At first you notice the fluted column (channelled/ vertical stripes) . You then notice the acanthus leaves and the spiral volutes. There is even a cornice with dentils (tooth like structures) and an architrave. The column is not made of marble but this unmistakably is the Corinthian capital (along with the Doric and Ionic forming the three styles of Greek capital orders- the designs of the head of a column).You can read more about the Corinthian order here.
The Corinthian order is something that would not be out of place in a building of classic antiquity or even buildings in many contemporary locations inspired by ancient Greek & Roman civlisations (normally found in museums, libraries, law courts etc). But the building which I am going to talk about is none of the above. In fact it is the local branch office of a very obscure Indian public sector company.
Almost anyone today is fairly familiar with Greek Temple architecture. You can probably thank popular culture and travel guidebooks of Greece for that. Roman temple architecture derived much not only from the Greek style (columns and steps on all sides of the temple) but also from the Etruscan style of building (situating buildings on a tall podium with steps only in the front). In addition to that Roman innovation ensured new developments such as the engaged columns (columns that do not stand free but are partially absorbed into the building wall).
So what business does the Corinthian capital have in Chennai? Better still on the office building of a public sector company that most people have not even heard of. And in the middle of one of the most congested traffic junctions of the city? Tens of thousands (including me on most occasions) drive past this building every day without casting it a second look. And yet this building is proof that something as ancient can also trickle down into the work of an architect in relatively modern times.
What is really fascinating to me is how much this building has inspired from classic style (despite having gaudy front facing tinted glass windows and an overhead water tank that looks terribly out of place and a metal structure with a billboard pronouncing the name of the company). The building has triangular pediments on three sides (though unlike the temples or buildings of yore- no sculptures or marble inscriptions in them) and engaged columns that run on three sides of the building (though the columns on the side are uniformly smaller bur two tiered- I am not sure if the building has columns at the back- my guess is that it doesn’t).
The front of the building along with the triangular pediment also has alternating large columns and pilasters (flattened columns).
I’m not sure when this building was constructed or who the architect was. Or what made him design a building that was so out of character with the rest of the city (after all it was not uncommon to find other styles such as the more prominent Indo Saracenic). Did the workmen who worked on the acanthus leaves realise they were doing something so ancient that their counterparts had done over 2000 years ago? Sure- the building looks a dump in the modern settings with its water tank, lamps and wires and odd trees and signage in the front, but just erase away these modern impediments and look at the classic building hiding in plain sight. History is at home!