Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Standing tall

It was at one time the tallest building in India. Conceived as the headquarters of his business ventures, M. Ct. M Chidambaram Chettiar spared no effort in getting the best architects to design it. Even though the original architects - Brown & Moulin of London - went off the project after construction had started, LM Chitale, who was later to be known as one of Chennai's best architects, took over supervision of the building's completion. 

Based on the design of the UN Secretariat building in New York city, this building also marked a transition in Madras' construction technology. Into the 1950s, bricks and lime were the material of choice even for large commercial or office buildings. This one was the first to use concrete columns, paving the way for larger buildings to come up in other parts of the country. Chidambaram Chettiar did not live to see the building in use; he passed away in 1954. And when the insurance business was nationalized in 1956, the planned original occupants - United India Insurance, New Guardian Life Assurance, Travancore Rayons and Indian Overseas Bank - gave way to the new behemoth, the Life Insurance Corporation of India. 

No longer the tallest building even in Chennai, the LIC building is still a grand structure. A few months ago, there was a scare that the tunnelling for the Chennai Metro is causing cracks in the edifice. But that is nothing for a building that was shut for well over a year in 1975-76, after a devastating fire rendered access to any part of this building dangerous!                                  

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