The campus for the research institute, Centre for Development Studies, is one of Laurie Baker’s best campus designs, located in a residential area on the northern outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram. The 10 acre campus stretching across a heavily wooded site houses the Library, Computer centre, Auditorium, hostels, guesthouses and residential units for the staff.
The design is a response to the sloping contoured site and seems to grow out of it. There is hardly a straight line with each structure curling in waves, semicircles and arcs. Baker pays careful attention to the contours on the site and also the location of trees. The forms of the buildings also follow the site with curved walls and building forms along the contour. Often, when trees are obstructing the building, Baker simply moulds his walls around the trees so as not to disturb it. There are little courtyards in between buildings, often acting as an extension of the building itself and also pools of water which help in microclimatic control through evaporative cooling. The roofs had often interesting shapes with funny openings at certain location. These openings were Baker’s interpretation of the gables which were tilted into the wind direction funnelling it into the space.
The main administrative building is the focus of the campus, with the 6 storey circular library tower behind. The main entrance is majestic, sloping up towards the sky with the side walls welcomingly sloping outwards towards a wide set of steps. Baker has symbolically not provided a front door. The building is totally open, symbolic of an institution whose aim is to promote research into helping the poor. The library tower is a circular tower with an external jaali wall which encloses a circular staircase in the centre. The staircase winds around a circular shaft which runs from the bottom level all the way till the top. Baker has used this shaft to provide forced ventilation inside the spaces. There are small openings in this shaft at each floor level. The air is forced through these openings and escapes through the open top of the shaft, maintaining a good flow all around. This shaft is based on the simple principle of Stack effect. The perforated jaali wall on the external side allows plenty of diffused natural light inside and creates a beautiful ambience for reading.
The language is typically that of Baker, his interpretation of a vocabulary unique to Kerala. Exposed brick walls in beautiful patterns and bonds, exposed concrete sloping roofs with filler slabs of mangalore tiles forming beautiful patterns and jaalis in the brick walls of numerous designs creating amazing patterns of light and shade inside the buildings while at the same time letting in wind and light. The plinths of the buildings are all of exposed random rubble granite, the white contrasting with the red of the brick. Baker has used lime mortar for his walls, making the lime in the site itself by burning sea shells (from the beach a few miles away) and grinding it. The flooring is in red oxide which imparts a cool comfortable base to walk on while complementing the earthy materials of the walls and the roof. There are external pavements in concrete, inset with granite aggregates in the shape of flowers and leafs. Baker often gave freedom to the masons and the workers to experiment and play and bring out their creativity.
To keep the interiors of the computer building cool, Baker has devised the imaginative use of a false external jaali screen wall which acts as a skin. The air trapped in between acts as insulation and keeps the interiors cool. All the buildings in the campus are climatically so efficient that even fans are not required. The interiors are cool and comfortable.
Baker’s architecture is more than just the materials and cost effectiveness. He plays with spaces, light and shadows, creating comfortable spaces.