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Vol. XXXIV No. 4, June 1-15, 2024

Dwarfing all Heritage

-- by Sriram V.

It had to happen. Having of late been scoring brownie points with all its heritage initiatives, the State Government had to show that it has not lost touch with its ham-handedness. The most recent example of that is the unveiling of the plans for a 27-storeyed structure facing Central Station, which it is claimed will solve all problems of congestion in the neighbourhood. While nobody is denying that the place is crying out for solutions when it comes to its infrastructure, the Government could have debated on the impact of such a tall building in an area when no other exists. That it is also a thoroughfare of historic and heritage significance needed to have been taken into account.

The architectural plans for what claims to be a multimodal transport hub seem disappointing to say the least. The structure, from the artistic renderings seems to focus on maximising the area that it can encompass and resembles any corporate office building. And it has a few arches thrown in reflect the surrounding heritage, and what is more, seems to have plenty of blue glass plates, the favourite architectural element in all Government buildings in our city. Just think of the new Commissioner of Police building, or the Namakkal Kavignar Maligai or the Ripon Building annexe and you get the idea.

The objectives of what is to be called Central Tower are noble enough. It will provide much-needed parking space in the area. It will be a common link across multiple modes of transport including rail, metro, suburban railway and motorised vehicles. The building also aims to link access to the various important facilities in the neighbourhood – Ripon Buildings, Central Station,VP Hall and the GH. But why such a requirement needs 27 storeys is open to question. The building will have an enormous footprint in what is already a congested area. From the design it also appears as though the structure is to be centrally air-conditioned which means a huge energy footprint as well.

View of Central Tower, sourced from the twitter handle@UpdatesChennai.

Visually, the structure will be a disrupting element in what at present is still a significantly architecturally harmonious skyline. That is despite the GH in its present avatar and the Madras Medical College’s new buildings which are very poorly conceptualised. By adding a 27-floor building to this mix, the authorities are actively destroying what could have been a heritage corridor, with plenty of potential for harmonised development. That this has not been thought of is a tragedy.

Ideally, much of what is being proposed ought to have been underground. And for that to happen, and to have saved costs, this facility ought to have been planned and executed even while CMRL work was ongoing in the vicinity. The Central Tower was however already a given and it appears that by not considering other options including the subterranean, CMRL has missed a great opportunity. The emphasis was always on building a huge tower block – initially planned for 33 floors and now pared to 27 and nothing could stand in its way.

Vistas of course mean nothing in any Indian city. But it is a tragedy that Chennai has chosen to destroy many of its iconic ‘views’. These may mean nothing if ‘development’ is the only consideration but there is no doubt that aesthetics count for much in the long run. The vista that presented itself as you entered Periyar EVR Road from either Law’s Bridge via Chintadripet or the Stanley Viaduct from Anna Salai was one of the prized sights of the city – a long range of beautiful Indo-Saracenic buildings. Now we will have to content ourselves with the rear view of a monstrosity in steel, concrete and glass. How humdrum can it get?

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