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Down to Earth: Baker on what Architecture means to him

Most people have very differing ideas about what an architect is. The dictionaries say that an architect is one who practises architecture and architecture is the art and science of building! After I qualified as an architect I worked in two or three well known architects' offices but it was deadly dull work. I was relieved when World War II broke out and I was posted, after a time, to China, of all places. After a few years there in medical work I tried to return to England via India but I had to wait for a boat for three months. Everyone was telling me to quit India, which was very foolish because if anyone tells me to quit, I stay.


Looking back I realise that my architectural education was very different from that which is given to the architectural students here. My school of architecture was allied to the school of art and shared the same building. We rubbed shoulders with painters, sculptors, potters, fabric designers, stained glass window makers. Not only did we rub shoulders but in the evenings we budding architects had to take art courses. I did pottery, ceramics, stone carving and so on. Our engineering professors came to us from time to time and did what they had to and went away again. But here in Trivandrum the college of architecture is a branch of the engineering college, and as far as I know they have no connection with the college of art. I preferred my way and I have never run a proper architect's office. I have close to my bed a small, old drawing board— the same one I had in school. I broke my T square quite a long time ago and never bought another. I have an old brass pair of compasses which belonged to my older brother and it was passed on to me when I first went to school. So I don't look the part at all!


To me probably the most interesting part of designing a building is dealing with the clients—, getting to know them, how they live and work and finding out what sort of a building they dream of. It is exciting to put on to paper what you think is in their heads, and then to go on altering or adding or deleting until you think you have put down what they want. We were taught very firmly and consistently that the client should always be our prime consideration and, indeed, our inspiration. 'You will be putting up their building not yours,' we were often told. An equally interesting and absorbing part of practicing architecture is translating your two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional buildings. I have to be on the site to enjoy this transition from drawings to buildings. Not to be involved in building would be, to me, as foolish as buying a camera and film, viewing and clicking the trigger, getting a negative done, but not getting the print.


From a practical point of view also, while I clamber about on the scaffolding, I suddenly realise that I will get a much better view, or more breeze, if I move the window or make it bigger. And so on. I like to make the most of the colour and texture of materials, rather than to plaster everything over and then paint on colours. To do this I have to work with the masons and other workers to show them how I want them to use materials;— not necessarily the same way in each building. So, to me, involvement in the construction work is a must and far more important than desk work.

Another aspect was drummed into us as students: we were told we were the only ones who had a complete overall view and understanding of our building— as a unified product. 'You are not just doing a plan or an elevation, you even know how you hope to see your clients in their building after it is up and finished.' Our professor likened us to the conductor of an orchestra. He has the full score and he knows the musical item being performed. Each instrument player only has the music he is to play and the conductor controls his playing. Most famous conductors can even take over almost any instrument and show how they want it to sound at a particular time and place in the performance. Likewise the engineer may have perfect knowledge of his bit of the design— and his specialized knowledge may be essential— but he knows nothing of the client's needs and desires, or of the total effect the whole completed building will have on its surroundings and on all who pass by. Similarly, with the plumber and sanitary man, the electrician, the paving expert, but overall, controlling and using to good effect all these, is the architect— the conductor.


Finally, in my day it was rubbed into us that the architect should have and show good manners and his architecture should be similarly good mannered! Very occasionally we are invited to design an isolated monumental building, all on its own in the middle of a park or campus with its own special surroundings. But 99 out of every 100 buildings we do will be in a row, or a block, or a nagar. The other buildings may be new, or indifferent, or good, or commonplace but we have to take our place among them and we must not show bad manners by competing or showing off, or by being defiant.


Again we were told, and how true it is, that a painter or sculptor will produce his masterpiece and it will be bought by someone and put in a room or a gallery— but only those who desire to, will go and see it. But our artistry is there before all who pass along that road and they have little option but to look at what we have done. So we architects have to ask ourselves— is the building we have created going to stick out like a sore thumb? Or will it give joy and pleasure? Will it add to our culture? There's an old saying: manners maketh the man. I think they also make good architecture.

I have been very fascinated with the whole process of development in the country since a considerable period before Independence when I first came to India on my way to China in 1940 where I had been involved in leprosy work. In 1944 I discovered that there was an international organization looking for an architect, engineer or builder to come to India because they had ninety-odd homes or asylums for leprosy patients, which had to he converted into something modern and new. I took on this job. Although I had passed my examinations several years before this, because of the War, I had not had the opportunity to practice very much as an architect. And here I was a starry-eyed, young associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, with the whole of India to go at!

So I set off on my travels around India to see all these buildings that I had to convert, and to my horror, I discovered they were miles away from anywhere, and most of the materials with which these buildings were built were totally unknown to me. I had brought my textbooks along and thought I knew everything, for after all, I was an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects! But here I was confronted with new materials like laterite, and construction techniques like Madras terracing. I found very primitive materials being used everywhere! I had a difficult first year, just trying to find out how to go about things and what to do. I found the answers slowly and steadily and strangely enough, not from my own profession but from the people themselves and from the ordinary craftsmen.

Mud all the way

The thing that hit me in the eye, right from the beginning, was that an enormous amount of use was made of mud! I knew a little about mud, but not very much. The first thing I discovered was that mud is one thing in one place and a different thing in another. It is used for different purposes and is used in different ways! There are different techniques of sticking it together and making it into a wall or whatever. This varied considerably, even sometimes in a matter of a few miles, from one district to another. I began to move around to find out how it had lasted so well, because many of these buildings that I saw were as much as or more than a hundred years old. How was this possible with a climate like India's with its intense heat, cold and the sery ;gong monsoon periods'? I discovered there were many materials that were mixed with mid; very rarely was it pure mud straight eat of the ground. It was mixed with grass. .straw, leaves and bhusa (chaff) I also found Ia very wide range of liquids being used with mud to make it stick together to prevent cracks. I had quite alarming experiences at times (and will continue to have them), throughout the forty-five years that I have been practicing here! I saw that these additional materials were changing as well. Nothing was static about this whole business of using simple materials. I was very impressed with the mud-work in a particular district that I used to travel through regularly. and as usual I tried to find out why it was so good. There were no cracks although the buildings were very old New ones were also being constructed in the same manner and all of them were very well kept. But these people would not tell me what it was they were mixing with the mannal to make it strong and stable. I thought it was some sort of professional jealousy. They didn't want me to find out the tricks of their trade!

But after several years of persistence. I discovered that pig urine was being mixed. This hesitancy in telling me about it was just sheer embarrassment! But why pig's and why not cow’s urine? We got hold of pig's urine and on testing it in laboratories found that the urea content is very much higher than in any other form of urine including cows' and goats' and human beings’ urine. Urea is a binder and this is why they used it to make sure that the mud available (which was of a slightly sandy sort) held together very well and it performed all the functions that were required.

Empirical basis

I belong to the generation which didn't know what high technology was. Even reinforced concrete was in its infancy when I was a student and if anything new was being done in the area we would go about 200-300 miles to see it because it was such a remarkable affair! The other thing I found about mud was that it's used for all sorts of things — walls, floors, foundations and even for roofing even doors, wall plastering Over cane and bamboo and mat material. It was used extensively as a fire retardant. Though the CBRI has worked for the last twenty years on fire retardants for thatch, in actual fact, this was already in use by people using mud. In Africa and in several other areas, apparently they build their round mud walls for their murals and before putting on the conical wood or bamboo or grass or whatever form of roof, they pile grass stalks and leaves inside and around and set it on fire and produce a mild form of ceramic building.

In the Plywood Institute in Bangalore extensive research has been carried out on compressed hardboards, sheets and coconut palm. The latter has some sort of substance in it, presumably a sort of resin that is released at a particular temperature, and by chopping it and hot-pressing it at a particular temperature, it produces a shiny golden green substance — hardboard — which is water-resistant, fire-resistant and acid-resistant. But of course, after the manner of our research institutes, they are not there to promote its use, or to make use of it. It is handed over to an entrepreneur who makes a little bit of it, sells it at about three times the cost of marine ply — no takers — and, of course, he has the right to it over a certain number of years. And there it lies, unused, not available for any one else. So there are other factors in this whole business of evolution, of growing, of developing our old original basic materials that sometimes pose problems that prevent our using them.

Before we came along with our high technologies and our science, people over thousands of years were doing what we are now pleased to call research and development. Anywhere you go in India, any village, any rural area (and remember, there is still over 80 per cent of the population in rural areas and their needs are 80 per cent of the needs of the nation), there is this, `rural' design that is steadily going on, and this research is not something that was thought out suddenly. They did not have research institutes. It was a system of trial and error — an empirical form of development. People have used what is actually underneath them and around them: the earth, the things that they can pull out of the earth and so on. They used simple materials to protect themselves from the rain, sun, animals, insects and other human beings. They had very primitive forms of transport, and there was never any thought of importing materials, all of which has resulted in this very distinctive architecture. I insist on calling these 'rural indigenous designs' for building. I think they're very fine examples of pure architecture because they use materials honestly and straightforwardly in an enormous variety of ways, and find solutions to all the problems we human beings have, living in a somewhat hostile world.


The use of stone was also staggering. The methods of splitting a stone, breaking it up for use.... I don't find it very much now, but in several areas in the country, I found these huge granite boulders. Usually there were women and children who would just sit hammering away, making a row of holes all the way across a slab. Then they would hammer in dry wooden pegs. At the CBRI, a stone block has been developed to use up all the waste stone. Two or three lumps in the mould, fill it in with concrete all the way around, and you have a nice hardboard block with more or less waste material apart from the cement and the concrete that you put around the stone. This sort of system is still used and was used by our ancestors in different parts of the country in similar forms, laying two planks of wood alongside, filling the space between with stone and ramming it with mud which has some additive or some form of reinforcement. In the Himalaya there is a beautiful slaty sort of stone. Either it was used in dry form without any mortar, or with a mud mortar. In an earthquake zone in the Himalaya the whole system of building was with dry stone and mud — very thin mud in between the stone allowed the slaty stones to move one over the other. I saw no collapses of buildings at all due to the earthquakes. When the whole area started to be developed with a capital 'D', concrete and cement came into the district and these stones were neatly cemented together. This resulted in a lot of cracking and damage during the earthquakes. So inspite of our cleverness in getting higher and higher with our technology we weren't solving the actual basic problem of the district.

The challenge of shelter

We have between 20-30 million families who have next to nothing to live under, no form of shelter at all. We have another 50-70 million families living in conditions that are very deprived — so-called huts or houses which are unlikely to last very long. The questions which arise are: Why don't they use all these simple techniques? Why don't they use the mud? The number of architects, engineers, or contractors who build and design buildings in the country are altogether less than one per cent of the number of buildings that go up in the country. Who's doing all the rest of them? Multiply a number like 20,000 houses by the amount of money that you think could build the lowest possible cost house, and immediately you have vast astronomical figures that the government obviously has not got or is not prepared to use to meet the housing needs of the people. Can any form of technology that has been devised yet provide a shelter of say 150 or 200 sq feet for a family to live in? Are we just going to let ordinary people go 'mucking around with mud', in their own way doing what they can? (And of course they're losing these skills more and more). Do we, as a profession have any sense of responsibility towards them?

What is an architect? Is he just there to design this 0.1 per cent of the buildings, these high-rise buildings? I'm not suggesting that there is no place for high-rise buildings and dams and five-star hotels which cost a lot of money. The fact remains that they are a very small percentage of the actual houses or building needs of the country. We can go looking for high technologies as much as we can, but meanwhile, we have to get these 20 million families under some sort of reasonable shelter. Do we know how to do it? I've just come here from Madras, where NASA, the architectural students association of India was having its annual convention, the theme of which was 'Shelter for the Homeless'. A very large number of students were crying out: "We don't know what to do!" "We've not been taught to cope with this sort of a problem! It is there; we are aware of it. It is true we hoped to do this, that or the other. We hoped to win competitions and we hoped to have big buildings, but we will feel very uncomfortable if we don't do anything about the shelter problem." Now, this is from young people whom we normally think of as being irresponsible towards civic and social responsibilities. But there they were repeatedly saying: "You are not giving us the education that we need. You take us to a slum, it's the same slum everytime. They (the slum dwellers) are tired of us going there and every time asking, 'How much money do you have? How many children? What about water?' We make these surveys and then we do nothing about them!" So I think it's not just futile to talk of mud and pig's urine and thatch, etc. I think it's still relevant as long as we have these terrible discrepancies from one end of the scale to the other. I think we are irresponsible, even criminally irresponsible if we do nothing about it.

Viable alternatives to wonderful brick

As regards alternative building materials in the country, we do have those alternatives in practice. We have mud and it's used in a hundred different ways over the country. Those are the alternatives. We think mud is primitive. We want reinforced concrete or something prefabricated or prestressed or whatever it is. And we're continually working for substitutes, not alternatives. All these materials had something in common. They were all almost totally energy-free, other than the human energy of picking them up, mixing them, cutting and chopping them, etc. Can there be anything more important than this understanding of energy? I think brick is one of the most wonderful building materials that has ever been invented. There are very good reasons that a brick is a brick — its size, its shape... it's the amount of mud you can pick up, the amount of mud you can pat into a little square, the amount of material you can catch in your hand when you arc working up on that wall and the workers throw up a brick to you. You can just catch it like a cricket ball! You can hold it in this, hand while you put your mortar on the wall that you're already building and then put it in place. You can't do that with a concrete block or a hollow block or any of the other blocks that we have devised. You have got to put your trough down. You've got to get down, lift the thing up, get it on, and put it into position especially when you're working at a height — in the second storey or the third storey. The block is a very difficult thing to use, but a brick? No! And you can use it for foundations, for walls, for roofs. I think the only thing I have not used a brick for is the door and I'm determined to do it before I die! I'll have. to find a client who is ready to let me do a brick door for him!

I have to think twice when I have to build a house — an ordinary 2,000 ft for middle class/upper middle class persons, because I'm responsible for the death of four large trees! In Kerala, all bricks are burnt by wood; we don't get coal. It's too far away and transport is too difficult, so I have had to lay off wood. What are my alternatives to things that bricks normally do? One of them is stone, another of them is mud. The biggest problem that I have in using mud is not with the mud itself, (I have done two-storeyed buildings with quite heavy roof structures and so on, and intermediate floor structures with mud) but it is the client: "We don't want mud", or "Mud? You mean to say I should build my house with mud?"; "But you do understand, don't you, that in my position...." This is the usual reaction of so many of our clients and we just give in and say, "Yes, all right, if you don't want mud, we'll have brick." We don't tell a client that he is going to destroy four full-grown trees to have his bricks. Are we using our knowledge and our position and our professional status to suggest these things and even insist on them with a private client, and these private clients are probably only 0.01 per cent of the population? But the government? Do we do anything about trying to persuade the government about the use of mud? I'm not saying that mud is the the only possibility, but it is there. We have done an enormous amount of research in the last ten years and even our organizations are pushing the use of mud. But the prejudice against mud is there. Any client that I suggest mud to —"Well, it's a very nice idea Mr. Baker, very romantic, but no, I think we'll stick to something more solid!" and the thing is brushed aside.

So should we architects assert ourselves some more and do we know anything about the material? The really pertinent thing is: of all the members of the various institutes of architects, how many of us actually have the knowledge? If anybody came to us and said he wants to build a big house or a school OF whatever it is in mud, would we be able to do it? Woqld we take on the job? I'm often told that I'm trying to take people back to the middle ages or even worse, but I think mud is still relevant. The usual question that is asked of me is, "It's all very well for this rural India that you are so romantically inclined about, but what about Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore?" I think it's still relevant there. I'm repeatedly asked, "You don't have mud on the spot in the middle of Bombay or Delhi, etc." But then neither do you have cement or steel on the spot. And that is another thing that all these traditional materials have in common. Not only are they energy-free, but they are also transport-free, or virtually so. They are dug out, prepared, manufactured, added or subtracted to on the spot, meaning a matter of a few kilometres over which you could carry them, either head-loaded or by bullock cart. This is one of the very big inputs into the whole of our building materials system these days — transportation.

We shouldn't forget our cultural heritage in architecture. We should not abandon the use of traditional materials. It's wonderful stuff. A lot of it does look decrepit; it gets worse and worse. But, on the other hand, you have got the answers to practically every problem of shelter we have in the country, in this indigenous architecture.

What’s wrong with lime?

We all know about Cement. We throw it around lavishly. However Lime we associate with our grandfathers who used to chew it with their paan or whitewash their houses with it. It was a great tamasha to burn the shells or stones and to see the bullocks going round and round, dragging the heavy roller to grind out fine lime. The introduction of handy sacks of cement soon displaced these cumbersome lime making antics at the bottom of the garden, and we don't seem to realise that if we wanted to, as with cement, we could produce the stuff in neat ready-to-use packages at many times less the cost of cement.

The cost of this house, the floor area of which is 740 square feet, works out to Rs. 7,500

These days cement is lavishly used not only for mortars and plasters but for reinforced concrete work. As engineers and contractors we seem to have forgotten the load bearing properties of brick masonry walls and, very rarely do we now see a multi-storey building without a reinforced concrete frame. These frames obviously use up large quantities of cement and steel and very few of them are in fact necessary. Probably about 90 per cent of our reinforced concrete frame buildings could have used load bearing brick walls instead, and the national stocks of cement and steel could have been conserved for jobs where these materials are essential.

A small example


The cost of this house, the floor area of which is 740 square feet, works out to Rs. 7,500

Ten years ago a university in Wales built a 'five storey hostel block using only four-and-a-half inch brick walls throughout as load bearing walls with no framework at all. Essex University is building no-frame brick hostel towers of fifteen storeys! Similarly our floors between storeys are usually reinforced concrete slabs which also eat up large stocks of cement and steel. It is undoubtedly true that such floors are much more satisfactory than the old wooden floors, but we seem to ignore all the many types of slab which have been devised to use less cement and less steel. These include various types of filler slabs and incidentally I usually make good use of burnt clay products such as hourdis, tiles, bricks etc., for the filler elements, which take the place of heavy dead weight concrete. Compared with the normal orthodox reinforced concrete slabs, some of these tried and tested systems reduce the cost of the slab by 10,40 and even 50 per cent and of course save large quantities of the precious cement and steel for more essential purposes.


Lime is very much cheaper than cement and when it is combined with sand and surkhi we get a plaster and mortar every bit as satisfactory as cement mortar and often with extra advantages, and yet we have allowed this plentiful inexpensive product and technique almost to disappear from the building world altogether. Very few people realise that the cost of establishing a cement factory is a hundred times that of starting a similar sized lime factory, both using the same basic material. Furthermore, there is in fact no advantage in building very huge lime-producing factories and our building research stations have shown us that small inexpensive production units can be established at comparatively very little cost and spread over wide areas to simplify labour distribution and cut down transit and delivery costs. We have already forgotten that many of our big old irrigation and power dams, which still serve us efficiently, were built with this lime-surkhi mortar and knew nothing about this new fangled cement. By developing economic, simple, wide-spread lime and surkhi production units we could solve many unemployment problems and produce fine, efficient, versatile building materials with tremendous savings and reductions in building costs throughout the land.


Architectural Styles


img3_tb.jpg If this sort of philosophy and understanding of the sources and manufacture of our plentiful simple basic building materials is followed through consistently and systematically, it follows that very definite building patterns and styles are automatically evolved. This is just what is happening in this experiment around Trivandrum. With a strong effort to produce good honest brickwork and to eliminate as much steel and cement as possible, a distinctive and recognizable character to the local architecture is visible. In any case, over the centuries each district has developed its own various devices and techniques to cope with the particular and peculiar climatic and physical conditions of the area.


Distinctive architectural styles were not designed by some famous ancient architect who decreed that such a style will be used in Japan and such another style will be used in Peru and another style in the Punjab. The upturned horned roofs of Kerala, China, Japan, etc. are the direct result of their peoples making use in their districts of that most common, plentiful, useful material, bamboo, to house them and protect them from natural enemies such as sun, rain, hurricanes, and wind.


A completely different set of styles has evolved in hot, dry treeless, desert areas as in parts of Egypt, Iran and India, In almost every district in the world these natural styles have grown to the pa~terns we saw in the first half of this century. Has it been wise of us tp abandon this quintessence of experience and research - (research we may think of as a modern term, but it has been going on as long as man himself simply because we have found out new, sophisticated and expensive ways of using sea shells and iron ore in the past few decades?



Sacred Cow-Word


img4_tb.jpg There is a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Our current architectural imitations are anything but flattery and certainly not sincere. What, then, are these buildings in the Trivandrum experiment like? Are they livable? Do the people who now use them find them practical and comfortable? What are the snags and the faults? Can these special low-cost ideas be applied only in certain favourable circumstances? Or can they be widely adapted all over the country? Are the ideas only suitable for small houses or can they be applied to all types of building?


Already the experiment has in fact covered a very wide range of buildings and shows no signs of being in any way limited either to a special district or to a narrow range of building types. It is being used on houses for almost all strata of society. There are a number of very low-cost houses. There is a small family house which has cost anything from Rs 1,200 to Rs 3,000, and the price includes sanitation, minimal electrical facilities, and a kitchen. Obviously such buildings are of necessity small and 'basic'. Some are a compact group of minimum living spaces under a minimum roof area.

That is to say, there are very few internal doors, but the arrangement of space allows for privacy between different areas where different living functions are performed so that differing occupations in the house do not intrude on each other. The architect believes that for the greater part of the year extra private living space is added to such very small houses if a small courtyard or 'anganam' is designed in the centre of the building. It can be seen very easily how useful this extra living area is. It is used for drying fish or vegetables. It is used for all sorts of occupations such as basket weaving or net making. It is an excellent and safe place where children can be left to play without getting into mischief in other people's property.

In many of the houses built-in furniture has been provided by building up to seat height the granite 'basement', and these are used as seats, beds and tables at no extra cost. Then come a number of: buildings for lower middle class people. Accountants, clerks, secretaries, small manufacturers and so on have incomes that are not small. But all of it gets used up on rent, food, clothes and school fees. Even in their forties, most of this stratum have not managed to save up more than a few thousand rupees and even that is intended for marrying daughters. They do realise, however, that the money they have to spend on rent over a period of six or seven years could have been enough to build them a seven or eight thousand rupees house - if such a thing could be done! The Trivandrum experiment is showing them that it can be done. Surely their need for housing is a tremendous one and they are really needy. Various bodies, institutions, governments and religious bodies take up building programmes for the poor and the needy, but rarely if ever is anything done to help this very large middle class section of out society which earns and spends carefully but is unable to save up provision for that 'evil' or rainy day.

A typical house for this group is one built on the edge of one of Trivandrum's fashionable colonies. The owner is a professor who teaches in a local private college. His wife also teaches in a high school and they have three school-age daughters. By agreeing to stick to 'necessities only' in their new house, and to avoid all unnecessary fancy finishes or any form of 'facade', they now live in a two storey house which contains a small entrance porch, a long living-dining room, a small kitchen with a store attached, and an 'office' where private tuition can be given or exam papers marked. The couple have a bedroom with its own bathroom and three small doorless rooms for the children opening from a common. dressing-cum-homework study room and they too have their own small bathroom. All this cost them a hard-earned Rs. 8,000. There are no frills in the house (for the children to spoil). It has bare brick walls inside and out and plaster has only been used in areas like the bathroom and kitchen. There are very few windows, which have simple wooden shutters, but there is plenty of light and air provided by brick jali walls. The floors and roof are of reinforced concrete filler slab which is cool, waterproof and permanent and cost no more than the ordinary Mangalore-tile roof. The house has stood up well to the passing of three monsoons and the family is growing up in its own house, which is now paid for, and debt free.

When we were children, Science had been made our Sacred Cow. We could get away with the most outrageous statements simply by prefacing them with the words, 'it is scientifically proved that ' In the building world, our current Sacred Cow-word is 'Modern.' Any building labelled 'modern,' however ugly or mistaken, is accepted. But whose are our so-called modern Indian styles? Alas, they are mainly poor imitations of other countries' efforts to use present day materials and techniques. How wonderful it will be when our architects and engineers combine the lessons learned from our own traditional building styles with the honest undisguised use of our regionally plentiful inexpensive materials.' We will be seeing no more plaster imitations of that double joist projection of Japanese post-and-beam construction! The up-side-down arches of Brazil will cease to blindly copied allover our country and the brutal, reinforced concrete blocks of Europe will no longer cost us unnecessary and wasteful use of precious, limited supplies of steel and cement. Once again India will proudly show to the world not poor pointless copies of others' styles but her own unmistakable Indian Modern Architecture.

Documentaries on Laurie Baker

Brickmaster- Directed by Priya Krishnaswamy, Duration: 30 mins - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

Archive copy available at the US Library of Congress, Harvard University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Berkeley:

 Laurie Baker: An Architect's Profile: A rare 1987 interview/documentary


Poor Man's Architect: A Biography of Laurie Baker - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3


Books on Baker

Bhatia, Gautam- Laurie Baker : Life, Works, Writing / Gautam Bhatia. New Delhi : Viking, 1991.



Baker, Elizabeth (2011) - The Other Side of Laurie Baker, Trivandrum


Book Review:


Other Books:

Bhatt, Vikram and Peter Scriver (1990)- Contemporary Indian Architecture: After the Masters, Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad




Periodical/Articles on Baker


“Anganvadi Day Nursery, Naranchira, Trivandrum, Kerala, India, 1999-2000In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.[135]-139. (English and Japanese)

“Architect's house: the Hamlet, Nalanchira, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1969-.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.22-29. (English and Japanese)

Bhatia, Gautam. “Architecture and tradition.” In: World architecture, no. 7 (1990), p. 54-61.

Bhatia, Gautam. “Laurie Baker, der Handwerker.” In: Architekt, n.2 (1993 Feb.), p.93-95.

Bhatia, Gautam. “Laurie Baker [interview].” In: Spazio e società, v.15, n.59 (1992 July-Sept.), p.36-49.

Campbell, Fred. “Laurie Baker in India.” In: Architectural design, v.65, n.5-6 (1995 May-June), p.viii-ix.

“Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1970-1971.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.30-41. (English and Japanese)

“Corpus ChristiSchool, Kanjikkuzhi, Kottayam, Kerala, India 1971-1972.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.42-51. (English and Japanese)

Cunha, Gerard da. “Baker of India.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, , n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.9-15. (English and Japanese)

“Dolas House, Kumarapuram, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1991-1994.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.88-97. (English and Japanese)

“Fishermen's housing colony, Thankassery, Kollam, Kerala, India 1996-1998.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p. [104-115]. (English and Japanese)

Gupta, Arbind. “Satellites of hope: can new towns save Indian architecture?” In: World architecture, no. 76 (1999 May), p. 30.

Kato, Yoshiko. “India, Kerala, and Laurie Baker.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.140-143. (English and Japanese)

“Laurie Baker: teachings and travel writings.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.4-[8]. (English and Japanese)

“Lt. Col. John Jakob house, Kulasekharam, Trivandrum, Kerala, 1985-1988.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.[81]. (English and Japanese)

Matheou, Demetrios. “A message from India.” In: Architects' journal, v.201, n.26 (1995 June 29), p.16-17.

Mayer, Gunter. “Laurie Baker : a visit to southern India.” In: Bauwelt, vol. 81, no. 35 (1990 Sept. 14), p. 1716-1721.

Mostafavi, Mohsen. “Enriching identities: the architecture of Laurie Baker.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p. 16-21. (English and Japanese)

“Nalini Nayak House, Anayara, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1984-1986.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.74-80. (English and Japanese)

“Namboodripad House, PattomPalace, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1972-1973.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.52-56. (English and Japanese)

Petrilli, Amedeo. “Laurie Baker, life, work, writings [by] Gautam Bhati [book review].” In: Spazio e societa, v. 15, n.58 (1992 Apr.-June), p.122-123.

“Reflections by Laurie Baker.” In: Architecture & design, vol. 14, no. 5 (1997 Sept./Oct.), p. 104-106.

“Rural Industrial Trading Corporation, Naranchira, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1999-2000.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.130-134. (English and Japanese)

“Sivanandan House, Vattiyorkavu, Trivandrum, Kerala, India 1982-1985.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.64-68. (English and Japanese)

Spence, Robin. “Laurie Baker: architect for the Indian poor.” In: AAQ, vol. 12, no. 1 (1980), p. 30-39.

“St. John's Cathedral, near Market, Tiruvella, Kerala, India 1972-1974.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p. 57-63.

Varghese, P. G. “A questing conscience: the life and mission of a radical sage.” In: Architecture & design, vol. 1, no. 5 (1985 Jul./Aug.), p. 12-27.

“Zilla Panchayat office building, Kollam, Kerala, India 1996-1998.” In: A + U: architecture and urbanism, n.12 (363) (2000 Dec.), p.[98]-103.

Gautam Bhatia, 'Laurie Baker—Architect for the Common Man', interview in VISTARA, a Festival of India publication, New Delhi, 1986.

Gautam Bhatia, 'Baker in Kerala',The Architectural Review, August1987.

Laurie Baker, 'Roofs for Roofless Millions',Indian Express, Decem­ber 1984.

Gautam Bhatia, 'The Architecture of Laurie Baker',Inside Outside, Bombay, November December 1989.

KC. John, 'Laurie Baker's Houses for the Million',Illustrated Weekly of India, Bombay, 24 January 1982.

K. Govindan Kutty, 'Baker's Call for Keralavatkaranam',Indian Er-press, 30 November 1987.

Laurie Baker, 'Architectural Anarchy', The India Magazine, August 1984.

Laurie Baker, 'A Spoilt Child's Toy Blocks',Indian Express, 21 March1983.


Laurie Baker was a prolific builder. So passionate was he about his mission to create shelter for as many as possible that he rarely documented any of his work per any typical architect's norms. Therefore please note that this is definitely a grossly incomplete list and has been pieced together in retrospect. Several of his works in North India are undocumented for sure. In case you are aware of any buildings designed or built by Laurie Baker that are not on this list please use the contact form to get in touch



Institutions and Buildings

Leprosy homes for Mission to Lepers across India
Pithoragarh house, school and hospital complex
Nepa lHospital
Allahabad Agricultural University
Lucknow Psychiatric Centre, Noor Manzil
LiteracyVillage, Lucknow
Centre for Social Studies, Surat
Ahmedbad & Baroda – factories
Jyothi Pumps, Baroda
Children’s Village, 1965, Kulashekaram, Tamil Nadu
Mitraniketan, Vagamon
Horst Kowski orphanages and homes across India (other than Childrens Village Nagercoil)
Houses for the Archbishop of Trivandrum
Tourist Resort near Muttam
Loyola Women’s Hostel, 1970, Sreekaryam
Loyola Chapel and Auditorium, 1971, Sreekaryam
Centre for Development Studies (CDS), 1971, Ulloor
St John’s Cathedral, 1973, Thiruvella
Nalanda State Institute of Languages, 1973, Nandankode
Chitralekha Film Studio, 1975, Aakulam
Pallikoodam (Corpus Christi), 1972, Kottayam
Fishermen’s Village, 1974, Poonthura
Mitraniketan, Vellanad

Krishi Vignyan Centre Vellanad
Tourist Centre, 1980, Ponmudi
The Indian Coffee House, at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
Chapel for Sacred Hearts Centre, at MonroeIsland, Quilon
Navjeevodayam, Thiruvalla

Muttom Boat Building Yard
Nirmithi Kendra, 1987, Aakulam
CSI Church expansion wing
Paruthipara Church
Salim Ali Centre, Anakatti, Coimbatore
The Hall near Jawahar Nagar
AHADS (Attapadi Hill Area Development Society)
Latur Eathquake buildings
Jilla Panchayat Office, Thevally, Kollam
Kanyakumari Boat-building Yard
Intial concept for Nrityagram, Bangalore
Dakshina Chitra, Chennai, 1996
Building Centre at AnnaUniversity, Madras
Some buildings in Kishkinta, Madras
Sewa, Villapilshaala
Chengalchoola Slum Dwelling Units, Trivandrum
Nava Yatra, Villapilshaala, Trivandrum
Concept Design for Karimadom Colony, Trivandrum

Chapel, CMC Vellore




Jayan and Asha, Kakkanad
Neeta’s House
HUDCO Suresh
IAS Colony
Abu Abraham, 1989
Major Jacob, 1988, Kulasekharam
Leela Menon, 1973
Mr Narayan’s Mango house
A M Jacob
Anirudhin – 1969 first house in Trivandrum to have a preponderance of jalis
Nambudiripaad, 1973, KEsavadasapuram
Nalini, 1989, Anayar
KN Raj, 1970, Kumarapuram
TN Krishnan, 1971, Kumarapuram
PK Panikar, 1974, Kumarapuram
Vaidyanathan, 1972, Kumarapuram
T C Alexander, 1982, Vikramapuram Hill
P J Thomas, 1972, Kuravankonam
Lt Gen Pillai, 1971, Jawahar Nagar
P Ramachandran, 1975, Pottakuzhy
Ravindranath, 1975, Gourishapattom
Varghese Jacob, 976, Kottayam
K V George, 1987, Karakullam
Vasanth Gawerekar, 1982, Manvila
Beena Sarasan, 1989, Kowdiar
Valiathan, 1985, Pulliyankotta
K J Mathew, 1984, Vattiyurkavu
C T Sukumaran, 1984, Vattiyurkavu
P Sivanandan, 1984, Vattiyurkavu
Sukhman, 1984, Vattiyurkavu
Uma Devi, 1989, Ulloor


House Modifications

Anna Mathew, 1986, Kuravankonam
K Peter, 1988, Nalanchira
Vinay Kumar, 1990, Kunjavuzni


Organisational Roles:

Served as the Chairman, HUDCO
Member of the governing body of NID (National Institute of Design), Ahmedabad
Consultant to UPDESCO (Uttar Pradesh Development Systems Corporation)
Member of the Advisory Board for the Central Building Research Institute (CBRI)
Only non-government member of the Working Group of the Union Government Planning Commission
Served in an advisory capacity to the Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh governments
Served as Chairman of COSTFORD ( Centre of Science & Technology for Rural Development)
Fellow of the Centre for Development Studies

Other Notable Projects:

International Leprosy Mission, Faizabad

Boys Town, Madurai
Welthy Fisher's Literacy Village, Lucknow
Andhra Pradesh Quaker Cyclone Project
Latur Earthquake Proof Housing Project
Tsunami-proof Housing Project