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Not another brick in the wall

A view of the main block of CDS Photo: Jayesh S. Pillai   | Photo Credit: Jayesh S. Pillai

The picturesque nine-acre campus of Centre for Development Studies (CDS) in the capital city is a masterpiece of Laurie Baker. It beautifully complements the architectural concepts of Laurie Baker, who devoted his life to design cost-effective and environment-friendly buildings. Paying homage to this critically-acclaimed work of Laurie Baker is the book Masterpiece of a Master Architect: CDS . Through sketches and photographs the book captures the magnificence and simplicity of this structure. Designed and edited by architect, visual designer and filmmaker Jayesh S. Pillai, the book is the first documentation of a work by Baker. In an interview with MetroPlus , Jayesh talks about working on the project.

Coming on board the project

Though a draft of the book was presented in 2004 to Laurie Baker, on his 87th birthday, it was not carried forward. It was then titled ‘CDS: The Vision of a New Architecture’. But he suggested that his effort was never ‘new’, but an extension of the vernacular techniques deep-rooted in the architectural practices in Kerala.

Baker passed away in 2007. In mid-2008 I came to Thiruvananthapuram after completing my masters from IIT Kanpur. I came to know that the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD)was looking for someone to take over this particular documentation. My friends suggested my name to P.B. Sajan, joint director of the centre. Thus I started working on it in February 2009 and finished it in seven months.

The process

Though the draft was well thought about, a lot had to be crosschecked, updated and added, especially because the campus was still evolving with the addition of new buildings. We had to digitise the original drawings as most of the early ones were made on paper.

Also, we had to match them in quality with the digitally-prepared ones. I had full access to the campus for documentation work and to photograph the campus and its structures at different times of the day in which I was helped by Aravind Ramachandran and Avirat Inamdar.

There are a whole lot of others who helped with the drawings, editing the text and giving necessary inputs. It took five years for the book to get published though.

A whole lot of people had helped me in the project, including my wife, Rutu Panchal, R.D. Padmakumar, Shailaja Nair, Prahlad Gopakumar and Shyamkumar Puravankara who edited the texts and Tilak Baker, Baker’s son.

What are your favourite aspects about CDS?

The campus brings together brick structures following the contours of the terrain, stairs winding around trees, circular and organic-shaped courtyards and roof terraces, a network of creative walkways, an exceptional seven-storied library tower and numerous interesting architectural structures.

The spaces are well designed with great concern for the natural landscape that Baker seamlessly blended with the structures that came up on the campus as the institute grew. And the jali wall patterns don’t just create a delightful play of light and shadow, they also provide well-ventilated spaces within the buildings.

Why is it considered one of the landmark structures of Baker?

It was perhaps the perfect chance for him to display his ideas and philosophy to a larger community. The campus not just demonstrates Baker’s love for nature-friendly and cost-effective architecture, but also illustrates his artistic genius. The campus stands testament to sustainable approach in architectural practices, still inspiring architects and students around the globe.

However, why hasn’t Baker's architecture gained wide acceptance?

He has left behind a legacy with his bold and distinctive attitude towards the style that he developed (or adapted, as he would say). Even though many architects within and outside India try to adopt his philosophy, unfortunately, many still have misconceptions about the ‘Baker Style’, especially in failing to understand that he advocated cost-effective (and energy-efficient) and not simply low-cost architectural practices. As I understand, one of the focal points in his philosophy would be that an architect should not blindly adopt these techniques and practices, but adapt them to the prevailing environmental and social conditions, and their context.

In retrospection

This is the first published work that I have designed entirely. So it was a learning process for me.

I had gone through many of Baker’s drawings, paintings and sketches during the time I spent at COSTFORD. So I was able to incorporate certain visual elements in the book as a homage to him, especially the recurring mango patterns that is noticeable in his works.

The book has been published by COSTFORD and Laurie Baker Centre for Habitat Studies (LBC).

Wordsmith and artist

Jayesh S. Pillai, who hails from the capital city, is an assistant professor in Design Discipline at Indian Institute of Information Technology, Design and Manufacturing, Jabalpur. An alumnus of Sainik School and College of Engineering Trivandrum, he did his masters from IIT Kanpur. He has a doctorate in virtual reality from Arts et Métiers ParisTech, France. Jayesh, a registered architect, is a short filmmaker as well. While his films have been selected for short films festivals in Kerala and outside, the work Beyond was selected to the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner 2011.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2021 11:24:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/jayesh-s-pillais-book-masterpiece-of-a-master-architect-unveils-how-centre-for-development-studies-showcases-the-architectural-concepts-of-laurie-baker/article6419653.ece

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