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LAURIE BAKER 1917 - 2007

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Laurence 'Laurie' Baker, who, after a chance encounter with Gandhi became renowned for creating well-designed, affordable buildings in India, has died at the age of 90.

Born in Birmingham, Baker studied architecture at the University of Birmingham's School of Architecture, graduating in 1937 at the age of 20.

Due to growing political unrest in Europe at the time, Baker's apprenticeship was cut short and, as a young man and committed Quaker, he looked to India to utilise his skills.

Baker's first trip to the subcontinent saw the young architect plying his trade in an international mission caring for sufferers of leprosy.

It was during his time in India that Baker realised his architectural education was inadequate for the materials and challenges he found there.

Termite attacks, varied and unpredictable weather conditions - from dry seasons to monsoons - and building materials such as cow dung and mud walls steered him in an entirely new direction.

Baker was left with little choice but to stand back and observe how local tradesmen worked. He saw that indigenous techniques were the only viable ways of building in such problematic conditions.

And an unlikely meeting with Mahatma Gandhi galvanised the architect, giving his learning a philosophy - a meaning he would dedicate the rest of his life to.

The meeting led to friendship, and the mark left on Baker undoubtedly altered his approach.

Speaking to the AJ in 1995, Baker recalled one of his first encounters with India's spiritual leader, saying: 'Gandhi told me:

'With all the experience you have had in the East, and as an architect, you are the sort of person we would enjoy having.

We don't want you ruling us, but working with us! '.'

Baker channelled his efforts into helping the poor through education and local indigenous industry, offering liberation from the crushing poverty in which they existed.

He acted as both architect and contractor, becoming wellknown in Kerala, western India, for designing and building lowcost, high-quality homes, with much of his work for those with only a modest income.

His name became synonymous with brick jali walls - a perforated brick screen that utilises air movement to cool the home's interior - as he became one of the most prolific architects in the Indian coastal state.

Baker only returned to England on a handful of occasions, and became an Indian citizen in 1988. In 1990 he was honoured with one of India's top civilian awards, the Padma Shri, and in 2003 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Kerala.

Laurie Baker died on 1 April 2007, and was buried in his own self-designed vault close to his home in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

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