Art

Chennai architect explores the city’s windows through illustrations

An illustration, representing the architectural style of Thousand Lights, from the series

An illustration, representing the architectural style of Thousand Lights, from the series   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Chennai’s past is reflected in its buildings. Sunil Raghavendher K explores the city’s architectural styles through illustrations, in a series titled ‘Windows of Madras’

Against an ashen background, a minimalist illustration of a window stands out: a simple one, with a curved head sporting stained glass panels, under a gable-like shade. The window throws its curtains open to the history of its locality — a cultural marker, it tells a story.

For instance, Chintradipet, planned and developed for weavers by the East India Company in 1734, had rows of houses once, with connected walls. Some of the houses built later in French Art Deco style had horizontal windows and vertical doors. To date, certain elements of this architectural style remain, though mostly in ruins.

An illustration, representing the architectural style of Besant Nagar, from the series

An illustration, representing the architectural style of Besant Nagar, from the series   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

These are the nuggets of history that 24-year-old architect Sunil Raghavendher K is in search of, with his series of illustrations titled ‘Windows of Madras’.

The series, which has an enthusiastic social media following, explores Chennai localities that developed at different points in the city’s history. It took shape over the 28 days Sunil had spent in home quarantine after returning from Delhi (where he used to work) on March 24.

Private heritage

“In Chennai, a lot of the heritage buildings are privately-owned and more often than not, the owners themselves are not aware of how valuable these are,” says Sunil, who grew up in the city and is a graduate of National Institute of Technology (NIT), Trichy.

Windows and doors say a lot about the buildings they are found in. “They tell us what a building was designed to be like. Though a very small component of a building, a window says a lot about the style of architecture and which period they belong to, among many other things,” he says.

An illustration, representing the architectural style of George Town, from the series

An illustration, representing the architectural style of George Town, from the series   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

His research began with the websites of the Heritage Conservation Committee. The list comprising the city’s heritage buildings was his main reference point for Sunil. “It was when I was researching these buildings, that I came across how each area in the city was developed in a different time. For instance, Triplicane was developed during the time of the Pallavas while George Town took form during the Colonial era...,” he continues. Many communities have lived in Chennai at different time periods. While these people are no longer here to tell the stories, buildings remain our only gateway to the past. “Every locality has a different character,” says Sunil. For instance, how many of us know that Kilpauk was once known as ‘Little Korea’ due to the Korean population that once resided here?

An illustration, representing the architectural style of Nungambakkam, from the series

An illustration, representing the architectural style of Nungambakkam, from the series   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

The minimalist look was a conscious decision, he says. Simple shades, less detailing —“When people look into it, I want them to realise its beauty without being distracted.”

Of all the 27 localities that Sunil has studied so far, Shenoy Nagar stands out, thanks to the story behind it. This was the first planned locality in Chennai post-Independence. His illustration of Shenoy Nagar depicts a window painted in sandalwood and ‘Ramar’ blue shades with ventilators. The insets are curved and slightly extended.

Sunil Raghavendher K

Sunil Raghavendher K   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

“For Shenoy Nagar, I had done the illustration of the Housing Board building’s window (it is not considered as a heritage building). A Government officer named Mr Shenoy was the one who developed this area. When the Housing Board Complex was being designed, he had sent designers for a case study to Paris and the USSR, in the 1950s!” Sunil says, adding that such a complex design process and referencing is not likely to have happened in the history of Chennai; that too for a housing board complex.

Windows of Madras can be viewed @sunil_raghav on Instagram

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 10:26:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/chennai-architect-explores-the-citys-windows-through-illustrations/article31632333.ece

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