Architect's Perspective

Laurie Baker And His Low-Cost Brick Construction Style

Known as the Gandhi of Architecture, Lawrence Wilfred “Laurie” Baker was very different from the other colleagues of his time. While every other architect back then was moving towards more west-influenced grand buildings, Laurie spent most of his time studying and designing low-cost affordable buildings influenced by the region’s vernacular architecture. 

Baker’s prime goal was to make cheap and low-maintenance buildings without compromising on comfort and aesthetics. 

Laurie baker architecture works and philosophies

His buildings were compared to a loincloth- meaning, although it is vernacular and comfortable, some assumed the they wouldn’t last long. But the very fact that all of his buildings stand tall and strong even today, years after he has passed, is enough evidence to prove these critics wrong. 

Interestingly enough, Laurie Baker’s buildings integrated sustainable and energy-efficient methods even before those concepts even arrived in the field of architecture. This makes the British-born architect one of the pioneers in the field. 

Laurie Baker’s Philosophy

Laurie often stressed using “common sense” while designing and emphasized that even though the architect is the one designing the building, in the end, it is for the users who will be occupying the space. Every building he built had a set of principles that were always followed. 

Simplicity

Laurie Baker never once encouraged extravagance or excessive ornamentation. 

  • He dutifully encouraged the clients to renounce unnecessary decorations

Understanding the site

Before starting the initial design process itself, it is important to study the site, including the soil, topography, climate, water accumulation, and context of the surroundings.

  • Studying the details within the site itself was essential to Laurie. Taking into consideration factors like trees, rocks, water bodies, wind directions, topography, etc present in the site and designing with these in mind.
  • Laurie believed that we must research and study our site, its advantages, and its weaknesses, and make the most out of it in an efficient manner.

Availability of services

Water services, drainage, access, availability of power, fuel, etc. are all important for the users who will be living in the building the architect designs. 

  • When there is a lack of services, Laurie believed it is the duty of the architect to provide them.

Uniqueness

No two clients and their families are alike. They come from different regions and are raised in different backgrounds. 

  • The buildings designed for a client should be unique enough to suit their needs and tastes. 

Local materials and labor

While studying the site during the initial phase, the availability and abundance of local materials should also be analyzed. 

  • the performance, cost-effectiveness and the impact the materials have on the environment around them, and construction techniques should also be covered. 
  • If local materials are going to be used in the building, local craftsmen and laborers are the experts in the subject. Knowing about and reaching out to these workmen who are kings at their expertise was an important aspect. 

Keep energy usage at a minimum

It is also necessary to study and calculate the energy used in manufacturing, acquiring, and transportation of the materials that are going to be employed in the design. 

  • The use of energy-intensive materials should be avoided as a consequence of which construction cost is reduced. 

– Cost efficiency

Cost-efficient materials should not be an important factor only while designing for the poor and non-profits- it should be a lifestyle. 

  • He believed simplicity and minimalism can help make the project as low-cost and affordable as possible.  

Updating trends

It’s essential to keep your information and knowledge up-to-date. 

  • He ensured that the present trends are better than the established ways before employing them.

Minimalism

Be a minimalist; avoid anything that is excess or extravagant. 

  • He provided maximum comfort with minimal usage of equipment, transport, maintenance, and expenses.

Sustainable and Vernacular

One of Laurie Baker’s strict principles that he followed in every one of his buildings is cost-effectiveness, energy-efficiency and the usage of vernacular materials. 

Laurie Baker always believed that the true meaning of architecture lies in the responsible and prudent use of resources and taking advantage of the characteristics and circumstances that surround the site.

Laurie Baker’s Design Sketches:

Laurie Baker’s design sketches ranged from working drawings to detailed views and sections based on the need of each project.

Design sketches by laurie baker of house with courtyard, church, and others
Design sketches by laurie baker of house with courtyard, church, and others

Laurie Baker’s Works:

With over one thousand projects, Laurie’s works are extensive. But one thing common in all of his works is his intention to create a low-cost and affordable design. 

Baker constantly attempted material innovation to complement the needs of each project. 

1. Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum, India

Exterior view of the beautiful jali facade of Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum by Laurie Baker
Exterior view of the beautiful jali facade of Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum

The 10 acre campus is located on a site with a sloping contour, near a residential neighborhood in Trivandrum. 

Spaces:

  • Library
  • Computer centre
  • Auditorium
  • Hostels
  • Guesthouses 
  • Residential units for the staf

Interesting aspects:

  • Play of curves, circles, semicircles and arcs
  • Structures and built around the trees, without cutting them down
  • Courtyards in between buildings
  • Pools of water which help in microclimatic control 
  • Shaft provided to encourage forced ventilation inside the spaces
  • Jalli works

2. The Indian Coffee House, Trivandrum, Kerala

Exterior view of The Indian Coffee House, Trivandrum, Kerala by Laurie Baker
Exterior view of The Indian Coffee House, Trivandrum by Laurie Baker

One of the most striking buildings in Trivandrum, the buildings were designed for the restaurant chain of the same name. 

Spaces:

  • Spiral ramp
  • Two floors for the restaurant

Interesting aspects:

  • Cylindrical structure
  • Continuous spiral ramp connecting the floors
  • Exterior brick jali work
  • 360 degree view from the upper floor

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