Multi-faceted with a pinch of everything from its culture to the artistry to the intricate details, Chennai is a must-visit destination for any architect exploring India. Possessing a strong architectural value and craftsmanship, the place amuses the place from top to bottom. The ornately carved temples, the gothic and British influenced churches, and the traditional rich unique style of Chennai towns, villages and domestic structures together bring out the transformative architectural and cultural style of Chennai. The place is a must-visit not only to learn and wander through a phase in history but also to analyze the need for conservation of such marvels.
Listing below fifteen wonders of the place that is mandatory to be on your bucket list.
1. MADRAS HIGH COURT COMPLEX
Being one of the oldest court buildings in the country, the Madras high court is designed in Indo-saracenic style with locally available terracotta tiles, brick and ornate moldings. Supervised and designed by Henry Irwin, the structure amuses us with its bold red color and turreted stature. And to not miss noticing are the two lighthouses, probably oldest in the nation, proving the expertise of local craftsmen at work, one Doric with travertine and another placed above the main dome of the primary building in the complex.
2. SANTHOME CHURCH
The Santhome church is one of three churches built over the tombs of the beloved apostles of Jesus after the ones in Vatican City and Spain. It beholds the tomb of Saint Thomas and was constructed during the British times in the Neo-gothic pattern. You are going to be in awe at first sight with its sharp and striking white color and bold pointing pinnacles. The awe is bound to be transformed into serenity and calmness as you enter the structure with a dark brown ceiling, arches and vaults imbibing the spirituality right into your soul.
3. KAPALEESHWARAR TEMPLE
Chennai is known for its highly ornamented temples and shrines. The Kapaleeshwarar is one of the amazing lot with incredible details and an exquisite monumentality. Built by the rulers of the Tuluva Dynasty, this temple that accommodates shrines of Lord Shiva was accomplished in the Dravidian architectural aura. Like any other Dravidian temple in the Mylapore district of Chennai, the tall gopurams and vishwakarmas will take your breath away. The carvings of bulls, elephants and peacocks on the vahanas in the complex are magic in the sense of proportion and scale. Though the actual history goes back to 1300 allegedly made by the Portuguese, the temple that we see today is a new one built 300 years back.
4. FORT, ST. GEORGE
The fort is the epicenter of the Chennai and the major reason for the existence of the town that surrounds it today. The new town was then an uninhabited land and this metamorphosis was initiated by the construction of the British-style fortress, first of its kind in the country. This building serving the administrative sector today has six meters tall walls embellished in white. It encompasses a church, a museum, a banquet hall named the Wellesley House and a teak 460-meter tall flagstaff. This military marvel has bold black columns and golden ornamentation portraying the pride and power it bears.
Being the oldest library in the nation, the Higginbothams was built by the British to sell stationeries and publish their papers and leaflets. The brand has now expanded into fifteen more branches all over India. It stands profound along the major highway of Mount Road with whitewashed walls with articulations and a deep brown ceiling similar to the British churches. It has doors made of locally proclaimed oak wood and windows painted with natural stains. The colonial outlook of the whole structure is an explicit sight to view. The interiors are kept royal with spiral staircases, wooden shelves and, black-white mosaic tiles.
6. VIVEKANANDAR ILLAM
This structure upholds the educational viability of the state and the country and stays witness to many reforms and teachings. The building which was once the ice storage unit of a failed business was then sold out by the British. The current name is considered a pay of respect to the Indian monk Swami Vivekananda owing to his stay at this place during a visit to the town. Since then, this has been a venue for different classes and workshops by reformers like RS Subhalakshmi and others. The arched windows and circular planning of the building express the Victorian charm it holds. This two-storied structure is now open to visitors taking them through a journey of how Vivekananda lived and practiced.
7. CONNEMARA PUBLIC LIBRARY
Located in the museum complex run by the government, this library building dates back to the culminating phase of the British rule. The time of its construction plays a pivotal role in the architectural unity that is visible. From the indo-saracenic structure to the neo-gothic details to the Mughal essences, this marvel is the perfect study piece for every architect.
8. THOUSAND LIGHTS MOSQUE
Worshipped by the Shia community of Muslims, this mosque is one of the largest in the nation. Designed and constructed by the Wallajah family, the multiple domes over the roof blow your breath away. With long pirated minarets and Quran inscribed interior walls, this place is lit with colors and grandeur during the times of Muharram. Highly influenced by the mosques in the Middle East, the Islamic pattern of a larger single dome with four smaller ones at corners is followed.
9. CHOLAMANDAL ARTISTS’ VILLAGE
Named after the Chola dynasty as a tribute for their contributions to art and craft, this village is a large artist’s commune working towards the betterment and upliftment of the local artisans and craftspersons with the intervention of modernism into the traditional art forms. The initiative was taken by KCS Paniker, an artist and reformer leading the Madras Arts Movement. He believed in creating a sustainable agenda for art giving out a unique interpretation to modern art. Designed by the Shilpa Architects, the vision was to keep the trees and sculptures and bring up the walls and structures above, beneath and through them. With exposed brick and concrete, the contemporary style was envisioned for the building and this very well complemented the art displayed beneath its day-lit roofs.
10. VALLUVAR KOTTAM
This edifice is an icon of stature named in memory of poet Valluvar and located at a notable intersection in Nungambakkam village depicting a lake that is at this moment lost. With a prominently engraved arch gate, the monument has a large hall for ceremonies and programs. It conceptualizes the book ‘Thirukural’ with inscriptions of its 1330 characters in the balcony ending with a few of its words. Ar. Ganapathi Sthapati also visualized the vehicle carried by gracious elephants and on wheels to magnify the importance of the literature form.
11. LIC BUILDING
Amidst all the rich carvings and intricate details, the LIC building is a treat to the modern architects. The framework of concrete columns, slabs and brick or steel walls was used for the first time in the region on this project taking a break from the local brick and lime plaster construction methods. On completion, it was the highest with fifteen floors among the skyscrapers of the country.
12. DAKSHINA CHITRA MUSEUM
The Dakshina Chitra museum is designed as a heritage village showcasing the culture and rich talent of Tamil Nadu. The portrayal of architecture, art, dance, music and religious rituals are done with great precision and originality. For example, to show the architecture of the place, a few older dwellings like Agraharams and Naalukettu were relocated from the suburbs to the museum campus. Craftsmanship is well displayed with exhibitions and workshops to not let the art form die. This destination is a must-visit for any architect interested in heritage and conservation of local sustenance.
13. VELANKANNI SHRINE BASILICA
This is a shrine to Mary and emphasizes the ‘Kodimaram’ meaning the intersection of two major religions of Catholic Christianity and Hinduism. The gothic style of architecture planned in the shape of a Latin cross with three chapels is enhanced further with the white polish and red-tiled ceiling that covers the structure. Initiated by the Portuguese, this marvel is a magnet for pilgrims from all around the world.
14. UNIVERSITY OF MADRAS
The University of Madras campus dating back to 1857 is an inevitable destination for any architect. With the fierce red brick and sandstone work and the monumental scale, the structure is a blessing to the land of Chennai. Blending the indo-saracenic, byzantine and European architectural details, and the campus stands apart from the bustling city. Not to forget, the famous Senate House is located at the locus of this campus.
15. ISKCON TEMPLE CHENNAI
This temple in white is comparatively newer than the others mentioned here. Built in 2012, the structure is spliced into five levels and devoted to Lord Krishna. Be it the Bhumandala on the marble floor at the entrance of the temple or the altar carved in teak wood or the sculpture of a cow feeding its offspring, this place amuses the visitors at a glance. Based on the Vastu Shastra principles of planning, the entire energy of spiritually is visualized as a chandelier with quartz crystals.