Chennai architecture: A look at the architectural styles over the years

[] Chennai architecture has seen significant changes, ranging from ancient Dravidian constructions to classic European architecture.

Chennai is famous for its cuisine, music, films, the Marina Beach and vibrant festivals. This city, though, is much more than that and has some fine architecture structures. In terms of Chennai architecture there have been significant changes in the style and landscape, ranging from ancient Dravidian temples and constructions created by the Pallavas to classic European architecture. Chennai was the first city in India to adopt Victorian architecture. Every epoch in its history has defined a distinct architectural style, which has resulted in the formation of distinct types of building throughout that time and the same holds true for Chennai architecture.

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European style building as part of Chennai architecture

Chennai was one of the earliest British’s colonies in India. This resulted in the emergence of European architecture across the city, with the first structures serving purely practical purposes. This includes facilities such as warehouses, settlement posts and so on. Limestones and bricks were the most common basic materials utilised in such structures. Brick was used to construct the facilities, coated with thick lime. The façade was designed to look like it was built of stone. Most of the structures were designed to seem like renowned London structures created by great painters. Roman, Gothic, Neoclassical, and other European designs were the most common. Apart from the Mughals, the Europeans appear to have been the only ones who affected Chennai’s terrain. There are also several churches in the area.

Chennai architecture: A look at the architectural styles over the years

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Chennai architecture and the Indo-Saracenic style

By the end of the nineteenth century, the British had begun to incorporate many innovations in building styles, including the use of new raw materials such as concrete, glass, cast and wrought iron, and so on. This provided new opportunities. The British began taking different techniques to develop infrastructure using these robust raw materials. The Indo-Saracenic architectural style mixed Indian and European styles, with Islamic motifs thrown in for good measure (Mughal and Afghan). The Chepauk palace is said to be the first Indo-Saracenic structure. Other examples are the Madras High Court, Senate House, Victoria Memorial, etc. So, it is no wonder that constructions in Chennai have an uncommon blend of gothic cusped arches, domes, and minarets.

Chennai architecture: A look at the architectural styles over the years

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Art deco style architecture of Chennai

Between the 1930s and the 1940s, this worldwide architectural style thrived. Indo-Saracenic and Neo-Classical elements combine in this style. During that period, the Art Deco style was used to design various modern structures, including banks, media houses, and educational institutions. Huge homes built in the art deco style can be seen in several upscale areas in south Chennai. Bombay (now Mumbai), in addition to Madras (now Chennai), adopted this design during the time. Cantilever porches, sweeping curves, and tall vertical windows articulated the structures that adopted this design. Residential construction was also heavily impacted by this design. In the central locations, residential colonies began to follow row house layouts and construct luxurious bungalows. There are no outdoor verandas on these residences and structures. The Madras University adds attractive architecture to the list of famous Chennai architecture.

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Chennai architecture: A look at the architectural styles over the years

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Agraharam architecture of Chennai

Residential sections in Brahmin-dominated localities like Triplicane and Mylapore were dominated by Agraharam architecture. The row homes surrounding the temples were lined up on both sides of the street. The row homes were built in the traditional Chennai architecture, with central courtyards and sloping roofs, representing the community’s history and culture. Agraharams are now only found in large Brahmin neighbourhoods or a few temples.

Modern architecture gained prominence in the city after independence, as the average household’s discretionary income increased. From the early 1990s, there were new experiments with structures, with solid designs taking centrestage. The old style of Chennai architecture is slowly fading away with economic liberalisation and industrialisation and the only sites where heritage structures remain are mostly public buildings.

Chennai architecture: A look at the architectural styles over the years

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Category: Lifestyle

Debora Berti

Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT

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