Friday, January 8, 2010

Restored glory

This magnificent building on the Marina has been a familiar sight for so long that one forgot what it was originally meant for. It was in 1864 that a competition was announced for designing two buildings connected with higher education in the city. The first was for the Madras Presidency College, which had been functioning since 1840 and the other was for a building to house the administrative offices and a large examination hall. It was a grand vision, for the University Board, which had been established in 1840 had, in the first quarter-century of its existence, done little to justify such dreams. A preparatory school was set up in 1840, a high school in 1841, an elementary school a while later and in 1853, a collegiate department was created - which in 1855 was renamed the Presidency College. The University of Madras itself was incorporated only on September 5, 1857. Here they were, less than a decade later, asking for huge buildings to be raised.

The competition attracted entrants from all over India and possibly from England, too. The prize-winning designs were submitted by Robert Fellowes Chisholm, who was then barely 25 years old, with less than a year's practice as an architect in Calcutta. Winning the prize brought Chisholm to Madras - which then became his base. The Presidency College buildings were constructed first and it was only in 1874 that the work on the building to house offices / examination hall was begun. The hall was large enough to seat 1600 students for their examinations. Under the hall was an equally large cellar, intended to be used as the storage vaults. In keeping with the grandness of the vision, the materials for construction were also the best; the bricks were from Commonwealth Brickworks, Kerala and marble for the floor from Italy. The intricate detailing on the domes and the supporting columns survive to this day.

That survival was made possible by a sustained project to restore this grand building in time for the sesquicentenary of the University of Madras in 2007. The budget of Rs.6 crore for the renovation was met in part by a long list of individual contributors who pitched in with amounts ranging from Rs.11 (!!) and Rs.25 to Rs.25 lakhs. Thanks to all of them, the domes of the Senate House continue to reflect the glory of the University's history!



Hi Shantaram,

Happy New Year!!!

The high profile renovation of the Senate Hall is in danger of going a total waste...last heard the hall was being used to store exam answer sheets..

Wonder why take the trouble to restore it and then put it into disuse...
The +ve side to the least the building still stands!!!

Shantaram said...

@ Karthik: Hey Karthik - a very happy New Year to you, too! I agree with you, it is completely criminal to not use this beautiful building!