Kasturi Buildings: A tour through the premises

The grihapravesam ceremony of this building was performed on November 25, 1939, as per Hindu traditions

Updated - August 11, 2023 08:38 pm IST

Published - August 10, 2023 04:18 pm IST

A view of the office building of The Hindu. File

A view of the office building of The Hindu. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Named as ‘Kasturi Buildings’ after S. Kasturiranga Iyengar, the late Editor of The Hindu, the office of The Hindu Group located on Anna Salai in Chennai is one of the iconic landmarks of the capital city.

According to a report published in The Hindu on December 7, 1939, the building’s architect was H. Fellowes Prynne, A.R.I.B.A., of M/s Jackson and Barker, Chartered Architects, Madras who was responsible for the design of the building and the interior decoration. Engineer N.R. Srinivasan of M/s The Modern Construction Co, Madras was in-charge of the construction work.

Here’s the article on the Kasturi Buildings, published on December 12, 1939:

From The Archives: December 12, 1939 | A tour through the premises

An elaborate article on newly-inaugurated Kasturi Buildings was published in The Hindu on December 12, 1939.

An elaborate article on newly-inaugurated Kasturi Buildings was published in The Hindu on December 12, 1939. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

A small cream-coloured turret rising clear above neighbouring buildings and standing prominently against the green foliage of trees fringing the riverside catch the eye as one goes down Mount Road towards Government House and the Willingdon Bridge. On nearer approach, the picture spreads out and the stately pile of the Kasturi Buildings emerges fully into view.

The deep and light cream of the walls with a plinth of dark brown, relieved by slender pilasters rendered with green in-situ mosaic, make a striking colour combination with the green of the park behind and the azure of the tropical sky. 

There is a beauty about the tall and graceful facade of the structure and a harmony about the cream and green mosaic pilasters that is at once simple and pleasing. But, more than the beauty of form or the harmony of tones, there is a soft charm and a quiet dignity about the new buildings of “The Hindu” which holds the eye and delights the heart.

The projecting piers flanking the main entrance are lined with black Vitrolite glass relieved by narrow hands of cream Vitrolite and scoured by stainless steel strips. These with the massive verandah columns rendered in green against the light cream colorerete suggest a refreshing colour contrast. 

The illuminated building of the office of The Hindu on the occasion of the 125th anniversary celebration in Chennai in 2003. File

The illuminated building of the office of The Hindu on the occasion of the 125th anniversary celebration in Chennai in 2003. File | Photo Credit: Vino John

A cantilever canopy projecting twelve feet beyond the face of the building has been constructed in reinforced concrete. the facia treated with cream in-situ mosaic and the reinforced concrete slab fitted with glass lenses.

Entering the ground floor hall up the front steps of black marble with golden veins, the very first object that greets the eye of the visitor is the picture in oil on an artistically finished pedestal to the left against the daintily finished wall, of Mr. S. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar – full of serene dignity. It is appropriate that the likeness of one to whom “The Hindu” owes its present position should adorn the entrance hall. The entrance door of massive moulded teak frame, wrought with ornamental chrome-plated grilles and fitted with anodium handles, has a polished finish of sprayed Duco clear lacquer. The teak and glazed screen opposite with two doors with double action floor hinges separates the business offices from the public space. The screen and the shutters are finished with Duro lacquer and in between the shutters is the cash counter. The flooring of the hall is grey marble with black border and skirting.

To the right of the hall and opposite to the oil painting are the enquiry counter, the flight of steps in white marble of the main staircase, the entrance to the lift with the door painted glossy maroon, within an arch of in-situ mosaic, and fitted with attractively simple chromium-plated grilles on both faces with a clear sheet glass in between. The Marryat & Scott lift serves to reach the second floor with similar entrances on each floor, while the main stairway goes one flight further with its treads of in-situ mosaic in white. The entrances to the staircase and the enquiry counter are arched over with wrought iron grilles of a pleasing design tinted to a copper hue in the ground floor and gold in the first. The ground floor contains the general and private offices of the Business and Administrative Departments. The General Office running east to west has verandahs on either side with broad open spaces outside and the Crittall Steel and Glazed Casements and ventilators on top leave nothing to be desired in the matter of light and air. The private offices on either side of the hall have verandahs on both sides connecting the Halt and the General Office. At the north-end is the library furnished with steel-shelving on two tiers by Messrs. Godrej and Boyce to accommodate thousands of volumes. The olive green of the steel with the pastel of the walls and ceiling treated with Dulux-Eggshell and the green and brown masonite floor produce an effect quite soothing to the nerves. 

A letter written by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to The Hindu’s Editor Kasturi Srinivasan Iyengar when the organisation was celebrating its diamond jubilee.

A letter written by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to The Hindu’s Editor Kasturi Srinivasan Iyengar when the organisation was celebrating its diamond jubilee. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

At the ends are private staircases leading to the Proprietors’ offices and adjoining rooms on the north and the heads of departments on the south. In the rear is another staircase for the staff. These stairs have polished Shahabad treads and handrails and the walls are finished to a colour scheme of green in the front and pink in the rear. The colour schemes of the walls and dado of the main staircase are in tone with that of the entrance halls of the connected floors. The four staircases and the electric lift afford quick and easy access to every part of this block. 

 Reaching the first floor hall by the lift-car with panels of teak veneer and rosewood beadings, one’s attention is divided between the busts in bronze of Mr. S. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar and Mr. G. Subramania Aiyar, and a map of the world. This is a fret-work carried out by Messrs. Spencer & Co., Ltd., to the Architect’s design in brown Masonite against a background of horizon blue studded here and there with bright round pins as if indicating the important capitals. The legends “The Hindu”, “The World’s News” and the Compass, in chromium-plated metal are very attractive. The flooring here is terrazo with a star design as also in the second floor hall. All these halls with extensive plaster mouldings exquisitely done by the General contractors arc painted with Dulux-Eggshell finish. On the road front of the hall is a tall steel casement opening into a small balcony and against the Colorcrete rendering stands the mono- gram of “The Hindu” executed in relief by Mr. Nagappa.

Separated by a teak and glazed screen finished in the same style as the ground floor are the Editorial Offices corresponding to the Business and Administrative Offices below, with balconies on either side. A teak and masonite partition runs across the breadth of the office, the corridor between serving the Assistant Editors’ Room on the one side and the Editorial and Reporting Sections on the other. A desirable feature here is the provision of two cubicles where visitors can meet the members of the Editorial staff.

A view of of the office building of The Hindu at Anna Salai in Chennai. File

A view of of the office building of The Hindu at Anna Salai in Chennai. File | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

The Proprietors’ Offices which are served by a private staircase on the north have been exquisitely furnished. With a flat suspended ceiling above, finished with Victorite plaster and light green distemper, and the walls panelled with Venesta teak veneer framed with Burmah teak with simple mouldings, these Offices on the first and second floors have floorings of Masonite boards in brown and green in tone with the panelling and distemper. Attached to the Private Offices are retiring and bath rooms on one side and the Secretary’s room on the other.

The hall of the second floor opens to the south into a spacious Reception room which again opens by a four-fold door into another retiring room. The scheme for these rooms is green; the mosaic floors, the walls, the ceilings and the lift entrance, the delightful shades of green of the inside treatment of this floor, are all the more pleasing by virtue of the big open terrace in view, which is the root of the Editorial Offices. The Editorial Conference Room here has the familiar cream colour of the Editorial Departments below.

In the third floor is a hail, a water-closet and a room where the lift motor has been erected. This floor is finished with red cement flooring and cream coloured distemper. At the roof level of this door are the Staybrite letters “Hindu” with orange coloured Neon Sign.

A report published in The Hindu  on November 25, 1939 on the grihapravesam ceremony of this building.

A report published in The Hindu on November 25, 1939 on the grihapravesam ceremony of this building.

Over the roof, a pressed steel tank has been erected from which the various water-supply systems are fed.

The rooms at the southern end in the ground floor and first floor are finished in the same manner as the corresponding entrance balls. The treatment of the principal rooms consist of mosaic floors of different colours with distempered walls. The outside verandahs of the front block finished with distemper to a colour which presents a subdued background for the darker shades for relief. Externally the Administration Block has been treated with concrete rendering and is the first building in Madras to adopt this treatment.

A bird’s eye view of city from the buildings

From these apartments one emerges into the sunlit open terrace on the west spread over entire length of the building or descends through another flight of steps on the roof from whence a glorious bird’s eye view of the city can be had. An extensive Island Grounds, spanned in the straight stretch of Mount Road leading to the Fort glacis and dominated by the equestrian statue of Sir Thomas Munro, seems to lie at the very foot of the buildings, Casting the eye further on, across the array of town and domes of George Town, one catches a glimpse of the harbour with a crowd of masts and cranes and the calm waters of the Royapuram creek glittering in the sun. Through the smoke and dust of that part of the town, one sees a dull green line of trees suggesting the village of Tiruvottiyur. Passing along the line, the vision extends on the west to the landmarks in Parambur and Vepery, the chimneys of the mills in the neighbourhood.

The towers of the Kirk of the St. Andrews and the Loyola College, a little to the south, attract the eye. Thick groves of trees indicate the proximity of the garden suburbs of Nungambakkam and Mambalam and the Cooum seems to zig-zag in the foreground in and out of this maze of roofs, trees and roads. Far in the rear, the hill of St. Thomas stands out against the sky. Little more than a mound it seems. Turning round one could recognise parts of Guindy, Adyar and San Thome. The vast expanse of blue to the east, studded with small fishing craft, the breakers rising and falling in long white lines, the fore-shore, and the Marina stretching from San Thome to the Fort and the line of magnificent buildings along its entire length constitute one of the most beautiful sights of Madras. The vast foreshore of glittering sand between the road and the sea seems to have shrunk to diminutive proportions and the cars and men moving along the road, the breakers of the sea – all seem to have lost motion – so slow they appear to move at that distance and altitude.

General lay-out

Casting one’s eyes down, one could see the Kasturi Buildings spreading out in two blocks in the shape of a T the horizontal arm facing the road and the vertical extending into an L which forms the Press Department.

The lay-out of the buildings has been determined by the shape of the site on which it stands. Extending over three acres, the property runs longitudinally from, and with an oblique frontage to, Mount Road. Between the wing of the administrative block and the Press Departments, a wide open space is left on the south, which has contributed so largely to the airiness of the entire buildings. Beautiful lawns with a central fountain and pathways around will soon be laid out here and when completed this feature will enhance the beauty of the premises and add one more amenity to the many provided here. Well laid asphalted roads run round the buildings and open also on the north-west into Ritchie Street.

The two blocks

From the administrative offices on the ground floor of the front block of the buildings, a passage leads to the process department located in the hall running east to west in the Press Department of the buildings. A similar passage connects the Editorial Department on the first floor of the administrative block with the composing department on the first floor of the Press block. In the building which forms the horizontal arm of the L to the west is erected the Duplex Rotary Press machine which rises to a height of two floors. Close by, on the ground floor, is an ante-chamber for stocking immediate supplies of paper reels for feeding the machine.

Access to the Reel Store on the one side and the hall and the Time Office on the other is provided from the roadway on the north by a covered passage which extends into an open yard. Here is fitted a jib crane for hoisting machinery parts on to the first floor direct from the lorries. The hall, which is centrally situated, gives direct access to the Process Department, Time Office, and the staff water-closets and lockers and a staircase reaching to the first floor leads on one side by a verandah into the Casting and Finishing Section and the Composing Hall on the other.

The entire plan of these buildings, the different floor levels, the arrangements in the several departments are all executed with an eye to facility and speed of movement from the Sub-Editors’ table to the rotary machine and on to the despatch section.

In the northern half of the hall occupied by the Process Department are erected the dark rooms of the photographic department. These have been so planned as to secure good ventilation while effectively shutting out light for photographic purposes. The equipment of the dark rooms is of up-to-date-type. Adjacent to these is the camera section, the etching and finishing departments, the rooms occupied by the artists and the stock rooms.

The Press Superintendent will occupy the room at the head of the Composing Hall on the first floor close to the passage from the Editorial department in the front block.

The Composing Hall is one of the biggest halls for a news office being about 150 ft. in length and 32 ft. in width. There is enough accommodation here for locating all the composing machines of “The Hindu” with provision for future expansion. Two service verandahs skirting an open courtyard lead from the Hall to the casting and finishing room which, in turn, opens into the Press room, giving access to the gallery erected around the rotary machine. The running of the machine can be viewed from the main hall itself through two openings provided in the wall. Thus the contiguity of the composing and other departments to the printing press and the very many arrangements connected with these make for the speedy transit of material from one section to the next and thus make for the expeditious production of the newspaper.

The Press Room is cut off by fire-proof steel doors on either side of openings from the adjoining rooms and the whole of the Works Department is separated from the offices, by similar doors on either floor.

“Newspaper Kiosk” 

The front boundary on Mount Road is defined by a wall of Sholingur stone with wrought iron sailings and gates and situated at one end is a newspaper kiosk where sales can be conducted and in which the daily posters and photographs can be viewed by the public. Panels of glass-bricks have been introduced into the outer walls which when illuminated from inside, will form an attractive advertising medium.

Auxillary Units

Running parallel to the Composing Room and on the opposite side of the service road, which runs the full length of the building is now being construsted a two-storied building, containing a garage for ten cars, Medical Officer’s and First Aid Rooms on the ground floor and a staff refreshment room on the first floor.

On the rear boundary of the premises, with its frontage on Ritchie Street, is the Electrical Sub-station, which provides the bulk supply of Alternating Current for light and power. The equipment has been erected by the General Electric Company (India) Limited, Madras, and we gratefully acknowledge the advice and technical guidance of the Madras Electric Supply Corporation, in the planning of the unit.

A shed which was formerly the workshop of the Ford Motor Company has now been renovated and forms the paper godown. The flooring now is cement concrete which renders the shed vermic proof, an essential factor for the storage of paper. The shed has a floor area of about 20,000 sq. ft. and is accessible from all sides by sliding doors.

Sanitary equipment furnished on the premises is of the best type. Wash basins in different parts of the buildings, water closets, bath rooms and shower bath for the staff and the workers have been fitted in on both floors of the two blocks, and a copious supply of water is served from an over-head tank erected on the roof, into which water is pumped from an underground storage tank. An elaborate system of pipelines runs round the buliding and to the different departments with hydrants. Fire extinguishers are also fixed at a number of points in the several blocks.

Ventilation inside the building is ideal. A large number of windows and artistically designed wrought iron grilles admit plenty of fresh air into the vast halls and also the interior rooms. The planning of the Press Room has been done with special care for securing coolness for the running of high power machinery and arrangements for insulation of the walls against heat and vibration have also been executed with considerable care. Scores of electric fans and exhausts help to keep the halls and rooms cool.

The wide open spaces available all round the building admit plenty of natural light into the entire building and the longitudinal shape of the building is, in this connection, a great advantage.

Stock brick in cement mortar has been used for the walls of the building and for the general offices; but where the maximum floor area was required, reinforced cement concrete frame work has been adopted. All the floors and roofs of the building are of reinforced cement concrete.

The Architect was Mr. H. Fellowes Prynne, A.R.I.B.A., of Messrs. Jackson and Barker, Chartered Architects, Madras, who was responsible for the design of the building and all the interior decoration.

The General Contractors were Messrs. The Modern Construction Co., Madras, and their engineer Mr. N.R. Srinivasan, B.E., was in charge of the entire work.

The following business houses have been associated with the construction and equipment of the buildings: Messrs, N.V. Abdulla Sahib (timber); S. Akbarali Haiderali and Co. (hardware); the Beehive Foundry Engineering Works Lid. (wrought iron grilles, steel sliding doors, collapsible gates, nickel-plated supports for staircase, hand rails, lettering ‘Kasturi Buildings’, etc.); Binny & Co. (Madras) Ltd. (Braithwaite’s pressed steel tank); the Bombay Engineering Works (chromium-plated, grilles and letters); Crompton Engineering Co. Ltd. (electrical installation of the General offices, fans); R. Ethirajiah & Sons (glass for steci casements); General Electric Company (India) Ltd (transformers, sub-station equipment); Gillanders Arbuthnot & Co., (Dulux paints for steel casements, joinery and wall-paints; Godrej and Boyce (strong-door, steel racks and Library shelves); Gordon Wuodroffe & Co. (Madras) Ltd., and Osler (Marryat & Scott electric lift installation); Heatly & Gresham Ltd. (B.R.C. fabric, B.R.C. weld-mesh, Gibbons’ joinery fittings, Dennison Kett rolling shutters, Victorite cement); the India Electric Works Ltd. (electric fans); Jwala Singh (electrical installation of Lino, Steren and Process departments); William Jacks & Co. (Critiall casements, staybrite steel ‘Hindu’ with Neon lights, waterproof and coloured cement and Venesta plywood); Maragathavalii Lorry Service, Nungambakkam (river sand); Mysindia Tiles and Engineering Company (mosaic tiles and marble); Parry & Co., Ltd. (Ruberoid saturated felt); Richardson & Cruddas (sanitary installation, mild steel rods, British rolled steel beams, Pilkington glass and Vitrolite); M. Sudarsanam Iyengar & Sons (timber logs); Sami Venkatachalam Chetti & Co. (Nilgiri brand cement); Sri Krishna Brick & Tile Works, Mylapore (bricks and pressed tiles); Spencer and Co. Ltd. (masonite fooring, masonite boards, Masonite World Map); Standard Vacuum Oil Company (Asphaltic cement); Tata, Iron and Steel Company [M.S. tested rods. R.S. tested beams]; Varadachari, St. Thomas Mount (Pallavaram. blue-granite); Wilson & Co. (Press Light fittings); Kerala Electric & Trading Co. G.T. (electrical materials); M. Gason (furniture); J.H. Tarapore (Asphalted roads); K.S. Shivit, & Co. (electric light fittings); Raval & Co. (mosaic in-situ plastering, and Terrazo floor);. and Simplex Concrete and Construction Co., of Bombay (color-crete work).

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