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In 1969, the Bakers family comprising of two daughters Vidya and Heidi and a son Tilak moved to Trivandrum where they have since settled and live with their families. Baker's work in just in Trivandrum includes over 1000 residences and over 40 churches, chapels and other buildings.


Read more about life in Trivandrum in Baker's own words:


Unlike in the Himalayas I had little time to help with my wife's hospital work as I became quite involved in local building activities. Many people and institutions were showing great interest in reducing costs of building. It all started when all the Bishops had agreed to work together at the Kerala Bishops' conference for the good of the common poor man. They had. with great fanfare, agreed that each parish in the state should try and put up at least one inexpensive, small house and give it to the poorest family in that parish, regardless of caste or creed. But after three years only two or three houses had been built. The Archbishop Mar Gregorios of Trivandrum called for a 'post-mortem' seminar to find out the reason for this failure. The explanation given by all was simple enough—: there was no longer any such thing as an 'inexpensive building'! I begged to disagree and offered to demonstrate, rather than to talk about ways of building inexpensive houses and spent the following two weeks putting up a small house of about forty square metres and costing, by request, less than Rs 3,000 (about US $400 at the time). The participants of the conference came to see the result of this demonstration and to our amazement declared the house to be 'too good' for 'the poor'. So the Archbishop asked for a second house to be put up for half the cost!

 

From this beginning there followed many small houses, schools, clinics, hospitals and churches and then the government moved in to examine what was going on. The Chief Minister of the state Sri Achutha Menon became a convert and I built the State Institute of Languages, at his request, for a small sum of money which the Works and Housing Department had declared was impossible. But my work for government and semi-government institutions continued, notably with a fairly large and prestigious complex known as the Centre for Development Studies, staffed and run by world-known economists of repute. The Chief Minister launched the scheme by challenging them to demonstrate and prove their economic theories by the way in which they built and ran their institution.

 

At this time, my greatest problems came from the vested interests of most categories of people concerned with the building industry. Most of them were paid on a percentage basis of the total or partial cost of a building. Clearly they did not wish to reduce costs! The craftsmen also were similarly paid and they too did not want any changes. It became increasingly tiresome when people who asked me to design a building for them for a certain sum of money, would return to say that the builders said it could not be done even for double the figure I had given. There was only one thing to do and that was to get together a band of masons and carpenters who would do what was asked of them and who would learn new techniques and un-learn old, wasteful ones. It was rewarding for my clients, for me and for the workmen. For example, some of them became excellent brick-workers who got enormous satisfaction from producing beautiful brickwork. Much of what has come to be described as Baker Architecture I owe to these craftsmen. Because of them it became easy for me to construct almost any type of building, and these ranged from the smallest houses to a large cathedral seating three thousand people. I was particularly pleased that three housing groups were taking advantage of these ideas. A whole fishing village for example, was built after many of its old huts had been washed away by the sea in a gale. Several institutions also built houses for their poor at comparatively very little cost. Then the so-called 'upper strata' of society came forward with interest which proved to be genuine, when quite a lot of them asked me to build their houses for them using these simple, cost-reducing techniques.

 

Low-cost housing techniques were the most rewarding for the group of people who came under the label of the 'lower middle class'. They feel they have certain standards of living to keep up, matters relating to dress and to the education and marriage of their children, but their salaries leave them very little to save for house-building—, an activity which they had always considered well beyond their reach. Now they could build. They were quick to understand the principles involved in cost-reduction. They were quick to understand the real priorities of building a home. They had and expressed their faith in the 'expert', and would sometimes actually help where they felt they could.

 

Again the government showed further interest and called for a report on the methods of cost-reduction. There was strong opposition to the idea of requesting a private individual with 'funny' ideas to present an official report to the government. Three outside government experts joined me and the report was presented, and, accepted, after the Chief Minister had organized a seminar in which all the suggestions and recommendations in the report were thrashed out and either agreed upon as possible and feasible, or, if impossible, rejected. Finally everything in the report was accepted, but over the years very little of it has been implemented.

 

Industrialists are often hard realists and the principles of cost-reduction have been taken up by some of them in different parts of the country. It seems a far cry from small low-cost houses' to big foundries and factories, but that is what has happened. The wheel seems to have turned a full circle because it is these industrialists who are now employing many handicapped persons and my work for the industrialists includes hostels and training-centres for these handicapped people, along with their huge factory buildings.

 

Lastly, I have found, consistently, throughout my working life, that the whole business of planning and designing is intensely absorbing and fun! Always living close to nature I learnt many lessons from the design of God's creations. Very rarely do we find the square or the rectangle but very often the circle is used. The straight line is rare, but the graceful curve is frequently seen. An interesting scientific observation is that the length of the wall enclosing a given area is shorter if the shape is circular and longer if the shape around the same area is a square or a rectangle. This is an important factor in cost-reducing exercises! Furthermore, I have found the answer to many spatial and planning problems by using the circle and the curve instead of the square and the straight line—and building becomes much more fun with the circle!

 

Final Note:


The Baker's lived a fulfilling, happy and productive life in Trivandrum for over 35 years. Elizabeth Baker worked tirelessly in several slums in Trivandrum, providing much needed medical expertise to neglected sections of society. Laurie Baker worked well into his 80s and continued his philosophy of being on the construction site with his workers reworking and adding design elements to fit the terrain and customer perfectly. Even in his late 80s, confined to his house, he continued to exercise his creativity through sketches, cartoons and writing till the very end.

Baker passed away on 1st  April 2007 at his home, "The Hamlet" in Trivandrum. He was 90. His wife Elizabeth (whom he called Kuni) passed away on March 11 2011 at the age of 95. The Bakers are survived by their son Tilak who continues to live at Nalanchira in an extension to the original Hamlet residence that Baker designed for his son and his family. Laurie and Elizabeth's daughters Vidya and Heidi live elsewhere in Trivandrum with their respective families. Tilak and Vidya's husband L Radhakrishnan are members of the governing board of the Laurie Baker Centre (website - opens in new window) an organization setup by his friends, students and admirers to propagate his philosophy of the concept of sustainable development through research, extension, training, documentation, dissemination and networking.