A film on the life of architect Laurie Baker posits conscious living and why it’s relevant today.
Padma Shri awardee and celebrated architect Laurie Baker melded his English quaker sensibilities with Indian aesthetics in his buildings. Now, almost a decade after he passed away, Bengaluru-based filmmaker Vineet Radhakrishnan takes us through his grandfather’s journey in a documentary titled Uncommon Sense: The Life & Architecture of Laurie Baker, through archives and interviews with clients, architects, government officials, and family. Excerpts from an interview:
What has been your learning through the four years of this film project?
From gathering stories of his time in China, living in the Himalayas, and in the tribal forests of Kerala, to tracing the evolution of his work was extremely challenging. My interviews with people and their emotional connect with my grandfather even after all these decades helped me understand ‘Laurie Baker’ the public figure. To me he was always just grandad. His self-deprecating sense of humour and unassuming attitude made it easy for the family to forget what he meant to the outside world.
People often attach clichés to Baker buildings, but there’s more to that. Can you explain?
People tend to focus on the superficial elements of my grandfather’s architecture — the use of exposed bricks, jaalis, arches, or filler slabs. However, what is important is to understand his philosophy — respect for nature, focusing on functionality that is still aesthetically pleasing, having a social conscience as an architect. He used the same approach for both — a poor labourer and an affluent officer. Often, in the most inconspicuous humble buildings, rather than the photographed ones, hide his radical and innovative designs.
Baker was political in his opinions on healthcare, affordable housing, and resource management.
He was forceful and opinionated, and he felt that we as a society could do better. He always came up with proposals to solve problems, be it to re-imagine a slum or tackle waste disposal. He even created a detailed plan of action to make Alleppey the Venice of the East.