Madras HC’s heritage building undergoes major transformation

Efforts under way to restore the edifice to its 1892 look; heritage committee comprising judges has drawn up a blueprint for renovation

May 19, 2018 12:54 am | Updated December 01, 2021 06:13 am IST - CHENNAI

Renovation work underway in the iconic Chief Justices court hall in the 125-year-old heritage building of Madras High Court..Photo: Special Arrangement

Renovation work underway in the iconic Chief Justices court hall in the 125-year-old heritage building of Madras High Court..Photo: Special Arrangement

If there is a monument in the city that continues to be in use precisely for the purpose for which it was constructed more than a century ago, it is undoubtedly the 125-year-old heritage building of the Madras High Court. Every dome, turret, pillar, column, arch, minaret and staircase of the stately three-storeyed building exudes history.

The High Court has put the ongoing month-long summer vacation to best use by carrying out major civil works aimed at giving a facelift to the building and undoing the damage that had been caused to it over the years. The significant work under way at present is the renovation of the iconic Chief Justice’s court hall known for its lattice work-designed ceiling, beautiful wall dados, stained glass panels, and intricately carved woodwork.


A heritage committee chaired by Justice T.S. Sivagnanam and comprising Justices T. Raja, Pushpa Sathyanarayana, S. Vaidyanathan and C.V. Karthikeyan has decided to remove a red carpet that had been gathering dust in the court hall for the last few years and restore the original flooring by polishing it thoroughly.

Similarly, the entire teak wood furniture in the hall is being shorn off artificial paints and being polished for natural shine.

The court administration has begun ripping off the bland white floor tiles that were laid some years ago in the heritage building. They are being replaced with classic and colourful tiles manufactured by a Mumbai-based private firm which had supplied similar tiles for the renovation of the Raj Bhavan in Goa. As a precursor, the committee had laid those tiles in the majestic Justice Rajamannar hall and decided to replicate the look all over the court building.

Major plastering work has also been undertaken in the underbelly of a huge dome atop the grand quadrangle which leads to court hall numbers 8, 9, 10 and 11. The committee has ordered ripping off of unnecessary plastic pipelines laid on the wooden rafters on the ceiling to draw electric cables for various works. So far, around 60,000 metres of such cables had been removed, a public works department (PWD) official involved in the work says.

Tradition thrives

A court staffer says that it is a matter of great pride that an elevator installed in the heritage building by F&C Osler India on August 3, 1953 with a capacity to carry five persons or 750 pounds (around 340 kg) is still functional and was recently renovated to give back its antique look.

He says many practices of the past continue to resonate in the living monument. One such practice is the ringing of the bell by striking a heavy wooden club on a metal disc to denote the start of the working and closing hours of the court. So far, the court has not chosen to have a modern electric bell.

Apart from the interiors of the heritage buildings, the committee is working on the exteriors by breathing life into all the 22 domes in the heritage building. The National Research Laboratory for Conservation of Cultural Property (NRLC), functioning under the Union Ministry of Culture, had studied the intricate stucco work done on the domes for about a year and had completed the documentation recently. It has now begun restoring the domes to their old glory.

The original look

“What has been carried out is a massive exercise. The most challenging task is to undo the damage that had been caused to the building over the years without realising its heritage value. Nevertheless, the heritage committee has not left any stone unturned to ensure that the work gets completed as early as possible. If all things go well, soon we would get to see an exact replica of the court building that got inaugurated way back on July 12, 1892,” an exuberant member of the committee says.

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