ASHA SRIDHAR follows a study that seeks to map heritage buildings in a city where residents are often not even aware of their presence

Armed with a GPS device and a daunting list of heritage buildings in the Justice E. Padmanabhan committee report and an INTACH list, Preshant Sekar and a group of volunteers wandered in the maze of streets in George Town last summer. Their aim — to map heritage structures in the vicinity.

The result was a bit depressing. Many locals were unaware of the significance of the heritage buildings in the neighbourhood, and of the ones they located, several were in need of attention.

“I grew up in Mannady and would have walked past several structures without understanding their significance,” said Preshant, an intern, who volunteered to map heritage structures as part of Transparent Chennai’s project to add a heritage layer to their interactive maps. “We were standing right outside the Appar Achagam . But, few locals knew about it when we asked them for directions,” he said.

Transparent Chennai, an organisation which consolidates data on urban governance, has covered close to 420 heritage structures in the city so far, said Roshan Toshniwal, a researcher with the organisation.

While some structures have been well-preserved, some are in need of urgent intervention. Based on his field visits, Roshan said that structures such as the Nurses’ Quarters in the Government Women and Children Hospital were in an extremely bad state when he visited them. Conservation architect Muzakkir Bijli said that adaptive reuse must be explored in addition to creating awareness of the importance of heritage.

Sriram V., convenor, Chennai Chapter, INTACH, said that the Heritage Conservation Committee must, instead of listing heritage structures again, focus on protecting them and creating awareness among owners of heritage properties.

Funds for renovation

Meanwhile, the century-old Government Royapettah Hospital has received funds to renovate its heritage structure. The building, which houses the urology and the surgical gastroenterology wards, is on the same premises as the mortuary. The hospital has received around Rs. 87 lakh from the government for maintenance and repair, said director N. Gunasekaran.

“Since it is a heritage structure we cannot make many changes. We are trying to repair the buildings and maintain the structure,” he said.

It was in the old building that the hospital launched its outpatient services for residents of Royapettah area on May 29, 1912. The hospital now has a proposal to develop facilities with the aim of developing it into a medical college.

(With inputs from R. Sujatha)