Laurie Baker and the simple spiral
This is Laurie Baker’s critically acclaimed work. Indian Coffee House.
The building stands opposite the main railway station in Trivandrum. I’d always wanted to go there. In architecture college, people always refered to this building.
Laurie Baker. Missionary. Gandhian. Architect. At least, according to Wikipedia.
His buildings look great in photos. Vibrant red brick, offset by green around it. Some blue sky thrown in for effect. When you see them for yourself from the outside, you are not disappointed.
Walking through them is a different story. I always felt at odds with the buildings I had visited. I had to constantly engage with the building. Negotiate every step. Mr.Baker’s architecture demands to be noticed at all times. Shouting almost. It’s a bit sick amidst all those trees.
A few days ago I finally had the chance to visit Indian Coffee House. It all made sense. His buildings don’t belong in greenery. Put them in hot humid Trivandrum, no greenery within a 100 yard distance. It acquires context.
Inside you still get the same feeling of barter with the building. You give it the effort of walking up that spiral, it gives you some refreshing breeze. But this time, the trade is not offensive. Cities demand negotiation. On the road there is heat and dust, but for a few steps up the spiral of the Indian Coffee House you get a bit of cool air, and maybe a refreshing beverage.
Spirals have been around. Shells and webs have logarithmic spirals. The fibonacci series is just a spiral of sorts. La de dah. It goes on. Laurie Baker uses a helix for the Indian Coffee House.
Spirals in architecture have also been around for a while also. Spiral towers have been built all over. Spiral staircases. What not. It’s a great way to organize the main axis of the building. As good as anything else. But here? Hmmm.
Making the floor of a restaurant inclined is a stupid idea to say the least. The waiters must have repetitive stress injury in the knees from all that mountain climbing. Just walking to the top of it was a bit of a knee buster. The incline is slightly too steep. That’s the other problem I have with Laurie Baker. In spite of all that talk of the buildings being specific to each client’s needs, the basic details seem to have been ignored. Sometimes its privacy (though that’s not really an issue in a coffee house), sometimes it’s knees (which is an issue).
When you sit down, you have view of the outside, which is nice (not the view, but the chance to look if you please). Lots of air. Nice.
The seating is built in, the tables built in. Low maintenance. A central service core that keeps plumbing and electrical building costs low. All trademark Baker. But this one I like.
As usual, the details of the design only exist on a global scale. No small bits of thought here and there to touch you. There is the massive lattice-type stuff on the walls. The shape.
Aesthetically it’s completely unresolved. It looks like it’s unfinished. But again that’s not a problem. It’s in the middle of a city which is quite unresolved.
Funny how a underdesigned building is saved by underplanned surroundings.