Sunday, April 1, 2007

Laurie Baker - A Tribute.

Padmasree Dr. L. W. Baker 1917-2007.
Photo Acknowledgement:

The famous British-born architect, Laurie Baker died at the age of 90 this morning at his home in Trivandrum, India. The burial is scheduled for tomorrow, at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the State capital.

Baker graduated from Birmingham School of Architecture in 1937. Two years later he joined a voluntary ambulance unit and was sent to China and Japan and from there to Burma. He spent most of the War years tending to the wounded and the sick. While waiting at Bombay in 1944 for his passage back to England, Baker happened to meet Mahatma Gandhi. This influenced the man to come back to India and work among the leprosy patients.

After marrying Elizabeth Chandy, a doctor of medicine from Kerala, Baker moved to a remote area on the Nepal-Tibet border with his wife. They spent nearly sixteen years there helping the locals with medicare and education, and came to Kurisumala (Hill of the Cross) in Vagamon, Kerala in the early 1960s. Baker built a hospital mainly for the tribal people and a house that was an architectural marvel, on a 24 acre plot next to the Christian Ashram there.

It was at that enchanting place that I met Laurie Baker. I have stayed there with him on a few occasions. From the house, the land sloped down to a stream beside which Baker had erected a dovecote. It was fascinating to watch the scene from the house when moonlight shimmered on the flowing water with mist floating around like streamers of white smoke.

In 1965, at the initiative of my brother Dr. PKM Tharakan (Professor Emeritus, Antwerp University) we decided to build a church at Olavipe. See

I requested Baker to design the church for us and he readily accepted. Those days he used to take assignments only for churches. He came to Olavipe and stayed with us for three days.

Baker used to go alone to the site for the church on the shores of the Olavipe Lake every morning and would return to the house only after sunset. He wanted to absorb the atmosphere before starting work on the plan. What he produced was something remarkable. It would have blended so well with the surroundings like the sails of the country crafts that plied the lake.

It was breathtaking to watch the model that Baker presented in a box with a window. One could visualize the completed church and the interplay of diffused light on the alter through tinted glass. And, the estimated cost was lower than our budget! We rushed to the Archbishop with the model. He seemed to like it, but the caucus around him shelved the plan. They said that it was too advanced a design for Olavipe and that they would keep the model in the museum for future reference. I had difficulty in explaining it to the architect who had put in the effort with much involvement, and for free.

I am not going into the achievements of Laurie Baker and his brilliance as a pioneering architect for low cost structures. A great deal has been already written about those.

The last I met him was at the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum (one of Baker’s great projects) when my youngest brother Dr. Michael Tharakan was on the faculty there.

I consider it a privilege to have known Laurie Baker. May his soul rest in peace.


Also see:

An Addenda to Laurie Baker - A Tribute

Book Review: The Other Side of Laurie Baker


JJ said...

Thats a really nice article. Glad you liked my post.

Riot said...

A beautiful tribute! You are so lucky to have personally known and worked with him. Hope his ideas and principles are adopted by the younger generation architects

Jo said...

You were lucky to have associated with him. He was such a great person.

Sekhar said...

Thats a very good tribute you have given to Baker. Being a civil engineer, I did study about his methods and principles. Thanks

Articles by Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you, jj, riot, jo, and Sekhar.
Abraham Tharakan.

carthik said...


I am an ex-classmate and friend of Jose Martin Tharakan. I think you must know him as "Paappi". He's Michael Tharakan's eldest son. Unfortunately I have bee out of touch with Jose for a long long time. Could you please send me his email address if you have it with you.

I came here by way of where you (and I) left comments on the Laurie Baker post.

I'd be overjoyed and grateful if you could give me some way of contacting Jose. It's nothing urgent, though.

Thank you - and I have a feeling I will love reading your posts :)

Carthik -
mail at or

A.P. said...

Dear Chettan,
Did not know you could say the Lords Prayer in Aramaic. During the coconut harvest at a place called Kavu, we still interact with the Chengadakery family. Decent people.
But Appan did not seem to think the late reverend was 'decent' enough. As typical of the "karnavar" of those days, he never approved of the parish priest's involvment with the lady he later married. After Appan died, I sorted out his bits and pieces and found a 12 plage letter from Fr. Chengadakery, justifying his actions.
May his soul RIP