A journey through Laurie Baker’s earliest projects in Kerala

A view from inside the nurses' quarters in Mitraniketan hospital, the first building that Laurie Baker constructed in Kerala.

Laurence Wilfred Baker, popularly known as Laurie Baker, was a pioneer in making low-cost eco-centric climate friendly buildings. “See, Laurie Baker,” even a child would say the moment he came across an unplastered red-brick structure, a hallmark of Baker’s style of simplicity. So great was the popularity of this British-born architect in India, particularly in Kerala. Born in Birmingham (UK) in 1917, Baker moved to India after graduating from the Birmingham School of Architecture in 1945. After staying in Pithoragarh, a village in the foothills of the Himalaya for 16 years, he moved to Kerala where he introduced eco-friendly low-cost buildings from the early 1960s onwards. It is estimated that Baker has constructed more than 2,000 buildings in Kerala alone.

Laurie Baker’s first project in Kerala was the Mitraniketan Hospital in Vazhikkadavu, Vagamon that he had built for his wife, Dr Elizabeth Baker, in 1963. While the couple were in Vagamon, a hill station in the Idukki and Kottayam districts of Kerala, Baker erected some stunning eco-friendly structures in Mitraniketan and its surrounding area.

A group of heritage activists recently conducted a walk to the eight properties (four owned by private parties), which are considered Laurie Baker’s first projects in Kerala. The goal of the ‘Walk’ was to introduce architects, students and others to Baker’s hidden gem. “We believe that it is critical to preserve and communicate unrecorded oral histories to future generations. There were numerous requests from the architecture community to conduct a program to showcase Daddy’s (as Laurie Baker is fondly called) first works in Kerala and that’s how we conducted the walk,” said Joseph Michael Jose, coordinator of the walk.

Unplastered red-brick structures came to be a hallmark of Laurie Baker’s style of simplicity.
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