Some years back, when I was in the architecture school, I was reading this beautiful book authored by Ar. Gautam Bhatia; it is called ‘Lauri Baker- life, works and writings’. As a budding architect, I was always fond of Baker theory (what I call as the BREATHING THEORY), but it was when I started to read this book that prompted me to experience it in real! What became as a possibility to learn his philosophy was a detailed study through my final year dissertation and that led to this sublime trip to Kerala!
In the month of October, 2013, here I arrive in Trivandrum. Well, as I get out of the station, it would be a mistake if I miss checking out the famous India Coffee house designed by Ar. Baker; so bizarre! The much talked about pumpkin cutlets and the authentic kattan chai (magic keralan tea) is a must to have when one is in Trivandrum. This India Coffee house is a bit unusual in every way! It’s central shaft has restrooms, kitchen and other utilities on different floors and seating follows along the ramp with no windows but only his trademark jalis as fenestration to welcome cross ventilation, light and shadows. Apart from the FORM of the building what’s even more dramatic is to experience the uphill task of the servers while they reach out to you with your food amidst the jam-packed space!
After having the scrumptious south Indian breakfast, I come to the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (Lauri Baker’s residence, ‘Hamlet’ now being used as the office space for COSTFORD). This is not the first time I have visited Prof. Saajan and his team, who are doing such a wonderful job in restoring and reviving the theories of Sir Baker and carrying it forward. Every time I come here, the experience is immensely refreshing with the meandering pathways that lead to spaces at different levels surrounded by vegetation and wildlife all around! This time, I got introduced to new friends, Elukkiya, Manoj and Pavi who became my squad for this one week of adventure and exploration of Baker’s philosophy!
So the trip happened when I was getting familiar with the Benguluru lifestyle since I was dwelling there for my internship. That being said, coming to Trivandrum was such a pleasant change! People here, go to sleep by 8 o’clock. Everything was pitch dark on the road by then. When we were searching for some food for the night with none of the shops open, Elukkiya managed to find a fish vendor aunty! And we also found some mini cute dosas (as I call them), on our way back to the hostel. I happened to eat about eight of those, so you do get the size of dosas, right! Elukkiya fried some fish for me and got me introduced to her roommates from different parts of the country and it was such a good day to move to the next one!
Getting up early, with some refreshing yoga on the terrace under some diffused light got me immense positive energy! We had some fresh coconut water to start the day!
I decided to set about visiting my teacher, Prof. Saajan, his pleasing house being another witness of him taking Lauri’s architectural theory to another level. He explained me how to carry a comparative study between Baker style buildings and conventional buildings using the wet bulb and dry bulb experiment!
Intrinsically, in the next seven days, I was touring different projects of Lauri Baker with my squad, early morning until late evening, keeping various hygrometers (provided by the COSTFORD team) under shade (to get accurate readings) inside and outside different parts of the building to record the readings of wet bulb and dry bulb. We thus, acquired minimum twelve derivations of temperature and humidity every hour of the day which helped us in understanding how Baker maintained comfort conditions in his buildings despite of the prevailing humid climate of Trivandrum.
Each day was a different adventure and I met so many new faces who offered me their authentic Kerala food and exchanged their culture. I still remember the pink chutney meal!
Each day one visit to one Baker project and it was such a wholesome experience! I not only performed the dry bulb and wet bulb experiment but while I spent almost sixteen hours each day in the required complex, I sensed Baker’s theory!
I analysed, experienced and explored every corner of the building, interacting with it’s context, it’s FORM, users, orientation, applied breathing materials such as brick and clay, it’s organic planning, its beautiful jali fenestration!
Baker’s reuse of scrap bottles, earthy flooring, built spaces and their interaction with the unbuilt… all of this brought me closer to understanding of His MAGIC!
“I have my own principles which I am unwilling to abandon. I dislike falsehood and deceit .A building should be truthful “- Ar. Laurie Baker (1917-2007)
I realized his buildings were an honest and direct response to the idea that originality meant going back to the origins, to an understanding of a common way of living, to a life without style. But always one with natural surroundings and thus being so comfortable.
With this enriching experience, I came up with the following conclusion: In Kerala, due to very less variation in the overall climate, the humidity is always going to remain high; as relative humidity increases with reduction in difference between dry and wet bulb temperatures.
However, if the temperature is controlled under the comfort zone this humidity difference is not felt. Baker’s built spaces are such good examples of spatial design as they facilitate tremendous ventilation, openness and interaction with the unbuilt; hence not allowing discomfort (here, in terms of humidity felt inside the spaces).
As demonstrated, Baker’s “HOME” style provides a holistic model for temperature condition control. It is not just a regional commodity but a universal solution that can be adapted according to the context and applied!
This experience has been truly remarkable! Baker’s theories have been profoundly impregnated within my conscience and I shall try my best to apply it in the years to come! Promising this to myself, I lastly visited his Loyola church and felt enchanted and blissful!
And as I said goodbye to the God’s own country, I knew, how much I was taking from this place and how I shall miss the times spent here! The greens, Lauri’s architectural magic, the pink chutney meal, the kattan chai & kareeman fish, those touristy hitchhiking with local language blunders, and my squad, some fan selfie moments and lastly my lone times spent along the beach side contemplating about life!
More to come in the next article! Till then happy breathing designs !
(photos’ contributors – samruddhi, satya, akrisht, ishita, r.yazzini, ananya, pavi)
Complexes visited : Visala, Paudikonam (residence of Ar.P.B Sajan), Hamlet, Nalanchira (residence of Ar.Baker now used as Costford office), Laurie Baker Center for habitat studies, Villapilshala (institute cum guest house-community space), Kandhari, Vellayani (International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs), Center for development studies, Ulloor (institute)
Abrreviation – COSTFORD – Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development
– Uncle Sam
Ar. Samruddhi S Chaphale
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