When Laurie Baker’s efforts bore fruit

Birmingham-born architect’s crusade helped save many a tree in the city

It must be rare for a person’s memory to be cherished because of of the way in which he planted happiness and built love. How else can one remember Birmingham-born architect Laurie Baker, who adopted Kerala as his homeland and followed the non-violent approaches of the Quakers and Mahatma Gandhi, on his birth centenary?

For many, the memory of Bakerji (as he was fondly called) is intimately connected with the presence of certain special buildings that paved the way for the emergence of a sustainable architectural style that merged with the landscape and ecology of Kerala. For others, he is remembered for the causes and campaigns he readily became a part of.


MR.LAURIE BAKER.   | Photo Credit: N.BALAJI.

The strong support Baker gave to the Save Silent Valley Campaign in the early 1980s showed his unstinting commitment to nature and natural living. This campaign was also the beginning of a new thought about development and sustainable energy usage and lifestyle. Baker proved that he was part of this path-breaking movement by signing up for the conservation of the rainforests as against the hydroelectric dam.

His firm belief in ‘Think globally, act locally’ became evident as he partook in small, yet significant campaigns to protect the city’s greenery. The silent protest march organised in 1979 when the authorities obtained an injunction to stop the meeting called to discuss the Silent Valley issue was a first of its kind that drew the attention of the society. He saw trees as the most cost-effective and energy-efficient creations of the nature, where space, ventilation and light are optimally utilised for maximum benefit. His inborn aesthetic sensibility that was expressed in his professional philosophy “not to mar a topography or uproot a tree” compelled him to join the handful who advocated the need to protect the trees in the city.

When Laurie Baker’s efforts bore fruit

Long-lasting friendships he formed with poetess Sugathakumari, social activist Sharmaji and Communist leader Surendranath served as a trigger for some unusually inspiring campaigns. One often-overlooked incident is when this quartet raised questions about the need to cut trees along the LMS-Statue road for road-widening. The effort this team put together later borne fruit in the form of two thriving trees. The neem and peepal trees growing by the side of the VJT Hall wall opposite the University Library gate now stand as a testimony to their endeavour.

The non-violent sit-in protest they conducted on the footpath opposite the University College, however, remains a fading memory. A raintree and an African tulip tree they could not save is a story often remembered with a tinge of regret.

When Laurie Baker’s efforts bore fruit

The awareness that visionaries such as Baker created about conservation of trees and development have later led to campaigns that saved many a tree in the city.

In his unique architectural style that evolved with his ingenuity, Baker showed us a simple way of looking at life anew.

It is no wonder that the neem and the peepal that stand tall in the heart of the city also represent two species best-known in helping fight air pollution and climate change.

They stand as fitting memorials to a person who tried to spread the message of peace, happiness, love and austerity through his work and life.

The author is an ecological educator and researcher who coordinates the initiative Tree Walk.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2020 9:14:16 PM |

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