Kniting with Bricks

In this photo-essay, Australian designer and academic, Derham Groves, walks in the footfalls of celebrated English-Indian designer, Laurie Baker.

The English-born designer Lau­rence ( Laurie ) Wilfred Baker ( 1917 – 2007 ) was universe celebrated for planing 1000s of extremely original, cost-effec­tive, brick edifices in his adoptive state of India. (Fig. 1.)

Fig. 1: The late English-Indian designer, Laurie Baker. ( Photograph courtesy of Cosford. )

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Baker graduated from the Birmingham School of Architecture in England in 1937 and moved to India in 1945. He mar­ried Elizabeth Jacob, a like-minded Indian medical practician, in 1948.

For over two decennaries, the Bakers worked among hapless rural and tribal common people in the Himalayas and the Western Ghats ; so in 1970, the Bakers eventually settled in Trivandrum, the capital of Ker­ala, in southern India.

Kerala’s Socialist policies were in many ways in conformity with Laurie Baker’s Quaker beliefs. He adored the topographic point and became an Indian citizen in 1989.

Laurie Baker was much admired for his extremely advanced brick edifices, which were good in front of their clip environmentally talking.

They besides normally cost surprisingly small to construct. Ironically, this virtuousness ended up working against Baker, because he gained a repute of planing merely for the hapless, which frequently put him out of favor with India’s significant in-between category.

Baker received several awards for his work, including an MBE in 1983, a Padma Sri in 1990, and three honorary doctor’s degree grades. He was nomi­nated for the Pritzker Architec­ture Prize in 2006, but missed out to Brazil­ian Brutalist archi­tect, Paulo Mendez district attorney Rocha ( born in 1928 ) . In my position, Baker’s edifices have an interesting ‘textile’ quality ( hence the rubric of this article, “Knitting with Bricks ) . [ 1 ]

I met Baker in 1994, when we both partici­pated in a panel treatment on the design and building of brickwork at the University of Melbourne, where I now teach architecture. He was a charming adult male and a really piquant talker.

In January 2012, I conducted a brick workshop for the 39 freshman architecture stu­dents at the College of Engineering Trivandrum ( C.E.T. ) , located in Laurie Baker’s hometown. [ 2 ]

This seven-day event involved the pupils planing some interesting, front-fence-height, monochromatic brick walls, which I hoped would be inspired by the local brick edifices that Baker had designed ; and so building these experimental constructions in the pace next to the architecture edifice.

The pupils had merely merely started the architecture class, and truly cognize really small. I started the workshop with a PowerPoint presentation on some of the things I have done to promote advanced brickwork design in Melbourne over the past 12 old ages or so.

First, I talked about some of the undertakings I has set the architecture pupils at the University of Melbourne. These included a freshman undertaking to plan a brick clock tower in the metropolis ; a sophomore undertaking to plan a brick bell tower for Trinity Chapel ( 1914 ) , a red-brick chef-d’oeuvre in the evidences of Melbourne University, which was designed by the obscure English-born Australian designer, Alexander North ( 1858 – 1945 ) ; and a Masters undertaking to plan some merriment, postmodern, brick letterboxes—half a twelve of which were built by learner bricklayers from Holmesglen Institute of TAFE, a Melbourne trade school. (Fig. 2.)

Fig. 2: A ‘twisted’ brick letterbox designed by Muhammad Abid, a Maestro of Architecture pupil from the University of Melbourne.

I besides told the architecture pupils aboutThe Brick Show( 2000 ) [ 3 ] andNot Brick Chimneys( 2003 ) , [ 4 ] two exhibitions that I curated at the Monash Gallery of Art in the Melbourne suburb of Glen Waverley. The thought behind both exhibitions was to showcase the astonishing design possibilities of brick.

The Brick Showwas rather similar in construct to what the Indian architecture pupils were about to plan and concept. It featured polychromatic brick walls and the 2nd far-out brick constructions, which were designed by taking designers and creative persons and constructed one time once more by Holmesglen learners. (Fig. 3.)

Fig. 3: A brick wall, having a baby’s face, designed by Lyons, an award-winning Melbourne architecture house, which was portion of the exhibition,The Brick Show ( 2000 ) ,curated by Derham Groves.

Finally, I talked about how I made some particular patterned bricks by stomping every­day objects, such as metal machine parts and the gum elastic heel of a shoe, into ‘green’ or unfired bricks and so baking them in a kiln. (Fig. 4.)

Fig. 4: One of Derham Groves’ patterned brickwork experiments.

These brick experiments encouraged Lyons, an award-winning Melbourne architecture house, to make a wood grained patterned brick for a new geriatric infirmary that the company was planing in Mornington, Victoria.

Following my introductory talk, the C.E.T. architecture pupils divided into seven groups and each began planing a brick wall.

As the bricks ( which were instead hapless quality, I must state ) for the workshop had been delivered to the site, I encouraged the pupils to experiment by dry-laying some of the bricks in the pace. It was merriment. A spot like playing with Lego. (Fig. 5.)

Fig 5: Freshman architecture pupils from the College of Engineering Trivandrum experimenting with bricks prior to finalizing the designs of their walls.

However, the complicated sculptural brick walls that the first-years were planing seemed far excessively ambitious to me. I was worried. I foresaw nil being built in the short clip available for the brick workshop.

As most of the freshman pupils were non indigens of Trivandrum, many were unfamiliar with Laurie Baker’s brick architecture. So on the 2nd twenty-four hours of the workshop, the 39 pupils accompanied by three C.E.T. lecturers— Ms. Sujakumari L, Ms. Shailaja Nair and Ms. Indu Geetha—and myself, boarded a coach to see some of Baker’s unbelievable brick edifices around Trivandrum.

Shailaja had antecedently worked for Laurie Baker, who she dearly called “Daddy” ( as practically all of his former employees do ) , and hence she was a fount of information about the designer and his work.

We visited two big educational composites: foremost, the Laurie Baker Centre for Habitat Studies ( once named “Navayatra” ) , which consists of a figure of curvilinear-shaped brick houses that are now used for conferences and seminars, but were originally designed to suit abled and handicapped people populating together (Fig. 6.) ; and secondly, the Centre for Development Studies, which comprises several impressive brick edifices, including a computing machine Centre, inns and a library, which is arguably Laurie Baker’s ‘magnum opus’ .

Fig. 6: A house at the Laurie Baker Centre for Habitat Studies, Trivandrum, designed by Laurie Baker. ( Photograph by Indu Geetha. )

The Centre for Development Studies has tonss of illustrations of “jalis, ” the Indian term for elaborately patterned perforated brick walls, which are a characteristic of most of the brick edifices designed by Laurie Baker.

He understood that brick walls did non plan themselves, but needed to be designed brick by brick. So, instead than merely utilizing standard brick bonds or forms such as stretcher, English and Flemish bonds, Baker frequently created his ain alone 1s, which in bend produced new brick forms.

By go forthing certain bricks out, Baker would bring forth interesting perforated walls that softened the rough sunshine and allowed cool zephyrs to flux through the build­ings—two really desirable characteristics given Kerala’s hot and humid clime in summer.

There were on occasion ‘problems’ associated with Baker’s brick jalis, because they were unfastened to the exterior and sometimes non merely allow in light and air, but besides birds, rats and even serpents. However, puting a lightweight wire mesh over the brick jalis in strategic topographic points normally stopped this from go oning, without take awaying excessively much from their overall consequence and visual aspect.

The Centre for Development Studies’ seven-storey, twelve-sided library ( 1971 ) possesses the interesting fabric quality that I referred to earlier. (Fig. 7.)

Fig. 7: The library at the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum, designed by Laurie Baker.

The building’s bold structural grid is exposed, and the ensuing square infinites framed by the white concrete beams and columns in the exterior facade are filled in with ruddy brick jalis of different jumping forms. As a consequence, the library consolingly looks like a knitted slipover or a crocheted comforter. (Fig. 8.)

Fig. 8: A item of the library.

The front facade of the Women’s Hostel at the Centre for Development Studies is best described as ‘Baroque’ , a term more frequently applied to late 17Thursdaycentury Italian edifices like St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome. (Fig. 9.)

Fig. 9: The forepart facade of the Women’s Hostel at the Centre for Development Studies designed by Laurie Baker.

The two S-shaped curves give the double-storey single-skin brick jali wall its structural stiffness, which is besides a good illustration of Laurie Baker’s extremely advanced attack to edifice pattern and technology.

Interestingly, this really typical undulating open-screen brick wall non merely masks, but besides is in contrast to, the reasonably conventional residential edifice behind it.

Comparing this edifice to the nearby Men’s Hostel at the Centre, Laurie Baker one time explained:

“This clip the room, the balcony and the stairway program were much more orthodox—but we made the usual connecting corridors really irregular by enveloping them in jali walls of instead aureate constructing shapes.” [ 5 ]

Researching Trivandrum on my ain, I visited several other brick edifices designed by Laurie Baker, including the Bakers’ former house, “The Hamlet” ( 1970 ) , which the designer expanded over the old ages to suit his family’s altering demands, and is now the central office of Costford, the voluntary non-profit administration that he set up to transport on his work ; the one thousand-seat Loyola Chapel and Auditorium ( 1971 ) ; and besides the cloister-like Loyola Graduate Women’s Hostel ( 1971 ) . (Fig. 10.)

Fig. 10: The Loyola Graduate Women’s Hostel, Trivandrum, designed by Laurie Baker.

However, my favorite Laurie Baker edifice is doubtless the Indian Coffee House ( 1957 ) , a handbill, ox blood ruddy, brick edifice that sits on a pocket-handkerchief of land next to the chief coach end point in Trivandrum. (Fig. 11.)

Fig. 11: The Indian Coffee House, Trivandrum, designed by Laurie Baker.

It is the city’s ‘Guggenheim Museum’ , as the floor of the cafe coils around a cardinal nucleus, which houses the public toilets.

The cafe’s far-out unmoved benches and tabular arraies, which were smartly designed by Baker to let for the sloping floor, are placed at right angles to the outer-perimeter wall of the edifice, which is penetrated by tonss of little, ziggurat-shaped gaps.

While the servers must acquire tired walking up and down the cafe’s surprisingly steep floor all twenty-four hours, nevertheless it is a fantastic topographic point to come for a drink and a bite.

I besides saw a figure of brick edifices designed by some of Laurie Baker’s ‘disciples’ , which are easy to pick out by their typical face brickwork and the extended usage of jalis.

The proprietors of one house designed by a former employee of Baker told me how cool in summer and maintenance-free it was. However, efficient and functional as these edifices are, they do non hold rather the same architectural delicacy as those designed by Baker himself, in my position.

On the 3rd twenty-four hours of the brick workshop, the freshman architecture pupils reviewed their designs in order to possibly integrate some things they had observed at the Laurie Baker Centre for Habitat Studies and the Centre for Development Studies on the old twenty-four hours.

I besides asked a bricklayer who happened to be constructing a incline at the College of Engineering to look at the students’ designs and give them some practical tips. By the terminal of the twenty-four hours, the seven groups were happy with their designs and ready to get down constructing their walls the following twenty-four hours.

The architecture section had hired a bricklayer named Joy Francis to assist the pupils construct their walls. True to his name, he was so a joy to work with. Armed with a trowel, a plummet British shilling and a degree ( merely a long piece of fictile tube filled with H2O ) , he went from group to group, ‘troubleshooting’ . (Fig. 12.)

Unusually, his few words of English and my entire deficiency of Malayalam was ne’er an obstruction.

Fig. 12: Bricklayer Joy Francis helping some of the freshman architecture pupils.

The building procedure began easy until everyone got into the swing of things. Diging ditches, blending concrete and puting the termss occupied most of twenty-four hours four. Then for the following three yearss everyone worked level out to acquire the seven brick walls built.

None of the freshman architecture pupils had of all time laid bricks before. It came of course to a few, while it was a battle for others.

However, they all learned a batch during the building procedure, particularly what it takes to turn a drawing of a brick wall into a existent brick wall.

From my point of position, it was a bang to see Laurie Baker’s astonishing brick edifices and a privilege to work with the pupils and staff from the College of Engineering Trivandrum ; my sincere thanks go to Professor Neena Thomas for ask foring in the first topographic point.

Let me briefly depict the seven brick walls designed and built by freshman architecture pupils:

1. Possibly the small hog that built his house of bricks in the baby’s room rime, “The Three Little Pigs” , influenced the all-female group that built the Little House Wall. (Fig. 13.) C.E.T. architecture pupils, Gitanjiali V. R, Harsha Hareendran, Roshni Maria George, Athira P, Akshaya K, Aryaa, Mizna Reem, Aafreen Fathima, and Reshma Cherian, created this wall.

Fig. 13: The Little House Wall.

2. Of all of the architecture pupils, the all-male group that constructed the Swimming Fish Wall were the most careful bricklayers. Puting the bricks at a 45-degree angle to the wall created the fish’s graduated tables. Laurie Baker’s usage of old bottles at the Centre for Habitat Studies decidedly inspired the fish’s green oculus. (Fig. 14.) C.E.T. architecture pupils, Dheeraj K, Abraham Philip, Richard Lalduhsaka, Vignesh Sajeev, and Abhijath Ajay, created it.

Fig. 14: The Swiming Fish Wall.

3. The group that designed the Brick Jali Wall was possibly inspired by the assortment of jalis at the Centre for Development Studies, which the C.E.T. architecture pupils visited. Understanding the importance of the wall’s nothingnesss or negative infinites was an of import lesson. (Fig. 15.) It was designed and constructed by C.E.T. architecture pupils, Soumya S. Warrier, Deepthi B, Anutpama Warrier, Saijith M. S, Nikitha and Nikita Jimmington.

Fig. 15: Concluding touches being made to the Brick Jali Wall.

4. The group that built the double-skin brick Staircase Wall employed two different forms or brick bonds. One tegument was herringbone and the other was stretcher bond. (Fig. 16.) C.E.T. architecture pupils, Parvathi P, Prasanth R, Najeeb T and Rahul Sarovthaman, created this wall.

Fig. 16: The Staircase Wall.

5. Merely two adult females constructed this really solid S-shaped Double-Curved Wall. Possibly the Baroque walls at the Women’s Hostel at the Centre for Development Studies influenced them. (Fig. 17.) C.E.T. architecture pupils, Magna George and Jisa George, created it.

Fig. 17: Constructing the S-shaped Double-Curved Wall.

6. Another all-female group constructed the C.E.T. Wall. While the monogram stood for the architecture students’ college, it was possibly besides a mention to graffiti on walls. (Fig. 18.) It was designed and constructed by C.E.T. architecture pupils, Angel Varghese, Anuja J, Archana, Anna Baby, and Nisha Nelson.

Fig. 18: The C.E.T. Wall.

7. The Elephant/Butterfly Wall featured two elephant caputs confronting each other in profile. Chiping off a triangular piece of a brick created their ivories. It is similar to the well-known optical semblance called Rubin’s vase. Looking at the wall shut up you see the elephant caputs, but from a distance you see a butterfly. (Fig. 19.) C.E.T. architecture pupils, Muhammed Jiyad, Hisham A. A, Amalraj P, Ahmad Thaneem Abdul Majeed, Muhammed Naseem, Sankasnath P. M, Sai Prasad C, and Suneer K. Kwall, created this wall.

Fig. 19: The Elephant/Butterfly Wall.


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