Added on by Ming.


Laurie Baker isn't a famous architect.  When I went to India on a summer fellowship to seek out his buildings, not a single one of my American colleagues knew of his work.  You may not know his name, and his buildings aren't widely published, but he was the kind of architect that the world needs: a regional architect deeply committed to the place where he built his practice and his life; an architect who was both a thinker and a builder, who worked alongside local craftsmen to develop buildings that were carefully assembled and considered; an architect with a deep understanding of climate and site, who used natural ventilation to produce buildings in harmony with the rhythms of their natural environment.  I journeyed around Kerala, at the southernmost tip of India, on buses and boats and trains to find a handful of the hundreds of buildings he designed.  I originally set out on my mission in order to learn about natural ventilation in tropical climates, but I found much more-- formally audacious buildings, strange and wonderful patterns, and a joyful, deeply local kind of architecture.


Women’s Dormitory at the Centre for Development Studies, located in Ulloor, Trivandrum, completed in 1971

This building features some of Baker’s most vitruosic brick work.  Two curved jali  walls fan outward from a central spine, creating a breezy, shaded shared corridor space.  The monolithic walls rise up two and a half stories, and end in a handrail on the third storey balcony.  Private rooms are located at the back of the building, shielded from the public walkway.   

Administrative Building at the Centre for Development Studies, located in Ulloor, Trivandrum, completed in 1971

The administrative building is sited below the main route through campus, and is approached by a pedestrian bridge that connects to the second level.  The building’s plan, like others on the campus, was planned around existing plants; here, a dramatic courtyard holds two towering trees.  The courtyard is surrounded by a large corridor that permits access to a series of classrooms and offices.  A narrow staircase leads to a dynamic roofscape dotted with benches and mango-shaped plant troughs. 

Computer Centre at the Centre for Development Studies, located in Ulloor, Trivandrum, completed in 1990

Added at a later date than the original campus buildings, the Computer Centre features a unique double-skin brick wall.  The exterior enclosure is made of a series of short curved segments, adding structural stability to the thin wall.  The internal enclosure was designed to accomodate the requirements of the computer labs.  The space between the two boundaries houses offices and storage areas.  The two walls regulate sunlight, eliminating glare while allowing natural light to penetrate the interior. 

Indian Coffee House, located in Thampanoor, Trivandrum, completed in 1974

The downtown branch of the Indian Coffee House is among the most iconic buildings in Trivandrum.  Sited opposite the train station and adjacent to the bus depot, the structure serves as an arresting symbol of the city, its red paint glowing during the day and its lantern-like perforations emitting light at night.  The cafe’s seating is arrayed along a continuously sloping spiral path.  At the center of the spiral is a stacked series of bathrooms, ventilated through a central chimney.  Inside, the spiral terminates in the manager’s office, which opens onto a roof that affords generous views of the capital. 

Amphitheater at the Centre for Development Studies, located in Ulloor, Trivandrum, completed in 1971

The amphitheater illustrates Baker’s sensitivity to the natural conditions of a site.  Moss-covered seating is tiered down a gently sloping valley to a flat stage area.  The background and wings of the stage are formed by single-thickness curved brick walls. 

If you're interested in learning more about Laurie Baker, particularly regarding his use of natural ventilation, drop us a line.   

This research project was generously funded by the Harvard University South Asia Institute