Saturday, July 22, 2006

Madras Skyline

Perusing thro' The Hindu this morning, i was immediately struck with this title in the last page of one of the supplements. "Government buildings are creatively challenged" was the article by Sri A Srivathsan which can be found at

"Government buildings in Chennai look irresponsible and are bereft of architectural merits." was the catch line. It just left me wondering as to whether i could agree more with the writer.

Like expected from the title, the article was focusing on faulty architecture of most mordern government structures of the city skyline. The author was also a bit critical about some of the structures from the Anglical rule, which is where i beg to differ.

The oldest buildings that exist in the city, today, are those which belong to the British Era. This is of course, discounting some of the city temples which defintely are older and need a dedicated post, may be some other time.

The idea to have tower like structures for the Govt General Hospital is acceptable. Only if it is going to gel with the rest of the structures on that road. not otherwise. A tower like structure with glass panes seriously looks dumb.


Here is the central station which is right opposite to this building.


Coming back the author's criticism of the buildings of the british era, as i said earlier, i have to differ from him. I believe some of the buildings that were built during that period were actually good. The Central and Egmore railway stations, the older Royapuram Railway Station, the Fort St George, the Govt Museum Complex, the Madras University Senate House, the presidency college, the police headquarters are all buildings of their period. In fact, the list is defintely longer that what i have listed. And quite a handful of them are well designed and accomodative to renovation without marring the beauty of the super structure. Here are three examples. One is the Presidency College.


a second is the forgotten Victoria Public Hall. This was such a popular Town Hall which is in shatters now. It exists right next to the Central Station. I am sure, none of the readers would have ever spotted.


and the other is the building called Ice House. It was built to store Ice during the british era and was later used for other purposes as well. It claimed its fame and was renovated by the govt recently for Swami Vivekananda had stayed there for a few days. It is now a memorial to Swami Vivekananda.


I can find pictures of all such buildings and put them up one after another adding two lines of whatever i know about each of them. Not right now, probably a second part would be there for this post.

There are some more buidings in the city, about which i am not sure when they were made. Leading this pack is the Chepauk Palace. Sadly, this bulding is hidden inside a host of other buildings built later around it. You dont get the same look of the place one apparently used to get from the marina beach. It is hardly visible from the beach these days.

chepauk palace

The second such structure is the Amir Mahal. Which is the palace where the Nawab of Arcot still lives. This is defintely still maintained as a palace with a central palace and some supplimentary buidings, a mosque and a big courtyard. A guarded decorated entrance and all that still exists. Sadly, i cant get pictures bigger than thumbnails of this place to put up here.

The third such building is what was called the Santhome Palace. This was a palace belonging to the Mysore Maharajas and later went to the britishers and then it is now the Russian Embassy. So, pics are not going to be possible.

Some of Madras' old buildings do look good and are well designed is what i would say. To talk of new buildings well, i have to go back to the aforementioned article and say that Chennaites have to be put up with architectural embrassments. So much so that, somewhere down the line, they would come and say, lets pull down the old buildings and make them suit the mordern day architecture.

nice post ....... you know your city well :)
nice post.
would be nicer if you could write a detailed one...
Nice post...
I have seen the Victoria hall. I was very impressed. In fact the whole of the museum complex is a lovely place. except for the bronzes place and that one other new hall. they stick out like sore thumbs.
we can say much the same about the new buildings on campus. they all look as if the architect had gone to sleep on the drawing board. In a word bad. they are also extremely inefficient. For example, Himalaya has a totally pointless central courtyard.
which is a triangular space of significant size.
hey...never knew that there are so many buildings around this place. got to go and see them one day. was always wondering why bus-stops like santhome/ice-house existed...did not know the funda behind their names. now, everything semi-clear!!!
Nice and informative post!
sorry for this spam but as i could find ur email id i had no other option
I plan to start a community blog for IIT Madras on the lines of metroblogs. It will be a blog and not a news or discussion forum. People would be free to write anything but not on the lines of eboard, basically free of controversies. Perhaps a mirror for the outside world and also insiders. So shall i count you in? And please pass this message to others who blog.

Bharath, this comment is to inform you that you have been TAGGED ! Read this post for details. Looking forward to reading your reading preferences.
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