The Brick master – Discussion 11

“My feeling as an architect is that you’re not after all trying to design a monument, but Mohan Singh’s house where he can live happily with his family”

-          Laurie Baker

These strangely inspiring lines define the idol who was truly the poor man’s architect. It was a documentary on Ar.Laurie Baker that filled our discussion hour this Tuesday.

Ar.Laurie Baker whose accidental halt in India during the war years, after rendering medical service to the war-victims.  He was invited to design a shelter for leprosy patients.  He spent several years in the mountainous regions of North India exploring and understanding the native architecture of the area.

However, it was his wife’s homeland that was fortunate to benefit from the creative genius of Laurie Baker.  The distinctive feature of Laurie Baker’s architecture was its unpretentiousness.  He believed that one must, in his own words “take one’s conscience out of deep freeze and use it, not only in architecture- but in everything in life”.  His sincerity is evident in his buildings that he refused to plaster, allowing the character of the bricks to reveal itself. He describes it as utter foolishness to cover up the indigenous beauty of materials with false facades.

Baker was an architect who involved himself with the tactile physical aspect of his work. He stressed on the need for the architect to be actively involved in the evolution of his design into a building. He describes it as the duty of the architect to understand the nature of the site, climatic conditions in person – and described architecture as a process that often relied on intuition and was known for his innovations on the site.  A colorful piece of glass that lends a special glow to a room, an innovative jail detail or an extended eave – evidences of the architect’s insight.

Baker was a true environmentalist who took utmost care to be considerate to the natural bounty of earth.  While all his buildings exemplify this, a particular example would be the CDS building in Trivandrum where he addressed the need for a decreased temperature inside computer center by providing strategic double walls and perforations to allow wind movement. He was against robbing of natural resources and has never gone beyond superfluous in his designs.

Above all, Laurie Baker was an extremely vigilant citizen and completely aware of the dire reality that faced him. He worked with compassion, understanding the need of the hour – developing techniques to reduce cost. Be it the rat-trap bond or shell roof or building with mud. Baker’s designs respond to the need of the hour creating poetry with the bare minimum.  All his designs stand testament to this.

A simple human , a genius architect – who spares intellectual jargon and advices architects to design with compassion , common sense – and- to have Fun while designing is a hero to almost every architecture student and young architect.

After the viewing of the documentary Rini was of the opinion that In today’s scenario, where the architects seem to creating designs that are superfluous, to cater to their egos, where the designers cater to the elite , where everyone aspires to be a starchitect , in this increasingly selfish world – Laurie Baker is an inspiration.

However, there was a counter argument from Poonam that Baker was perfect in his day and age , but has become obsolete in today’s times. She maintained that the world has gone beyond brick and mud and one needs to now concentrate on exploring novel materials. Laurie Baker is great, but we have to move beyond him.

It was Tony who argued that it was not the outer shell of Baker’s philosophy that we must imbibe – it is the values. The wonderful geometry, the beautiful volumes and the organic blending of spaces. He added that Baker’s ethic of non-elitism was only one side of the coin and that one needs architects who design for the elite as well. The Starchitects need not be branded as selfish and branded wrong.  Selfishness , in his sense of the term is the generosity of the entrepreneur who creates wealth , but also creates employment.

The group was almost equally divided in support and opposition of this statement.  An energetic argument in favor of and against architecture turning into a business and the world into a capitalist battle ensued…and still continues..

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