Chennai 3: Art Deco in Royapettah
Up early this morning for a heritage walk round Royapettah, an inner-city district of Chennai. Royapettah means the district of the rulers. There's still a palace here - the Amir Mahal, the home of the Prince of Arcot (I hope to be blogging about that later) - but the garden houses, the palatial bungalows in their own grounds, which once distinguished the area are now long gone.
In their place, just under a century ago, came up smart vernacular housing using the new building material of cement plaster and often gently influenced by Art Deco. Many of these too have gone, and those that survive are sometimes in poor repair, but there are some real treasures still to be seen.
This is one of the more imposing examples - a corner house with columns, balustrades and parapets, and incorporating a lovely sunrise motif in the jallis, the latticed plaster work.
Here's another corner building, fronting Pycrofts Road (many of the main roads in central Chennai still retain the name of the British colonialist or trader who once lived nearby). It's called the Summer House, though no one's quite sure why. And it bears some of the traits of Art Deco, not least the narrow vertical windows.
Alongside the light imprint of Art Deco are buildings of a similar vintage which are part of quite different architectural traditions. Some show a hint of the gothic ...
... while others are just altogether crazy!
Swami's Summit, it seems - and the property owner happened to be on the walk, so we have this on good authority - was visited by Gandhi. Which prompted the construction of a peak above the summit (not sure that makes sense terminologically, but then not much about this building does).
And a big shout out to our guide, Tahaer Zoyab of the pathbreaking heritage initiative Madras Inherited, whose architectural expertise made the morning so memorable. We had the good fortune to be able to go, impromptu, inside a few of the houses ... what a wonderful city Chennai is!
And the walk was part of the admirable India Heritage Walk Festival,
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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