Sunlight streams in through the window in Laurence (Laurie) Wilfred Baker’s home at Nalanchira in Thiruvananthapuram. The chiaroscuro catches your attention. Baker chuckles with childlike pleasure, explaining how the grill in the window is made of recycled metal parts such as a discarded bicycle wheel and a clutch plate.
That one frame from a six-minute preview ( www.lauriebaker.net ) of Uncommon Sense: The Life and Architecture of Laurie Baker , a feature film on Baker that is being made by his grandson Vineet Radhakrishnan, captures the essence of Baker, the man and his outlook.
“Although there have been several articles and a few short films on my grandfather, never has a feature film been made on him. I have always felt that the long movie format was most suited to explore and understand the layered and interlinked narratives of his architectural work, his remarkable personal story, and unique life philosophy,” says Vineet in an e-mail interview. Baker lived in Thiruvananthapuram from 1970 to 2007 and drew the blueprint for a school of architecture that derived its aesthetics and inspiration from local building material and vernacular building techniques.
Vineet, who has postgraduate degrees from IIT-Delhi and INSEAD, France, says that the greatest influence in his life has been his grandfather. Vineet is a fine art and fashion photographer. The trailer of the film, released online, gives glimpses of the film — interviews with leading architects and proud owners of Baker homes, poetic shots of Baker’s buildings and, best of all, vintage shots of Baker himself talking about his philosophy and his insistence on eco-friendly architecture. The film is likely to be released in October. Excerpts from an interview:
What is the story behind the movie on one of the most important architectural inspirations in the world?
In late 2013, after completing my MBA, I did some candid introspection, and realised that if I didn’t make the film then it probably would never happen, especially since I was going back to a comfortable corporate job. So I gave up the job, and started planning the film. I have been a professional photographer for several years, so many skills translated to film shooting and I ended up, partly out of necessity, becoming not just the director but also the cinematographer and shooting all of the footage, with a friend assisting at times. We spent the next year travelling across India, re-discovering and filming Baker buildings and interviewing a variety of people who knew him in one way or the other.
What is it that you plan to cover in the film — Baker the man or Baker the architect ?
Laurie Baker’s architecture exists because of Laurie Baker the man, and because of his rather particular ideals, motivations and approach to life, his environment and to his fellow human beings. So I don’t think it’s possible to separate the two. The movie will let the common man who appreciates Baker the man, understand the beauty of his architecture better and also let the architectural student or practitioner who understands the technical building aspects see why Baker built the way he did, what he built, and equally importantly why he chose to forgo the projects he did.
How best do you plan to capture his ‘small is beautiful’ philosophy and drive for sustainability?
I feel Baker’s life itself is the most powerful illustration of these ideas, because he put into practice all of these concepts, every time he designed or constructed a building whether it was his own house, a house for a fisherman, a relatively more affluent client or a large institutional building. If we have captured his life well in the film, the message should be quite apparent.
What is the most important thing you learned from your grandfather and what is the feature in his buildings that really captures Baker’s aesthetics best?
Never did I feel that it was a strain for him or my grandmother to live the life they did, or make the unconventional choices they did. Fame, money, and social conventions did not matter. I admire them most for the courage of their convictions. His sense of proportion and balance, always avoiding cluttered façades and over-design, reflects his attitude to life.
What is the best way to continue his legacy of sustainable architecture and how can his buildings be preserved for posterity?
Rather than preserving his buildings for posterity, I believe, the attempt (an approach he would have liked) should be to preserve his questioning conscience: to not accept ways of doing things just because everyone says that’s how it is done and to respect nature and stand up against wastefulness and deceit.