It is a proud legacy that architects like Jaigopal G. Rao hold aloft. K.A. MARTIN finds out how the ideas of Laurie Baker live on.

Lawrence Wilfred Baker — visionary architect who popularised his cost-effective, energy-efficient, sustainable and aesthetic architecture in Kerala — remains “a beacon of hope for a new world,” says Jaigopal G. Rao, architect, who heads Inspiration, a Kochi-based community of architects, engineers, interior designers and craftsmen involved, as it describes itself, in building “sensitively created living environs.”

Laurie Baker is relevant today as before. “He inspires our works and helps see issues in a new light,” says Mr. Jaigopal, who is on a quest to perfect techniques that use natural materials such as bamboo in sustainable buildings.

Baker inspires many architects and planners who do works in keeping with today’s environment. He anticipated way back in the 1970s that energy and building materials will become scarce and increasingly costly.

Guiding vision

It is this vision that continues to guide architects inspired by Baker. For example, the use of bamboo makes a building so much easier on the environment.

Mr. Jaigopal points out that the four-star Hotel Sarovaram in Kochi, which he designed and built, cost roughly Rs. 28 lakh a room. This is way below the investment required for a conventionally built facility of similar quality that will cost between Rs. 40 lakh and Rs. 45 lakh a room.

But it is not all about money, he is quick to point out. Many variables factor in. The quest is to create environment-friendly, aesthetic products that have quality, are sustainable and take into consideration the basic quest for equity and democracy.

“Balancing financial investments against possible returns and balancing budget and timelines” are concerns that are addressed when projects like a hotel complex are taken up, he says. Sustainable use of energy and water, bio-climatic designs that take into consideration the reality of climate change and concepts of social equity in a world aspiring to be more democratic are intrinsic concerns.

The use of bamboo to create a veranda for Hotel Sarovaram’s new building is an example that stands out. The veranda sports bamboo columns, beams and a filler slab roof. The treated bamboo pillars and beams are good enough for at least 40 years and add an aesthetic element all of its own.

The slanting roof gives an immediacy of presence to the old Kerala architecture that takes care of the rains and the fierce summer sun in a single flowing design.

The use of bamboo is a technique that is still being worked on carefully, Mr. Jaigopal says.

People continue to resist the possibilities of its use, unsure of its reliability. However, any doubt will be put to rest by a project currently being executed by Inspiration near Pune.

The high-end hotel facility has bamboo for its columns and beams and on its roof. Besides, bamboo forms part of the structural members of the main building.

Half a megawatt of power needed for running the building will be generated from solar and wind energy. And a bulk of the water for the facility will be supplied through rainwater harvesting. Using bamboo is a win-win proposition given that bamboo grows into full maturity within four years.

A tree used for timber will take at least 15 years to reach maturity.

Bamboo absorbs large quantities of carbon dioxide and bamboo plantations ease the pressure on environment as against conventional materials such as steel and cement, which involve large quantities of energy for production.

Mr. Jaigopal says a commission won by Inspiration from ICICI Bank is to build 300-400 bank buildings in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, among several States. These will be pre-fabricated bamboo structures assembled on site.

The confidence shown in bamboo is expected to reinforce people’s understanding of bamboo as a building material. The bank buildings will be a step towards a world taking bamboo as a building material seriously. However, Mr. Jaigopal is cautious. “We still can’t go in for mass construction for lack of skilled workers,” he says.

Environmental sustainability and related concepts, pressed into the execution of individual building projects, have extended their influence on Mr. Jaigopal’s ideas about urban planning.

The recent decision by the State government to increase the floor area ratio uniformly across the State may be a recipe for disaster, he says.

FAR is a planning tool at the service of sustainable urban designs and development.

It will be better for the State to allow a high FAR in some areas handpicked for such development.

High FAR should be used as an incentive for developers to provide infrastructure such as roads, waste treatment and drinking water supply, he adds.

Laurie Baker inspires our works and helps see issues in a new light.


1

  • Kochi-based Inspiration builds ‘sensitively created environs.’



  • 2

  • Architect Jaigopal G. Rao says Baker inspires works.



  • 3

  • A quest to create eco-friendly, aesthetic products.



  • 4

  • Use of bamboo is a technique still being worked on carefully.


  • Cost factor

    Savings of about Rs. 15 lakh per room in a

    four-star hotel.

    Green factor

    Use of bamboo, rainwater harvesting, solar power lead to sustainability.

    Aesthetics

    Sustainable materials add an aesthetic appeal to the buildings.

    More In: HABITAT | FEATURES