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Chennai, a rich amalgamation of various architectural styles

A deserted look of the Kamarajar Salai near Marina Beach during the lockdown in Chenna, on June 22, 2020.   | Photo Credit: K. Pichumani

From monumental structures and residences to public buildings that make up the fabric of a city, buildings play a key role in rendering architectural identity to a city, and impact the daily lives of its residents.

In its journey of transformation from Madras to Chennai, the bustling metropolitan city has also witnessed several changes in its architectural styles and landscapes. Chennai is a myriad mix of heritage structures and modern buildings and has imbibed various architectural styles as it evolved over the decades. Every period in its history reveals a specific style of architecture.

Though the city is home to several styles such as Portugese and French, the indo-saracenic style of architecture predominant particularly in the public buildings, has defined the essence of the city. Describing Kamarajar Salai as the heritage corridor of the city, officials of the Buildings Centre and Conservation Division, Public Works Department, noted that the arterial road along the Marina beach had magnificent buildings lined up, including the Chepauk Palace, the University of Madras and the Madras High Court.

Built in 1768, Kalas Mahal was part of the Chepauk Palace. The locality Chepauk was named after the palace that was said to have had six gardens. R.F. Chisholm, one of the pioneers of the indo-saracenic style, had designed several such iconic red buildings that had well-ventilated large halls surrounded by courtyards. The Victoria Public Hall and the historic bookstore Higginbothams were also designed by him.

“He had blended Mughal and Indian vernacular styles of architecture and used local construction techniques of brick, lime mortar and wood. Imported iron columns were later used in interiors of the structures,” the official added.

During the early 1900s, several buildings constructed in neo-classical and art deco style dotted the urbanscape, including the iconic Ripon building that houses the Greater Chennai Corporation and EID Parry’s building, also called Dare House in George Town.

The early 20th century also saw the rise of some of the pioneering modern architects such as L.M. Chitale and Bennett Pithavadian, who contributed to many landmarks of Chennai.

Mr. Chitale had designed several structures that withstood the test of time, including A.C. College of Technology, Raja Annamalai Hall, Esplanade and the towering Life Insurance Corporation building on Anna Salai. While R.R. Sharma was instrumental in designing the Madras University Centenary Auditorium, the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium was one of the landmarks designed by Pithavadian and Partners during Bennett Pithavadian’s time.

Private buildings

Private heritage buildings and residences also play a significant role in defining the character of the neighbourhoods. Ashmitha Athreya, Head (Research and Operations), Madras Inherited, said many private residences also had influences of British-European architecture like the Luz House. Places like T. Nagar and Gandhi Nagar had many art-deco style houses with emphasis on curves and vertical lines.

“There has been literary evidence that merchants tried to emulate the Indo-Saracenic style in residences in George Town as well. But we are losing out on such private structures,” she said.

By the time of the post-liberalisation era and with the advent of IT companies, the city’s architecture moved away from aesthetic style and lacked a sense of neighbourhood, according to urban designers.

Biju Kuriakose, urban designer and architect from Architecture Red, said many of these large buildings with glass facades were constructed without a response to the climate or context of the city. They don’t define the character or distinct flavour of the locality like the structures along Rajiv Gandhi Salai.

However, after 2005, there has been increased consciousness about the environment and socially sustainable buildings.

“We need to have better building regulations, insisting on environment-friendly structures with features like green roofs,” he added.

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 3:42:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/chennai-a-rich-amalgamation-of-various-architectural-styles/article32451353.ece

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