PWD building (part of Chepauk palace), Chennai, first ever Indo-Saracenic building restored back to old glory

PWD Bldg. Chennai. part of Chepauk palace.

PWd buld.

Among the old colonial buildings that adorn the skyline of Chennai,  the PWD building that was once part of Chepauk Palace, official residence of the Nawab of Arcot was an impressive one.  It was built upon his shifting of  his official residence  from Arcot to Madras (Chennai). The Nawab, then an ally of the EIC wanted to live close to St. George Fort  for reasons of safety from his enemies, in particular Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Driven by overwhelming enthusiasm to have a large palace built, he borrowed money from some of the British money lenders and in the later years the Nawab was in a financial trap set by the English company  from which he was unable to wiggle out. In 1801 the British annexed the kingdom of Carnatic, however they had a suspicion that  the Wallajah family was in touch with Tipu Sultan, their arch enemy. Though a titular Nawab was created, it was in 1855 the British annexed all the family's Chepauk properties. To cool off the Nawab who lost his crown and the land , Queen Victoria granted the royal family by treaty hereditary rights to be called the Princes of Arcot (Amir-e-Arcot) and enjoy various benefits of protocol. In a cunning way the wily Bobs from the British Island knocked the Arcot Nawab off the pedestal as they did with many Maharajahs who had lost almost every thing their crown, vast land and a good collection of jewelry. except their fancy titles from the Empire  and the undergarments.  

 The attractive iconic brick-red building completed in 1865, known as  the Chepauk Palace was once  the residence of  the Nawab of Arco and the English company dishonestly  acquired it through a sham auction, leaving their ally the Nawab in the lurch. After independence  state PWD moved in and since then had been functioning  there as  headquarters of  the Buildings and Irrigation wings. As no restoration project was taken up for a pretty long time, due to official laziness, portions of the heritage building  became dilapidated and unusable.  More than 150 -year-old PWD building whose main portion was designed by Robert Chisholm with two rectangular wings on either side is a fine example of emerging new style  - the confluence of different architectures. The portion  facing the Marina Beach is in  Indo-Saracenic design (that emerged in the 1860s) whereas  the side facing Chepauk Palace has typical European elements. The blending was done in such a fashion that one style does not dominate the other. The sunshades and brick corbels impart a new style. The kalasam-like structures on top reflect Hindu temple design and  the presence of  a  small British Crown and the ornate work below the verandah arches show strong  British influence under the crown administration.   

Chennai PWD building renovation underway Jan,2019

Chennai PWD building renovation underway Jan,2019

PWD building may be reminiscent of Scottish-baronial architecture, but when you take a closer look it is a blend of different styles, including native Indian elements.

PWD building, Chepauk palace,

 conservation work on.Chepauk palace complex, Chennai

Above image: Chepauk palace complex, Triplicane, Chennai; Restoration work was in progress. A big sum Rs. 20 crore was allocated by the state government to bring the old heritage structure back to glory. In the place of old wall plastering, the same old technique (Mogul type) was used in re-plastering the wall to recreate the old sheen.  Spread over 80,000sqft, the structure houses many departments.  Look at the old wooden entrance and widows that have louver doors.  In a tropical country the advantage of louver doors is they facilitate superior air flow  no matter where it is either in the  hidden closet  or  bedroom entryway. Further, the open-close shutter system allows warm or cool air to travel between rooms, even when the door is shut.......

 After a lapse of many decades for the first time, major conservation work was undertaken covering  80,000sqft,   to retain the  old heritage structure that silently witnessed the growth of Madras city. In the recent past Rs.20 crore was allocated to restore the heritage monument.  Red bricks were procured from Rajapalayam for the Terrace work (Madras terrace). The hall in the building was used as a  horse stable long ago and portions of the main block were parts of  the women’s wing. In 1910 additions were made in Indo-Saracenic design  covering roughly 1.30 sq. feet.  The colonial government under the Madras presidency had an English made  chest installed in the main hall in  in 1857 and it was meant for storing  maintaining confidential documents of the department. 

The restoration and conservation of the PWD building was done in a manner as to retain the heritage elements. They used skilled masons from Kovilpatti, particularly covering court yard and roof work. Lime and river sands were sourced from Trichy and other places, The team followed the old construction techniques - “Mughal plastering using various traditional materials like egg white, curd and lime powder is used and several processes are involved to revive the sheen of the walls. Structures with wire cut bricks need such plastering for stability''.  

Employees  were instructed not to drill nails into the newly re-plastered wall to main its old heritage value.  

 The Humayun Mahal (built in 1770) covering  82,000 sq. ft. and built in 1770  was also restored at a cost of ₹36.38 crore in the recent past