Vanishing old-style houses in Mylapore and other areas in Chennai due to high cost of maintaining them!

More than a century old houses, residences and public buildings - mostly Madras terraced with  high ceiling, thick load-bearing walls made of lime mortar are slowly pulled down across India. In Tamil Nadu such old buildings, etc.,  are on the decline for various reasons. In old towns like Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, Tiruchi, Madurai and others  buildings constructed during the Maratha and Nayak periods have almost gone with exceptions. Primary reasons are lack of skilled masons and  high cost of repairing them because they have very tall ceiling, tall windows with cast-iron rods, and entry doors. Particularly, in the Maratha buildings of Thanjavur on the main roads-Raja Veedhis the wide windows and entry doors used to measure more than  seven and half feet. It is a tough job either to replace them or repair them by the owners.

A heritage house in Chennai

Among the urban areas of Chennai no doubt Mylapore is the  most celebrated heritage neighborhood. This old settlement is  characteristic of  soothing sounds of the tolling  of the temple bell from the  famous Kapaleeshwar Temple in the center and   the periodic spectacular sounds of festival processions on the main streets during certain months. With changing environment and quick adjustment to fast life, the charm and excitement of Mylapore is gone. So are the old heritage houses of this once iconic urban space that has become overcrowded in the past decades. 

This post about the pretty old houses of the urban areas of Madras (Chennai) that give into luxurious modern living. It is a new venture   by the Ashvita Foundation of Chennai to  document  the old vintage structures in Mylapore and Royapettah areas before their disappearance,  Such valuable records will be useful to the next generation of people to understand  the architectural changes of their forefathers' dwelling places in the past era and how quickly the present generation has adopted to the modern concept of  living in limited  spaces in tune with growing population.  

869 image Mangala Vilas bldg. South main st. Thanjavur.

Above image: Pretty old buildings of past era in Thanjavur city - With an exception,  old big Maratha buildings are demolished  by the owners who could not afford the cost of repairing them. The tall ceiling (about 15ft) with teak wood rafters and thick wooden or masonry pillars and heavy wooden doors in  such  buildings caused a big headache to the building owners................

The ''Vanishing Heritage Project'', was funded by the Ashvita Foundation in Chennai, to document and preserve the architectural heritage of Chennai's historic neighborhoods, primarily Mylapore and Royapettah. These areas, known for their narrow streets lined with agraharam-style homes, clay-tile roofs, wooden rafters, and decorative balconies with grill railings, are gradually losing their unique identity to modern concrete structures.

Old vintage house, Kutchery Rd. Mylapore, Chennai

Initiated several years ago, the project offered a grant of Rs. 1 lakh to  the chosen  groups. The study included geo-tagging, mapping, and photography, focusing on older houses more than 50 years old, as they showcased heritage features with distinctive design styles influenced by various time periods.

old neo-classical vintage house, Mylapore, Chennai

Above image: Vintage house in Mylapore, Chennai -  structure in neo-classical  art-deco style with a distinct geometry made of finest brick-and-mortar featuring wrought-iron balustrades......... 

The two groups studied many interesting structures, mostly privately owned, despite ongoing demolitions. They documented homes that still had retained their original architectural features;  some  were owned by famous personalities. In Royapettah, the team discovered buildings with unique motifs and historical significance. Dating back to the 1920s and 30s, these buildings featured load-bearing thick walls, which helped them withstand the test of time. The team created extensive maps detailing architectural styles and notable features.

Residents' reactions to the project varied from curiosity and skepticism to welcoming interest. While many were receptive, they shared concerns about the prohibitive  cost of maintaining old structures, such as high labor costs and the difficulty of replacing old wooden windows, main  doors, etc. Consequently, many opted to replace these heritage homes with modern flats.

There was an urgent need to undertake this project when the team was appalled to  find that several houses they documented had already been demolished. This rapid change highlights the need for such documentation to preserve the stories and identities of these iconic and vibrant neighborhoods. The Vanishing Heritage Project showcases the importance of architectural heritage in retaining the cultural essence of a place, emphasizing the rich history of disappearing  urban landscapes in big cities like Chennai. This situation is true of other cities across South  India; mention may be made of Mysuru and Bengaluru cities, Unless such privately owned structures are preserved and safeguarded for posterity, their disappearance is imminent.