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Laurie Baker, Brick Master’s Unique Design of Indian Coffee House

Constructed in 1958, the Indian Coffee House in Trivandrum, Kerala, is one of the famous works of the British-born Indian architect Laurie Baker. The Indian Coffee House is a chain of cafes with over 400 branches. With its site being a small urban hub between the railway station and bus stop of Trivandrum, the building has become a natural gathering zone for travelers and the local communities. You can find many other works of this brick master like the Centre for Development Studies, Chengalchoola Slum dwelling units, etc. within the city of Trivandrum itself. 

Image source: archestudy.com

The café also gains recognition for its unique cylindrical form in a traditional context. It belongs to the neo-vernacular architectural style where the western roots of Laurie Baker merge with the traditional materials and techniques of local artisans. The use of perforated brickworks regulates the building temperature, thus making it an excellent example of cost-effective, energy-efficient aspects.

In this article, we shall discuss the Indian Coffee House and its design techniques in detail. We shall also relate the principles of the brick master, Laurie Baker, and his philosophies implemented in the building. Dive in to explore more about this extraordinary building. 

Laurie Baker, Design Principles

The design philosophies of Laurie Baker were renowned for his low-cost, energy-efficient construction. His buildings are an amalgam of traditional techniques, and locally available materials blending with western principles. He challenged engineering techniques and followed a cost-effective, sustainable vernacular constructional style.

To archive such cost-effectivity in his design, Laurie Baker followed principles such as, 

  • Rat bond masonry technique. The techniques involve creating cavities in the brickwork, thus, reducing the brick count.
  • Exposed brickwork. The buildings didn’t require any painting, plastering, or interior finishes. 
  • Use of Jaalis or perforation to encourage natural ventilation and lighting.
  • Use of filler slabs to reduce the cost of reinforcements. 
  • Use of locally available materials to avoid transportation costs.

Laurie Baker uses almost all of these philosophies in his works, and the Indian Coffee House is no exception. His thirst to thrive in traditional culture and techniques and his western academic background ignited the trends of neo-vernacular architecture in India.

Features of Indian Coffee House by Laurie Baker

The exterior emphasizes its cylindrical form that tapers at the end. The interior image emphasizes its ramp, jaali work, and its inbuilt seating. 

Image source : architectuul.com

The cafe holds a solid identity in the city of Trivandrum.  With its unconventional cylindrical form, the entire building stands out in its neighborhood as a local landmark and design reference for many traditionally styled artisans. 

  • The building is a continuous ramp that runs through the entire building, terminating at the top as a tapering cylindrical volume. 
  • The ramp’s center perceives the service core of the building. 
  • The exterior of the building has brick jaalis or perforations for airflow to regulate the building’s temperature. 
  • The interiors of the building entertain the play with the light and shadow of these jaali patterns. 
Laurie Baker
Image source : architectuul.com

Design and Planning

Built in 1958, the Indian Coffee House is a connecting spot between the railway station and Trivandrum, Kerala bus stop. The site being a small urban area, the cylindrical form of the building was adapted to complete the spatial needs. 

Image source : architectural review.com
Laurie Baker

On the left is the image of the ramp and the seating area. On the right is the image of the cafe’s entrance.

  • The building is a massive ramp with services in the center. The ramp tapers as it goes higher to maintain the building’s stability. The tapering assures a balance in shape and proportion of the cylindrical form. 
  • The seatings are built-in along with the ramp to optimize the spatial form. The outer side of the ramp has the easting zone, while the interior side carries over circulation.
  • The central core has the service areas like toilets and pipelines.  
  • The ground floor has a kitchen and a separate service entrance.

Material – Brickwork

His extensive use of bricks in his projects adorned him with the title ‘Brick Master of Kerala.’ His projects mainly involve bricks to bring the natural essence of the region. Also, with bricks being locally available in and near Trivandrum, he prefers bricks over other materials to reduce the cost of expenditures. Since the building is a load-bearing type, the cost consideration drastically reduced the overall project’s expenses. 

Kerala is a wet region, and the moisture levels in the air are pretty high. However, bricks have the natural ability to absorb and release air moisture. Thus, selecting it as the primary building material regulates the interior temperature of the building. Another significant advantage of brick as a building material is its sound insulation and fire resistance. 

Construction- Jaaliwork

Image source : archestudy.com
Laurie Baker

Laurie Baker believes that his life choices reflect the simplicity of his designs. He predominantly experiments with brickwork and different bonds that adhere to traditional construction styles and involve the local worker. The Indian Coffee House has an exposed brick facade devoid of windows. Instead, the architect uses Jaalis to create fenestrations for light and ventilation. 

Since the cafe is a load-bearing structure; the plan executes a concentric approach, with two central cores and exterior brick walls. The innermost central core is exposed to the sky, while the second core is responsible for services like toilets. 

You can find the jaali work on the facade of the building runs through the entire cylindrical form. It induces a stark effect by inviting cool air within the building and expelling the warm air– a typical tropical ventilation technique. Since the jaali works have smaller apertures, the air forces itself through these gaps and regulates the interior temperature. The solid wall and jaalis play also isolates the building interior from its buzzing exterior’s heat, dirt, and sound. 


Architecture defines the way we conceive a space. Laurie Baker revolutionized the art and essence of vernacular architecture in his works, and the Indian Coffee House is a great yet simple example of his architectural philosophies. He reflects his beliefs on the significance of traditional construction styles and techniques with locally available materials. Over the years, you can easily acknowledge that the Indian Coffee House has gradually evolved into a tourist center celebrating great architecture and good food.

By Hajara Banu

Hajara Banu is a professional architect, content writer, and strategist. She is on her journey to share her love of architecture, design, and content creation. Besides writing, Hajara loves coffee and often experiments with cooking and organizing in her free time.

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