Viewing homes as commodities has lead to housing crisis: Laurie Baker tribute finds

Seminar organised by Habitat Technology Group calls for master architect’s
teachings on affordable, appropriate construction to be heeded, emulated

Thiruvananthapuram, May 14: The commodification of homes, elevation of comfort over community needs and hegemony of Western building codes had resulted in unsustainable construction trends and acute housing crisis, a memorial here to low-cost architecture pioneer Laurie Baker heard on Saturday. 


“Homes today are assets and speculative investments. Today, there are 12 lakh unoccupied homes in a state where there is a housing shortage of 4.5 lakh. This massive transformation in the built environment owes to hyper-consumption by the middle class, outsourcing of design ideas to the West and global capital flows to the construction sector,” said Chandra Dutt, Director of Centre of science and technology for rural development (COSTFORD).


Dutt, a renowned social activist who co-founded the housing non-profit with Baker, former Chief Minister C. Achutha Menon and eminent economist K.N. Raj, said Baker had predicted this transformation from community mode of architecture to commodity mode and called for the rejection of imported rating systems like LEED certifications in favour of traditional vastu shastra principles.


The tribute to Baker in his birth centenary was organised by Habitat Technology Group as part of its HabFest-30 exhibition event in Poojappura ground. The occasion saw a number of notable personalities participate in a seminar titled ‘Laurie Baker’s Legacy’.


Inaugurating the seminar, Director General of National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR) Dr W.R. Reddy IAS said Baker’s pioneering construction techniques and traditional low-cost technologies needed to be mainstreamed.


“Tendencies of wealth exhibitionism and seeking immediate comforts and conveniences have resulted in distorted architectural designs and practices, unsustainable housing initiatives and the inadequacy of housing in both urban and rural sectors. There are widely held misconceptions about affordable housing being meant only for the poor and that a house must by definition by a concrete-cement structure,” Reddy said.


Calling for an “unlearning of such lessons”, he said the lessons left by Baker – creating living situations as close to nature as possible using locally available materials and ensuring as little wastage in the construction cycle – could only be utilised by the construction sector after they had been enshrined as PWD and CPWD codal provisions.



Echoing this sentiment, architect and COSTFORD Joint Director P.B. Sajan advocated a community-based approach to construction that involved participatory planning, education and women empowerment.


Over a presentation on 'Slum free cities through community-building' that recalled a 1996 booklet by Baker titled Are slums inevitable?, Sajan said, “The financial empowerment of women and education of children is the key to ushering in home ownership in the slums and ending the cycle of subsidy dependence.”


In his opening address, Habitat Chairman Padmashree Shankar G. said Baker had left behind a legacy that both empowers and challenges Indian architects to move out of their comfort zones to follow his model of socially responsible construction.


The evening seminar also in attendance Kudumbasree Former Executive Director Smt. K.B. Valsala Kumari, technocrat G. Vijayaraghavan, BJP leader C. Sivankutty, Poojapurra councilor Dr Vijayalakshmi and film critic Prof Madhu Eravankara.



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