It was restored to its former glory about five years ago

The 147-year-old Senate House of the University of Madras, a towering example of Indo-Saracenic architecture, was restored to its former glory about five years ago. Since then, it remains virtually unused.

In September 2006, this historic monument, fronting the Marina beach, was re-opened after inauguration. After that, the building has been barely used. Former Vice-Chancellor of the university S.P.Thyagarajan, who took up the renovation work, said that before his tenure ended, a public meeting addressed by the then Governor was held there. “When we requested the public to contribute to the restoration process, we had projected that the halls would be used for all cultural, heritage and public meetings, besides Senate meeting. It was fully functional until my tenure ended,” he said.

When the hall was at its best, it was the venue for the university gatherings, December music festival, grand convocation meetings and even meetings of the legislature. After the building was restored to its full splendour, apart from a few smaller meetings, only one Senate meeting was held when the present Vice- Chancellor, G. Thiruvasagam, took charge. “During that meeting there were complaints from Senate members that voices echoed in the hall,” said Mr. Thiruvasagam.

To a question raised at the last Senate meeting on why the hall was not put to use, Mr. Thiruvasagam said acoustics of the hall was poor and promised the gathering that he would consult experts. “We will consult professionals to make sure that Senate meetings can be hosted here.” However, those who were part of the restoration project said issues related to audio could have been easily resolved with help from sound engineers and technicians.

Mr. Thiruvasagam also said work is in progress to use the building for holding exhibitions of photographs, manuscripts and educational material. The building being of heritage value cannot be used for public meetings because there are chances that it might be damaged, he added.

P.D. Balaji, coordinator, Senate House, said the university would soon appoint a curator for maintenance of the building. However, experts seem to have a different view. They emphasised that the best way to preserve a building is to put it to use. “After so much effort, the building should not be left to disintegrate again. Unless the building is put to use, there will be no impetus to maintain it. It is also important to keep the doors and windows of the building open for sufficient ventilation,” said K. Kalpana, an architect who supervised the Senate House conservation project.

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