Mr. Lawrence Wilfred Baker: This gifted architect has got humanity at the core of whatever he does. We are talking about British born architect, Mr. Lawrence Wilfred Baker, or popular as Laurie Baker in his adopted home India. He was born in England in 1917 and after studying at the Birmingham School of Architecture became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
He is credited for his understanding of indigenous building construction in India, especially in the rural front, and is responsible for popularizing economy housing options in tune with local conditions.
After the World War II, Mr. Laurie Baker following his humanitarian works in China, returned to England, but only to set foot in India after a brief stay in England. He was influenced by the wisdom and purpose of Mahatma Gandhi’s life and work, which eventually had similarities with that of his. The unique socio-cultural fabric of India, especially that of rural India, which Gandhiji himself considered as the cornerstones of India’s overall development, eventually turned out to be the arena for Mr. Baker to indulge in serious humanitarian works and also to contribute his mite as an architect.
After arriving in India in 1948, Mr. Baker settled down at Pithoragarh (now in Uttaranchal) in the Himalayas. He lived there till the mid nineteen sixties, and established a hospital and couple of schools. This stay in the Himalayas allowed Mr. Baker to understand the ground realities of rural India, which also gave him the opportunity to have a thorough understanding and appreciation of ethnic architecture.
With his mission accomplished in Pithoragarh, Mr. Baker shifted his focus to his wife’s home state, Kerala and decided to settle down. This time also, he chose a remote hill called Vagamon in the Western Ghats as his home. Here also, Mr. Baker earnestly indulged in the welfare of the poor, especially the tribal community and the early settlers. In no time, Mr. Baker got acquainted with the rural life of south India, which gradually started reflecting in his architectural works. Around 1970, Mr. Baker shifted his place of residence to Thiruvananthapuram, where he continues to stay.
Baker’s architecture bears the hallmark of simplicity, and he finds extreme delight in building homes for the common man. He is strong votary of the belief that a house should reflect the personality of its owner and not merely a statement made by the architect. Right from the blueprint till the final stages of a construction, Mr. Baker dislikes his task done by giving orders.
He makes sketches on paper that a mason can comprehend. Baker is in effect like a head mason himself, who is actively involved in every stage of construction.Baker artfully provides spaces to maintain privacy as well as interaction. He does not use shapes purely because they are fashionable or trendy. At times the shape he uses evolves out of the land and at other times it evolves out of the intended function of a structure. It never appears that things have been done in a certain manner just for the sake of doing so.
This octogenarian architect is still busy making his mark in indigenous architecture and is also responsible for brining sweeping changes in the architectural as well as the building construction concepts of Keralites. He also finds time to share his architectural knowledge with those interested, and also takes delight in training workers. Mr. Baker sees to it that he trains them to employ techniques, which should strike a balance with the local climatic conditions, materials, terrain and culture.
Baker’s architectural acumen can be appreciated in some of the landmark structures in and around Thiruvananthapuram. They include the Centre for Development Studies at Ulloor, Mithranikethan at Vellanad, Children’s Village near Nagercoil, Tourist Centre at Ponmudi, Fishermen’s Village at Poonthura, Loyola Chapel and Auditorium at Sreekaryam etc.
He is the recipient of so many prestigious awards that include M.B.E in 1983, first Indian National Habitat Award in 1987, UNO Habitat Award and Roll of Honour in 1992, International Union of Architects- World Habitat Award in 1993, and many more. Recently the University of Kerala conferred the honorary D.Litt. Degree on Mr. Laurie Baker.
Mr. Lawrence Wilfred Baker still passionately practice and work in a manner that he best knows; a highly demanding combination of healthcare assistance, humanitarian relief and architectural work. He has chosen Kerala as his second home, and we the contemporaries are indeed fortunate to associate with a humanitarian and an architect par excellence, who easily secured a unique place in the hearts of Keralites.
Keralites have proved their deligence and extra ordinary brillience through out the world. Keralites are well known for their honesty and efficiency in all fields. In the list of Prominent Personalities we have tried to include all famous personalities from Kerala. We are trying to collect the details of the rest. If you have the details of any such personalities, please send to us.