Laurence Wilfred "Laurie" Baker (2 March 1917 – 1 April 2007) was a British-born Indian architect, renowned for his initiatives in cost-effective energy-efficient architecture and for his unique space utilisation and simple but aesthetic sensibility. Influenced byMahatma Gandhi, he sought to incorporate simple designs with local materials and achieved fame with his approach to sustainable architecture as well as in organic architecture. He has been called the "Gandhi of architecture".
He moved to India in 1945 in part as an architect associated with a leprosy mission and continued to live and work in India for over 50 years. He became an Indian citizen in 1989 and resided in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala from 1963 and founded an organization called COSTFORD (Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development) to spread awareness in low-cost housing.
In 1990, the Government of India awarded him with the Padma Shri in recognition of his meritorious service in the field of architecture.
Baker was born into a staunch Methodist family, the youngest son of Birmingham Gas Department's chief accountant, Wilfred Baker and Emily. His early schooling was at King Edwards Grammar School. His elder brothers, Leonard and Norman studied law, and he had a married sister, Edna. In his teens Baker began to question what religion meant to him and decided to become a Quaker, since it was closer to what he believed in. Baker studied architecture at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, Birmingham and graduated in 1937, aged 20, in a period of political unrest in Europe.
During the Second World War, as a conscientious objector, he served in the Friends Ambulance Unit in China and Burma. in 1943, on a trip back to England to recuperate from ill health, he was waiting for a ship at Bombay when he happened to meet Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi told him that the knowledge he brought from the west was not useful to Indians and that the rural areas needed more thinking and not the cities. Gandhi's idea was that it should be possible to build a home with materials found within five miles of a site. This was to have a great influence in his later life.
His initial commitment to India had him working as an architect for World Leprosy Mission, an international and interdenominational Mission dedicated to the care of those suffering from leprosy in 1945. The organization wanted a builder-architect-engineer. As new medicines for the treatment of the disease were becoming more prevalent, his responsibilities were focused on converting or replacing asylums once used to house the ostracized sufferers of the disease - "lepers" into treatment hospitals.
Moving to India in 1945, he began to work across location and while in Uttar Pradesh, he stayed as a guest with an Indian doctor, P. J. Chandy and his family. The sister of his host, Elizabeth Jacob (Baker called her "Kuni"), worked as a doctor in Hyderabad with the same leprosy organization. The two met and decided to marry but there was considerable resistance and so they decided to wait. The work and travel allowed them only brief periods of time together. They both found that they did not agree entirely with the ideas of the mission and in 1948 both of the left the organization and got married. They travelled to the district of Pithoragarh on a honeymoon trek. The availability of a doctor in the region that they travelled to led to the locals visiting them in numbers, even offering them a place to stay and set up clinic. The Bakers settled here and lived on for sixteen years before moving to Vakamon in Kerala in 1963 and some years later to Trivandrum. He became an Indian citizen in 1988.
Laurie Baker died at 7:30 am on 1 April 2007, aged 90, survived by wife Elizabeth, son Tilak and daughters Vidya and Heidi. Until the end he continued to work in and around his home in Trivandrum, though health concerns had kept his famous on-site physical presence to a minimum. His designing and writing were done mostly at his home. His approach to architecture steadily gained appreciation as architectural sentiment creaks towards place-making over modernizing or stylizing. As a result of this more widespread acceptance, however, the "Baker Style" home is gaining popularity, much to Baker's own chagrin, since he felt that the 'style' being commoditised is merely the inevitable manifestation of the cultural and economic imperatives of the region in which he worked, not a solution that could be applied whole-cloth to any outside situation. Laurie Baker's architecture focused on retaining a site's natural character, and economically minded indigenous construction, and the seamless integration of local culture that has been very inspirational.
Many architects studied and were inspired by the work of Laurie Baker. The workers and students called him "daddy".[Laurie Baker's writings were published and are available through COSTFORD (the Center Of Science and Technology For Rural Development), the voluntary organisation where he was Master Architect and carried out many of his later projects.