Bye, Mr Baker

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.

Loyola Chapel; Pic courtesy: Frontline (http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2005/stories/20030314000906400.htm)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.

  • Bigger.
  • 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.

26 Comments

  • Hi Ashok,
    It was really sad to hear about the demise of Mr. Laurie Baker. He will always be remembered for his innovative practices of low cost housing. The buildings at the Centre For Development Studies, many houses in Trivandrum and of course our School Auditorium stand testimony to his revolutionary concept of housing.

    And the chapel at our school auditorium is something i will never forget. It takes you into a trance once you enter that place. Something like the feeling of absolute bliss.

    Karthik.C

  • heya there.. i was the boy who asked who laurie baker was….
    and now i do know.. for that day itself i got to have a call from G mahadevan… er the hindu editor guy.. and we were talking baout something and in between i asked does he know that guy and he said it was laurie bakers 90th b’day that day (i had posted that too)
    asked him how he knew.. well he went to the functions πŸ˜€
    cheers ashok chettaa

  • Karthik, like other good architects, Baker took into account the needs of the users. But over time, users’ needs and expectations change, be it for a house or for a community hall. The buildings are then revisited, like at Loyola. I wonder what the scene is at Pallikoodam (earlier Corpus Christi) — a school campus in Kottayam designed by Baker.

    One of my teachers in college said that Baker’s buildings were not meant to be everlasting. As needs change over time, putting up another low-cost building later was easier, and more economical. “After all where is the need for a building to last 100 years?” he asked us. When I see a Baker-model krishi bhavan in rural Kerala, or an Indian Coffee House, I remember my teacher’s words.

    Deepak, thanks.

    Syam, thanks for dropping in. Hello to Mahadevan when you speak to him next.

  • Hey Ashok,
    Great post.. thanks for putting up the picasa link.. brought back memories.. btw am in kochi now.. l8r

    John

  • Ashok, this was an awesome post. You paid a handsome tribute to a man whose innovations in building technology made our school stand apart for yet another reason!

    Still remember how most of the priests ranted and raved abt how unsafe the auditorium and the horse-shoe shaped junior school had become. The work of art was the chapel…i just loved the natural lighting that percolated in and the whole ambience of the place…hope they never pull the chapel down.

  • Vishnu, the photo-essay by Saji and Vinod took me to Loyola of the 1980s.

    John, I am glad that this post prompted you to surprise me with a call. Now that you are in Kochi, you can drop in at Loyola on one of the weekends, and share with us your thoughts and photos.

    Jiby, when I was at Loyola, the chapel was almost off bounds. We would, of course, peep in at times, but I don’t remember having had the courage to walk from one door to the other. A few years ago, when Suraj Jacob (1989) got married there, I discovered the chapel, so to say. It was memorable. Can the chapel be pulled down? We Loyolites are notorious for caving in to destruction and redesigns at Loyola πŸ™‚ But Kerala’s heritage watchdogs won’t allow that.

  • Baker’s works were his response to the situations around him. Buildings in our campus or even in the near by Centre for Development Studies were aesthetic and fitted in nicely to the surroundings……..But now when we need better facilities, more safer classrooms ,there is no use hanging on to nostalgia……and if we have money why not bring down Baker’s football ground pavilion and build a new one….Why not bring down the chapel……who cares for heritage? We need comfort and for comfort we need huge buildings….with space…….without soul………..
    I haven’t seen the new auditorium….but I am sure it would resemble the Vaikuntam Kalyana Mandapam……The sutter hall used to talk to me……she would entice me to take her stage and perform a Drama, a Monoact , a Recitation to her…….she would comfort me to sleep when the stage has crap running……….Her father is gone…..and it is time she start to pack.

  • Greetings from the 80 batch. I was dismayed to hear that the Junior school was demolished for a ‘modern building. Needless to sya would be gutted if the same happened to the Auditorium and Chapel-that would be mindless.

  • Renjith, thank you for standing up and proving the Loyola-ness in you. What struck me was that Loyola did not opt for Baker-type for the new auditorium. While I thank Ms Nostalgia for attracting Loyolites to this blog, I agree with you that one cannot cling on to her always.

    Isaac, yes, I wonder why the school went for ‘modern’ at that juncture. One of these days, more facts will come to light on this, I’m sure.

  • Dear Ashok Chetta,
    I remember the old junior school being pulled down for the ‘safer’ structure that’s there now…And some of us seniors then(or were we just out of school?) had put in our efforts at protest…And Fr MM Thomas, very much against the change, but unable to stop it, told us forget the idea…..He said “If you so want to remember those days, why don’t you take your pick from the rubble?”The building had been razed by then, we stood amidst the destruction, and thought of old times….I picked up two bricks and carried them home…..
    Thank God for whoever’s protecting the Auditorium (er, Sutter Hall)…
    And as for young blood that wonders who was Laurie Baker, pardon me, son, you need an education.

  • Renjith, that’s a good anecdote you have of Fr M.M. Thomas. Do you have the bricks at home? If yes, it would be an A-class senti-nostalgia story from Loyola πŸ™‚

  • Ashok, our good lieutenant may have the bricks, but I have some pictures of the demolished old IV-A classroom. Lots of memories in those ruins. I still get senti-nostalgic while I see them.

  • Arre Ashok Chetta, no jokes….But no, I don’t have the bricks now…We shifted house to Alwaye seven years back and the bricks I left at my old house in T’puram…So much for senti-nostalgia stuff πŸ™‚

  • Well, now that I have resigned from Loyola after 21 years of work and going back to my native state Orissa very soon ,I can let out a few truths. The playground was fenced to keep out the stray dogs.They were a real menance. During that period a student of Mrs. Murray’s class was bitten. As for parents ruling Loyola decisions I doubt it. The Jesuits do not have to bow before any parent. If such a thing was possible then I, a non-Malayali,Non-Christian, Non Pamperer of any rich man’s son, too outspoken and undiplomatic a person would have been thrown out first. No, it isn’t that. You children have got it all wrong.

  • I too want to comment on the way Trivandrum city has changed. Not exactly what Mr. Baker had envisaged for it. Look at the number of high rise buildings, snatching away the old world charm of this city. With the increase in population the number of students wishing to be a part of Loyola too has gone up. To accomodate them the old world had to give in. That is just the reason why Baker’s building gave way to the massive concrete one that stands now dutifully called CBSE section. Now to put in all these students together there came a need of a larger hall, well the rest is history. So keep the memories of the old buildings ,like Daffodils, and move on to the new one.

  • I don’t think any particular parent is powerful enough to kick a teacher out. From what I have heard, it’s the teachers’ mafia that can throw a teacher out πŸ™‚

    Keeping pace with Trivandrum’s growth! What next? A cash-for-admission policy? Maybe we should keep good admission policies as memories, and move on! I feel that Loyola should define what “good education” is (avoid being static by regularly assessing society’s expectations and needs) and try to provide it.

    To think that more children can be accommodated only in massive concrete, or the solution to dog menace is fencing, is reflective of the lack of creativity and exposure that Loyola suffers from. Believe-it-or-not, the sentiment in Loyola these days is, “We’ve built the big hall. I hope we can utilise it somehow.” High on concrete, low on ideas.

  • Very true! The Mafia is working full scale. But let me keep my lips sealed. At least till I reach my home state safely :). As for the fencing it was during Father Kuruvilla’s
    time. Each priest comes and tries to bring in some change. Some are needed, others, God alone knows why they do it. perhaps to immortalise their names.I still know that no donations for admissions are accepted, but, we never know, those policies may change. ” Good education’ can be provided when good people are involved, with the mafia working, it is ‘I, Me, My candidate’ alone.

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