SBI colonial building, Madurai, TN has two unique architectural features- "Ashlar Masonry" and "Battlemented" parapet!

State Bank of India, Madurai

The restoration of the SBI branch of Madurai was a subject of discussion for a long time as it happened to be a fine colonel structure. The proposal included  some approaches -   removal of all the incompatible additions that have no utility value. Urgent removal of overgrowth of vegetation  that may impact the safety of the structure.  Proposed additions might include bifurcation of large rooms by way of bifurcation creating new spaces compatible with the original structure without affecting the heritage aspects. 

The colonial structure, one a resident has two important architectural features that are unique and rare in this part. They are Aslar or rubble masonry work and  battlemented parapet. The moot question is why the latter feature is included in a residential building. Why did  the English official residing there need a residence with  security precaution? Was the parapet with battlement added as a sort of decoration?  In 1801, British East India Company anned Madurai with the Madras Presidency. The city grew as  an important political and industrial complex through the 19th and 20th centuries and became the HQ of a large  district district


Above image: The 2 story colonial building of SBI, Madurai is made of  solid  Stone Masonry, Such stone masonry buildings are rare in this part of south Tamil Nadu. British architects normally  chose masonry work or stone clad walls to enhance the look of the public buildings.The advantage is the stone clad outer walls impart a unique look that makes  it stand apart. The wall constructed using  cut stones laid with mortar is termed as stone masonry walls. 

Rubble wall.

The stone masonry walls can be classified into two categories rubble masonry and ashlar masonry.  The preferred stone is well-compacted Sandstone that can be cut into a specific shape and it works  great for both dry laid and mortar walls. Such Ashlar masonry was used in the old colonial buildings as well as residences in  Bombay and Calcutta presidencies. Some homeowners use sandstone cutouts as veneers on top of  concrete walls. Limestone is  also used for decorative work on the walls because like sandstone they can be dressed to any desired shape.  

The advantage of Ashlar masonry are many, mention may be made of some features:   01. When it comes to compression, many  types of stone are stronger than concrete. 02. Unlike brick or concrete that may emit more CO2,  cut stones  use less energy to produce and the time taken to finish walls is far less. 03. Stone clad face is aesthetically pleasing creating a new appearance. While concrete or plastered brick walls need to be painted periodically. 04. Stone walls made of  sized granite with proper mortar have excellent waterproofing quality. 05. Stone masonry is much stronger and water resistant than brick-lime work. The latter may show dampness on the outer wall.  

The main disadvantage of the stone  masonry is stones are  heavy in nature, demanding a structural substrate and in some cases,
constructing a structural wall for cladding may be necessary; but it is expensive. Small boulders and field stones are often used for walls in rural buildings. Some walls are made of coarse stones to produce a coursed effect,

The Madurai branch of colonial  structure was initially constructed as a residence for the  British official once this area was transferred to the English company.  The Madras terrace building with fine wooden rafters  has a porch to park horse cart, etc., deep verandahs in the facade (with louvre wooden doorsf or better airflow and natural light, and  large rooms on both floors with  balcony. The upper levels  can be accessed through  spiral staircase in the central hall  with ornate railing. The noteworthy feature the upper terrace of the building  is articulated by a battlement parapet featuring stone coping.

battlement parapet

Above image: A parapet with alternating raised and lowered sections is known as a battlement. The purpose of battlements was primarily defensive. They provided cover for archers and other missile weapons, allowing them to shoot down at attackers. It gives protection from   return fire.
.stone coping

Above image: Coping may be made of stone (capstone), brick or terracotta, concrete or cast stone, tile, etc with slanted or curved top surface) to throw off the water falling on the parapet, safeguarding the wall below. It also prevents water seepage and wall wear-out..... 

The Madurai colonial building owned by the SBI, it seems, not yet fully completed. Clear media reports are not not available. However, the building is not occupied for a few years primarily due to safety reasons.