An extended version of the talk given by world famous architect Laurie Baker.
Published with the permission of http://lauriebaker.net
Dr. Laurie Baker (1917-2007) was a British-born architect who adopted India as his homeland. He believed that every man, woman and child had a right to be able to afford not just shelter but a home they could be proud of. The tale of Laurie Baker's 60-year presence in India is a captivating story of a transformed and transforming life.
During World War II, Baker, a young architect and Quaker, a staunch believer in non-violence enlisted as an ambulance driver and served on the battlefield. Baker had a remarkable courage to go where he was needed the most. After the war, he traveled to the remote corners of Burma and China and lived amongst ostracized lepers for several years, putting his life at risk, during a time when leprosy was incurable. He built houses and a hospital for them and provided much-needed medical help using his war-time training as a nurse.
Later, he continued his work with the Mission to Lepers in India. While waiting for his ship to return to England completing his work Baker had a serendipitous meeting with Mahatma Gandhi, who had heard about the funny Englishman who had spurned the lavish luxuries of a missionary life to live and work with and for poor local Indians. Gandhi invited Baker to return to India to apply his obvious resourcefulness to designing affordable housing for the poor.
Later, Baker accepted, and in 1948 settled in the remote north of India near the Himalayas on a combined medical assistance and architectural assignment. Soon he met, fell in love and married Elizabeth Jacob, an Indian doctor whose commitment to serve people matched and perhaps surpassed Baker's. Baker served as full-time physician's assistant and part-time architect and the couple lived and worked amongst the remote neglected Himalayan hill people. For fifteen years Baker artfully blended indigenous knowledge and appropriate modern building practices building schools, hospitals and houses for the local people.
Then, in the 1960s when both were in their forties, the Bakers and their family moved south to Kerala, Elizabeth's home state, where Baker's architectural work gradually eclipsed their medical practice. Baker continued designing and building using indigenous materials and features, this time from the results of studying the construction traditions of South India. Kerala alone has an uncounted number of Baker-designed homes and public buildings along with tens of thousands of Baker-inspired buildings designed and built by architects influenced by his philosophy.
Many of the Baker homes were custom-designed and built for ordinary Indians who came to him saying, "We only have these rupees to build our house. What can you make for us?" Baker regularly rose to the challenge of designing and physically helping construct houses with severe budgetary constraints. Elizabeth says these were the projects that gave him greatest satisfaction.
Laurie Baker made his transition on April 1st of 2007 at the age of 90, but his legacy lives on in his buildings, his family, young architects, his friends and admirers, and all those who respect the philosophy and technologies he lived in modeling possibilities for creating a more equitable and therefore peaceful world.