Corinthian Capital and Chennai

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 Capital in All Its Glory

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.

Close-up of the Acanthus leaves and the Spiral Volutes

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).

Engaged Column- Column is Absorbed into the 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.

Did you really notice it before?

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).

Columns in the Sides

The front of the building along with the triangular pediment also has alternating large columns and pilasters (flattened columns).

Triangular Pediment

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!

What made the architect create this in Chennai?
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8 Comments Add yours

  1. You gotta keen eye! And great parallels about the architecture. Enjoyed this piece. I do not even recognize the building – where is this???

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Balmer and Lawrie building on Mount Road, SIET junction. Check it out the next time.

  2. Nirmala says:

    Wow! That is wonderful observation and study.Who would have thought that? Hearty congratulations ! keep up the good work. Looking forward to more interesting studies like this

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Thank you very much- though I doubt I will come across many more buildings in Chennai with such a pure classical style 🙂

  3. Lav says:

    double WOW!!! OMG!!! What a find!! Makes me wonder what else i walked passed without looking? You set the tone for us to look around us to find inspiration in everything!!! great job – i learnt something (apart from the fact that I dont observe) 😀 – great write up and illustration!!!

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Its amazing what we see when we actually look!

      1. Lav says:

        ahm…does it mean paying attention? lol…

      2. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

        Dunno!

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