Construction features used in the structure are: –

  • Foundation constructed of random rubble mixed in lime surkhi mortar; (lime manufactured from manufactured from sea shells on the site).
  • Super structure of load bearing brick.
  • Slabs are of filler tiles; whereas flooring is a mixture of local quarry tiles.
  • Windows are made out of jack wood.
  • Bathrooms are plastered, rest all surfaces either exposed or whitewashed.
  • The precast stair treads used in circular stair tower are made of filler slab and bamboo reinforcement.
  • Roofs are of folded concrete slab.
Centre- for- Development- Studies,- Ulloor,- Trivandrum,- 1971-(4)

Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, Trivandrum, 1971

Centre- for- Development- Studies,- Ulloor,- Trivandrum,- 1971-(5)

Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, Trivandrum, 1971


  • The Hamlet – Laurie Bakers Own residence

The -Hamlet – Laurie- Bakers- Own -residenceThe -Hamlet – Laurie- Bakers- Own -residence-(2)

The -Hamlet – Laurie- Bakers- Own -residence-(3)

The Hamlet – Laurie Bakers Own residence



  • Loyola Chapel and Auditorium, Sreekaryam, 1971


Loyola -Chapel- and- Auditorium, -Sreekaryam,- 1971

Loyola Chapel and Auditorium, Sreekaryam, 1971

Loyola -Chapel- and- Auditorium, -Sreekaryam,- 1971-(2)

Loyola Chapel and Auditorium, Sreekaryam, 1971


Achievements & Significant Events in Baker’s Life:

1938 – Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
1945 – Settled in INDIA (Architect to International Leprosy Mission)
1970 – Fellow of Indian Institute of Architects
1983 – Member of British Empire (M.B.E)
1987 – Received the first Indian National Habitat Award
1988 – Indian Citizenship.
1989 – I.A.A. Medal Outstanding Architect of the Year
1990 – Great Masters Architect of the Year.
1990 – Padma Shree
1992 – U.N.O Habitats Award & U.N Roll of Honour
1993 – International Union of Architects (I.U.A) Award
1994 – People of the Year Award
1994 – I.I.A Babu Rao Maitre Gold Medal
1995 – Doctorate of University of Central England.
1998 – Doctorate (Science) of Sri Venkateswara University.
2003 – Basheer Puraskaram, constituted by the Doha based Malayalee organisation Pravaasi.

Other Project list:

Aniruddhin’s residence, Pattom, Trivandrum, 1969.
– Houses at Archbishop Compound, Pattom, Trivandrum, 1970.
– E. Namboodripads House, Ulloor, Trivandrum, 1973.
– K.N.Raj’s residence, Kumarapuram, Trivandrum, 1970.
– Chapel for Sacred Heart Centre, Monroe Island, Quilon, Kerala
– House for R. Narayanan, an I.A.S officer, Golf Links, Trivandrum, 1972-73.
– Chitralekha Studio Complex, Aakulam, Trivandrum, 1974-76.
– Mitraniketan, Vellanad, Trivandrum – 1970
– T. N. Krishnan’s residence, Kumarapuram, Trivandrum, 1971
– Dr. P. K.Panikar’s (then Director of CDS) residence, Kumarapuram, Trivandrum, 1974.
– House for Dr A.Vaidyanathan, Kumarapuram, Trivandrum, 1972.
– House for T.C.Alexander (a retired audit executive), Vikramapuram Hill, Trivandrum, 1982.
– House for Nalini Nayak (a social worker), Anayara, Trivandrum, 1989. 15. Lt.Gen.S.Pillai’s Residence, Jawahar Nagar, Trivandrum, 1971.
– House for Leela Menon, Golf Links, Trivandrum, 1973-74.
– Ravindranath’s residence, Gourishapattom, Trivandrum, 1975.
– Vasant Gawarekar’s residence, Manvila, Trivandrum, 1982.
– House for Abu Abraham (cartoonist & columnist), Kowdiar, Trivandrum, 1989.
– House for Beena Sarasan (an Income Tax officer), Kowdiar, Trivandrum, 1989
– Children’s Village, near Nagercoil, Tamilnadu, 1965.
– Fishermen’s Village, Poonthura, Trivandrum, 1974-75.
– Tourist Centre, Ponmudi, Trivandrum, 1980.
– Nirmithi Kendra, Aakulam, Trivandrum, 1987.
– Loyola Chapel and Auditorium, Sreekaryam, 1971
– Loyola Graduate and Women’s Hostel, Sreekaryam, Trivandrum, 1970


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