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Vol. XXIX No. 5, June 16-30, 2019

Adieu to an Architect

by R.V. Rajan

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The auditorium of the Shri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, designed by SL Chitale in the 1970s.

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S.L. Chitale

Chennai has become poorer with the loss of one more pillar of Chennai Society. S.L. Chitale, popularly known as ‘Krish’ to his legion of friends and well-wishers, succumbed to Cancer on 20th May, 2019. He was 87. The second generation of the well-known architectural firm, Chitale & Son, Krish was known not only for path breaking designs for buildings but also for his architectural ethics. Between 1952 and 2003, the year Krish handed over the mantle to his son Kapil Chitale, he was actively involved in designing landmark buildings in South India and also gaining reputation as a socially committed human being, who worked relentlessly for the uplift of the downtrodden and needy. This article is all about his beliefs as an architect.

Comparing the difference between the style of designing buildings during his and his father’s time, he had said,“in my father’s time the emphasis was on symmetry and grandeur. But the buildings that I have designed are all different because I believe good design implies change. You cannot see a Chitale stamp in my buildings. Each one will be different. Besides, I pay a lot of attention to wind directions and how to make the best use of natural light. Much before green buildings became a hot topic Krish was already following some of the basic principles of green designs.

Krish also believed that every building should have its own identity created by simple and expressive architecture corresponding to its specific functions and location. Kothari Building on Nungambakkam High Road was one of the first buildings in Chennai, which used sun control louvers. In Tarapore Tower, another landmark building on Anna Salai he used solid fireproof walls between individual shops, so that any conflagration could be contained.

Krish was also known for his desire for the preservation of heritage in the city. He once said,” I am a die-hard believer in conserving heritage buildings. I have made sure that whenever we renovate such buildings, we respect them for what they are because they are our history”. Among the many heritage preservation projects that he was involved in, was renovation of the Library and District Boardroom of the Freemasons Hall, Egmore. Two other edifices that bear proof of Krish`s passion for heritage were the HSBC Building (Rajaji Salai) & Standard Chartered Bank (Armenian Street). Only the interiors were redesigned to suit the requirements of modern offices. One of the recent projects of the company where effort was taken to retain heritage values is the 100 years old ELSONS Garments located next to India Silk House on Anna Salai.

Krish never compromised on his work. On Vastu he told a client, — ‘I don’t believe in it. Yes, we must respect tradition; but it was an ancient science based on knowledge and technology of that time. Some of it is not relevant today because we have changed, our lifestyle has changed and so also our cities.” According to his son Kapil, in later years he began relenting and accommodating clients’ requests to design buildings which were Vastu compliant.
When someone asked him how his design incorporated sustainability, he retorted, “that is a lot of hogwash floated by people who don’t understand architecture. What do you think they teach us in architecture schools? Building Taj Mahals and India Gates?”

For all his tough exterior he was a kind person who went out of his way to help friends in need. He used his resources & contacts to dream of big projects which would benefit the society. Many that he worked on were devoted to needy children.

“I have always been interested in any project connected with children, probably because of the difficult childhood I had. Having lost my mother early and with a father very busy in his successful career, I know what it means to miss parental love in the growing years,” said Krish in an interview to a magazine.

Krish’s total involvement in several voluntary organisations helped him gain the reputation of a social activist with a difference. A true believer in the ‘Service Above Self ’ motto of the Rotary movement, Krish contributed his professional expertise as an architect free for all the projects he was involved in. All the voluntary organisations he worked for, including the Masonic Lodge, have been beneficiaries of Krish’s huge network of friends abroad. For his sustained and dedicated service he got several awards from several organizations including the prestigious RI 3230 Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 from Rotary International.

The world of architecture will surely miss a doyen who contributed so much to preserving its values. Chennai will no doubt miss a noble soul.

May his soul rest in peace!

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