Frontline, March 3, 2017
Interview with Vineet Radhakrishnan on the making of a documentary on his grandfather, Uncommon Sense: The Life and Architecture of Laurie Baker. By ZIYA US SALAM
IT is never easy to write, paint or make a film about somebody you are emotionally attached to. It becomes even more difficult if you have blood ties with that person. Vineet Radhakrishnan, grandson of the illustrious architect Laurie Baker, decided to do the unthinkable—encapsulate the life and works of Baker in a film, Uncommon Sense: The Life and Architecture of Laurie Baker.
It could not have been more apt that Radhakrishnan chose New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre (IHC), one of the most aesthetically pleasing buildings, to screen the film. The IHC, J.A. Stein’s masterpiece, is lauded for its open space, ventilation, and its dignified appearance. And to think it all started with the prototype of a rock painting from Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh!
One could say the same about Baker’s architecture. He was a pioneer in using local construction material, indeed, even honouring local building traditions. No raw material was too low or too high for him. Mud, clay, exposed bricks and trellis became his hallmark as Baker set about defying stereotypes. It did not come easy; Baker first had to unlearn what he had learnt in Britain, then come to terms with the fact that even a youngster in rural India knew more about the local ways of construction. How he immersed himself into the soul of India makes for a gripping story. He spent a number of years in the Himalaya, virtually lived the life of a nomad for a long time before finally making Kerala his home. It is in the State that some of his buildings have stood the test of time. Interestingly, it was the news of the imminent demolition of some of these works to build skyscrapers that inspired Radhakrishnan to leave everything aside and film Uncommon Sense.
The film had a special one-time pre-release screening for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which celebrates 100 years of Laurie Baker (1917-2017).