You sometimes hear from architects in the developed world that they welcome a certain amount of constraints on design process in order for them to respond and tame these challenges to produce a project which is able to withstand intellectual and practical scrutiny. A perfectly understandable stance especially when their unborn creation with lavish budgets can easily be built in any one of thousands of shapes and forms capable of being dressed in hundreds of finishing materials. An exciting visual outcome would be a topic of discussions among peers and would consume pages of architectural press with seductive photographs for months.
I would like to draw your attention to a couple of contrasting situations in developing world where two architects fully conversant with the modern architectural conventions of developed countries decided voluntarily to give it all up to start learning the indigenous techniques right from scratch as a self imposed discipline with minimal resources.
The first architect is Laurie Baker, a British born and trained architect who practiced in southern India for over 45 years.
Although, I have followed his work with great interest but never had pleasure of meeting him or seeing his work in India. The following words and scans of some of his work are taken from an article by an Indian architect Gauthum Bhatia who has written a lot about Laurie’s life and work.
He produced a huge and varied body of work ranging from churches, schools, institutes and hospitals and low cost housing.
“And yet it is not the number of buildings that Laurie Baker has designed, nor the range of architectural commissions he has executed that sets him apart from any other architect in India. What makes Baker’s contribution unique is the remarkable way in which he has drawn creative sustenance from the environment in which he works, absorbing vernacular patterns of construction and individual styles of living to such a degree that he has been able to give back to his clients the comfort and ease of building that are firmly rooted in the culture of their region.
In each of the buildings Baker has designed, he has asserted the appropriateness of traditional construction in local conditions, adopting existing local technology to contemporary structures.
Recognition of Baker’s contribution to architecture has a singular timeliness today. It comes at a time when questioning conscience has provoked the developing world to look inwards, to solutions of its own making. Baker in India remains a lone protagonist, experimenting singly and quietly in a distant corner of the country and providing information on the causes and results of his numerous architectural interventions.
The idiom Baker has evolved to suit the particular problems of his clients in Kerala is not a formula applicable to all similar situations; and yet, from it stems an entire ideology of architectural practice, a pattern that is revolutionary in its simplicity and its contradiction of the accepted norms of architecture in contemporary India. Baker’s built work is an effective demonstration of his own strengths, his own interpretation of tradition, technology and lifestyle.”
*“Baker sought to enrich the culture in which he participated by promoting simplicity and home-grown quality in his buildings. Seeing so many people living in poverty in the region and throughout India served also to amplify his emphasis on cost-conscious construction, one that encouraged local participation in development and craftsmanship – an ideal that the Mahatma expressed as the only means to revitalize and liberate an impoverished India. This drive for simplicity also stemmed from his Quaker faith, one that saw indulging in a deceitful facade as a way to fool the ‘Creator’ as quite pointless. Instead, Baker sought to provide the ‘right’ space for his clients and to avoid anything pretentious.
Baker’s architectural method is one of improvisation, in which initial drawings have only an idealistic link to the final construction, with most of the accommodations and design choices being made on-site by the architect himself. Compartments for milk bottles near the doorstep, windowsills that double as bench surfaces, and a heavy emphasis on taking cues from the natural condition of the site are just some examples. His Quaker-instilled respect for nature lead him to let the idiosyncrasies of a site inform his architectural improvisations, rarely is a topography line marred or a tree uprooted. This saves construction cost as well, since working around difficult site conditions is much more cost-effective than clear-cutting. (“I think it’s a waste of money to level a well-moulded site”) Resistant to “high-technology” that addresses building environment issues by ignoring natural environment, at the Centre for Development Studies (Trivandrum, 1971) Baker created a cooling system by placing a high, latticed, brick wall near a pond that uses air pressure differences to draw cool air through the building. His responsiveness to never-identical site conditions quite obviously allowed for the variegation that permeates his work.”
*”Quoted from Wikipedia”
Weblink to Baker’s site;
Links to other Flickr pictures of Baker’swork;