Laurie Baker left us two Sundays ago. We left him a decade ago.
Architect and builder Laurie Baker designed and built the junior classrooms that Loyolites grew up in, and the canteen complex where we sipped our first chocolate milk, asked uncle for football, collected NCC gear, mauled music on weekdays, and rounded off Saturday afternoons with porotta and curry. In the mid-1990s, the music room was demolished; later, the junior school and canteen buildings went through a makeover.
Baker’s most famous creation at Loyola — the chapel-auditorium complex — is still there. The Sutters of Toledo (Ohio, US) had donated Rs 175,000 and Baker built it in 1970-71, managing to keep the cost within the original gift sum.
In Laurie Baker: Life, Works and Writings, Gautam Bhatia quotes the brickmaster:
The official clients are Jesuit priests. Although they agreed to my proposals and plans, obviously they did not appreciate the high vast stretches of unplastered brickwork. They had every intention of tarting the whole thing up later on with nice bright paints and plasters, but have not been able to bring themselves to do this simply because there is a small but steady and persistent stream of foreign visitors, both architects and priests, who come just to see and take photographs.
Maybe. But the Jesuits had the last laugh when they chose to steal its soul: the people who use it. After all, what is an auditorium without children, their speeches, quizzes, drama or music? In the late 1990s, the school decided to build another auditorium: an auditorium-cum-indoor stadium.
- Rs 40 million thus far, six months to go.
- Acoustics worth Rs 6 million.
- Synthetic flooring.
Grand. But not low-cost. Not eco-friendly. Not Baker.
The school had reasons to leave Baker behind. In the case of the junior school building, the school wanted more and safer classrooms. And for the auditorium, it was hungry for seating capacity and hi-tech facilities.
Changing times, changing needs, and dare I say, changing philosophies. I will not be surprised if Baker’s football ground pavilion is reworked to accommodate more people and provide facilities. I will not be surprised if youth festivals and La Fests move from Sutter Hall to the new stadium. Children will continue to admiringly watch their heroes and clap for them, and on stage, perform with pride, excitement and fear. No longer in the hall that Baker built. Laurie Baker’s passing away in 2007 coincides with Loyola’s final farewell to him.
Last month, on Orkut’s Loyola community, a twelfth-standard student posted: “Someone tell me who the crap is Laurie Baker?”. Let’s just say that he was the parent of an old boy. Tilak Baker belonged to the 1977 batch.