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Vol. XXXIV No. 5, June 16-30, 2024

The Horrors of Highrise — 21 storey building to come up at Broadway

-- by Sriram V.

Multimodal transport hubs are the latest in the Government’s lexicon. Close on the heels of releasing an artist’s impression of the proposed 27 storey Central Tower to be built opposite Central Station (see MM, June 1, 2024), the Government, read Greater Chennai Corporation, has released its plans for a 21 storey building at Broadway, on the land presently occupied by the bus terminus and the Kuralagam building. Touted as a multimodal transport hub, which is exactly what the Central Tower is also described as, this building, it is claimed, will decongest the Broadway area. And as always, there is more to it than that.

The Broadway bus terminus has been a byword for congestion ever since its inception in the 1950s. It began in an informal fashion as such facilities invariably do in ­India, without any plan and by the 1960s the Government had to do something about it. Handed over to the M(now C)MDA in the early 1970s, it grew by land acquisition but its fundamental character never changed. There were repeated attempts to modernise and improve it, with several tenders floated for a multilevel parking lot which remained on paper. The latest in the series is the 21-storeyed building. It has been announced that the Government-owned Kuralagam building will be demolished, and the bus terminus shifted to the Island Grounds while the construction takes place.

Is there any multimodal transport facility anywhere in the world that needs 21 floors? The building it is said will have, apart from transport connections, parking facilities for buses, cars and two-wheelers. Which is all to the good. It will also have, and here is the rub, government offices and commercialspace to be rented out. While this will no doubt bring rent to our cash-starved Corporation, the question is how is the construction of such a huge building going to reduce congestion? On the other hand, will not so many offices and commercial outlets in one building only increase the ingress and exodus of traffic thereby causing further chaos in what is already a very crowded area? And what about its carbon footprint? From the plans it seems clear that this structure, all steel and glass, will need huge amounts of electricity to keep it cool. Has any thought been given to this aspect?

It is to be noted that this building is going to add commercial space to George Town, when the idea all along has been to reduce them in the area, thereby preventing further overcrowding. Is the Government hoping that offices and commercial entities in the surrounding area will move in? This is unlikely to happen as the existing spaces are all occupied at very low rents and no businessowner is likely to increase costs by shifting into the high rise.

There are no other high rises anywhere in the vicinity. George Town and the Esplanade are marked by buildings of moderate height. There is still a uniform skyline on the NSC Bose Road front and along the Esplanade. The defining edifices here are the High Court and the Law College buildings. How will such a tall building fit into the general scheme of things? A few years ago, the Government was sensitive enough to agree to the Metro stations in this area being designed in sympathetic style to what is in the vicinity. What has happened to such emancipated thought since then?

Taken overall, this proposed building seems ill advised. It is not so much an attempt at solving traffic and transport challenges as much as it is an attempt at creating real estate out of thin air and profiting from it in the short term, at enormous cost in the long term.

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