A hundred brick installations line the stretch between Palayam and Kowdiar in Thiruvananthapuram, as a tribute to the ‘Gandhi of Architecture’, the British-born Indian architect Lawrence Wilfred “Laurie” Baker.
What is unique about these artworks is that the bricks used to create them are abandoned and half-burnt ones, which lakhs of women used to set up makeshift stoves for the famed Pongala festival that was held in the city on Friday.
Part of the Laurie Baker 100th birth anniversary celebrations, the installations were built by about 700 architects for a 4-day initiative called ‘Beyond Bricks’ that started on Saturday.
The Beyond Bricks initiative is sponsored by the state government as a tribute to Baker and, more importantly, to spread the idea of cost-effectiveness and sustainability that Baker advocated. After the programme ends on Tuesday, the bricks will be taken by the Thiruvananthapuram corporation to build houses for the poor under the social housing scheme.
One of the installations that stands out is called ‘The Truth,’ which depicts the killing of Madhu, the tribal man from Attapady who was lynched to death last month by a mob.
Elaborating on Beyond Bricks, Shaiju Mohammed, Chairman of the Indian Institute of Architects, Thiruvananthapuram chapter, tells TNM that the idea for the installations came from people associating Baker with bricks.
“Well, he did play with bricks but he was much beyond that. If Baker were alive today he might not have used bricks, his mind would have stumbled on to something else. That is why we decided to name the initiative – Beyond Bricks,” Shaiju explains.
“Baker was a social engineer with multiple facets… he found excellence when he used his tools and techniques for a social cause. His was a mind that ran much ahead of its time. Our effort is only a humble extension of his philosophy,” says Shaiju.
According to Shaiju, 100 teams, that included 300 students, participated in the initiative, along with NGOs, masons and other volunteers. They helped the architects plan the structures, collect bricks, transport them and build the installations.
Baker’s philosophy was all about understanding the environment that we live in and tweaking our lifestyle to create harmony within ourselves. His mind worked wonders even with abandoned things. From coloured bottles to the clutch plate of an old car, Baker had to ability to turn them into beautiful decorations.
Laurie Baker, an architect ahead of his times
Laurie Baker was born in 1917 in England, the youngest of three children. One of his initial experiences in architecture came early in his childhood when he was taken to see the ancient buildings around Europe.
Baker later joined the Birmingham School of Architecture and graduated in 1938, only to deviate from the established standards of architecture and create a space of his own.
Baker spoke of ideas that were unheard of in his times and left behind a legacy that is now followed by many. He turned the spotlight on the concept of sustainability at a time when the idea had not evolved or even struck the minds of people.
Baker started building in Kerala only during his mid-career, when he moved to Vagamon in Kerala in 1962 along with his family. In 1969, he moved to Thiruvananthapuram and eventually made the city his home. Here, Baker built homes for the poor at cheap rates.
Madhuri, a 5th year B Arch student at the city’s College of Engineering, says: “I remember reading in a book on Baker that once Gandhiji told him that an ideal house in a village has to be constructed with materials available within a 5 km radius of the plot. I mean, Taj Mahal is an architectural splendour but to build a huge structure of that kind with a royal exchequer is easy when compared to building a structure with limited resources.”