Architecture of Chennai

The Ripon Building, Chennai, an example of the Indo-Saracenic architectural style found in the city.

Chennai architecture is a confluence of many architectural styles. From ancient Dravidian temples built by the Pallavas, to the Indo-Saracenic style (pioneered in Madras) of the colonial era, to 20th century steel and chrome of skyscrapers. Chennai has a colonial core in the port area, surrounded by progressively newer areas as one travels away from the port, punctuated with old temples, churches and mosques.


Styles of architecture

The Government Museum, Egmore, in the Indo-Saracenic style.

Indo-Saracenic and colonial style

In the city, one can notice the British influence in the form of old Cathedrals and the mix of Hindu, Islamic and Gothic revival styles that resulted in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. Many of the colonial era buildings are designed in this Indo-Saracenic style. The colonial legacy of Chennai is most apparent in the vicinity of the Chennai port. South of the port is Fort St George. The stretch between the Fort and the port is occupied mostly by the High Court buildings and several clubs, some of which have existed since the British era. A little south of the Fort, across the Cooum River, is the Chepauk cricket stadium, another British staple, dating from 1916. North and west of the port is George Town, where dockyard workers and other manual labourers used to live. George Town is now a bustling commercial centre, but its architecture is significantly different from areas closer to the Fort, with narrower roads and tightly packed buildings. Most of the colonial style buildings are concentrated in the area around the Chennai port and Fort St George. The remaining parts of the city consist of primarily modern architecture in concrete, glass and steel.

Tamil style

A house constructed in the 1930s

Some residential areas like Tiruvallikeni (Triplicane) and Mylapore have several houses dating from the early 20th century, especially those far removed from arterial roads. Many of them were built in the traditional Tamil style, with four wings surrounding a square courtyard, and tiled sloping roofs. In sharp contrast, the apartment buildings along the larger roads in the same areas were built in 1990 or later.

Notable buildings

Chennai Central Station

Many historic buildings are still fully functional and host government, business or educational establishments.

Fort St. George

Built in 1639, Fort St George, used to house the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and Secretariat, which have since moved nearby to a new complex on Anna Salai. Tipu Sultan's cannons decorate the ramparts of the Fort's museum. The Fort has the country's tallest flagstaff at a height of 150 feet.

Madras High Court

The Madras High Court is the largest judicial building in the world after the Courts of London. It is a good example of the Indo-Saracenic style and was completed in 1892.

Valluvar Kottam from the terrace of the exhibition hall.

Valluvar Kottam

The Valluvar Kottam, constructed in 1976, is an auditorium in memory of the poet-saint Thiruvalluvar. All 1330 verses of the poet's epic - the Thirukkural, are inscribed on the granite pillars that surround the auditorium. There is a 101-feet high temple chariot structure with a life-size image of the poet in it. The base of the chariot shows in bas-relief the 133 chapters of the Thirukkural.

Railway stations

There are a number of railway stations of interest in Chennai, primarily built throughout the colonial era. These include the Egmore Railway Station, the Royapuram Station dating from 1856, the Chennai Central Station dating from 1873 and the Southern Railway Headquarters built in 1922.

Other interesting buildings

The Government Museum (designed by Henry Irwin and completed in 1896), the Senate House of the Madras University and the College of Engineering, Guindy are some more examples of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture.

Other buildings of architectural significance are the Presidency College, built in 1840, the Ripon Building (now housing the Chennai Corporation) dating from 1913, The War Memorial, Vivekanandar Illam, The Museum Theatre and the Ramakrishna Math temple. Adjoining the Governor's residence (Raj Bhavan) at Guindy, there are five mandapams (or memorials) dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, the first Indian Governor General C Rajagopalachari, former Chief Ministers of the state Kamaraj and Bhaktavatsalam and one to Martyrs in general.

Urban Planning

Chennai city is arranged in a grid pattern running north-south and east-west. Roads and localities have undergone significant change in the late 20th century. Many areas along the western stretch of the city were planned development efforts, such as Ashok Nagar, KK Nagar and Anna Nagar. Several areas south of the Adyar River, including Kotturpuram, Besant Nagar and Adyar itself, have been developed only since the mid 1960s. Characteristic features of all these localities are their unusually wide roads and Cartesian grid layouts. Many of these places were remote suburbs when they were first developed.

Current urban development efforts are concentrated along the southern and western suburbs, largely seeking to benefit from the growing IT corridor in the southeast and the new ring roads in the west. The extent of the city's urban sprawl is indicated by the fact that the area administered by Chennai Corporation is 174 km² [1], while the total urbanized area is estimated to be over 1100 km² [2].


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