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Laurie Baker: The man we will never forget

April 4, 2007
Laurie Baker, the British architect who made India his home is no more. He passed away on April 1 at the age of 90.

For the last two days, I couldnít think of anything but those wonderful meetings I had with him in the last two decades. The first time I went to interview him was in 1987 when 'Baker House' was a reality in Kerala but very few were interested in them then.

"They are even afraid to give the responsibility to this crazy Baker," he had told me with a chuckle.

When I met him eight years later in 1995, the landscape in Kerala had changed, and it had become fashionable to build 'Baker style Houses' and every other architect in Kerala designed 'Baker style' houses.

Most of them were ghastly copies of his earthy designs. People thought old style Kerala homes with unplastered walls and sloping tiled roofs were what Baker style houses were all about. The most unfortunate development was that these structures were more expensive than the concrete structures, giving the impression that Baker designed expensive houses when Baker style was all about inexpensive, low cost houses made from local materials.

He then told me, again with a chuckle, "In some way, these houses tarnish my image. I think it is partly my own fault for not having resisted much earlier. I should have said then that there is no such thing as a Laurie Baker house or there is no such thing as a low cost house. The thing is, people confuse 'low cost' with 'cost effective'."

Kerala was full of stories of these guys coming from the Gulf on a couple of months leave, and asking architects to build a Baker style low cost house, quick. They also would add, "I donít care how much it costs!"
Caption: Baker house; (Inset) Laurie Baker

Text: Shobha Warrier

Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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