Ripon Building – A white house in the heart of Madras

Ripon Building - Mittai Stories

Ripon building now houses the administrative body of the Corporation of Chennai (then, Municipality of Madras). Ripon has seen important decisions made over two world wars, India’s Independence, and modern day Chennai. With all credits given, this building is an important part of the Madras history. A sprawling campus and an eye-catching white building is hard to miss when you are in its locality. 

Ripon Building might seem like any other government building to daily passer byes’ eyes. But, hey! It’s no ‘ordinary’ next door building. It is a ‘happening’ modern day venue with a unique past. 

Chennai Ripon Building - Mittai Stories
Ripon building – Front view

Past – Building a palace at the cost of a condo!

Back in the 1800s, the dominance of the British India Company threw the Indian subcontinent into an unrest. While the whites crossed the Indians, one Governor general managed to conquer the hearts of commoners. 

Meet Lord Ripon, the father of commoners!

George Frederick Samuel Robinson. Meet the 1st Marquess of Ripon and the British Viceroy, who the local Madras natives called ‘Ripon engal appan’ (Meaning, Lord Rippon is our father). This was thanks to his reforms made to elevate the state of Indians. From granting the native legal rights to gaining Florence Nightingale’s (Lady with the lamp) support, Lord Ripon worked for the local natives in the British colony floors. 

Statue for Lord Ripon - Mittai Stories
Statue for Lord Ripon infront of Ripon building

What did this get Lord Ripon? A sprawling white mansion in memory of him, in the heart of Madras. The best part? It still holds his name even after the Indian Independence and no one raised a finger! (Well, not yet at least).

Building Ripon

Two years after Lord Ripon’s death, in 1909, the British Government in India decided to build an administrative complex for the office of Madras municipality. Much like Amir Mahal that we saw in the previous blog. 

The British brought in G.T.S Harris to design the complex by perfectly blending the Ionic and Corinthian architectural styles. The construction of the all white structure was ready to go on floors. 

Loganatha Mudaliar took up the contract of building Ripon. On December 11, 1909, Lord Minto, the then Viceroy of India, laid the foundation stone. The project kick started with rupees 750,000, including a sum of 550,000 paid to Mudaliar. The building construction took four years to complete.

In 1913, with more than 3000 guests including the city’s most elite attending, the British and the local leaders inaugurated Ripon building.  

Madras Ripon Building - Mittai Stories
Vintage photograph – Ripon Building early 1920s

Inside Ripon Building

It is a rectangular 85 metres (279 ft) long and 32 metres (105 ft) wide all white structure with a 43 metres (141 ft) high central tower. This central tower houses the iconic Westminister Quarter chiming clock that the maintenance staff have to wind daily. The clock is 2.5 m (8.2 ft) in diameter and is visible from afar. 

Contractors built Ripon building ground up with stock bricks that are set and plastered with lime mortar. Like any other building in Madras at that time, they also supported the roof of Ripon with teak wood joists. The floor was earlier inlaid with Cuddapah slates which has now been replaced with marble. 

Present – Ripon building’s journey from Madras to Chennai

When compared to other colonial buildings in this area, Ripon Building is one of the well preserved and still functioning structures. Over the past century, it is still being used for its intended purpose – to house the Madras municipality’s administrative body. While Madras became Chennai and the municipality became a corporation, Ripon has still remained the same. 

However, in the past decade, things have become a bit more challenging for Ripon. In 2015, the state government built a neoclassical annexe building in its campus, shifting much of the administration to it. This new ‘Amma maligai’ is a much of a failed attempt to match the aesthetics of Ripon. But, one consolation is that Ripon now has to bear less load than it did throughout the years.

An attempt to restore its grandeur

With Ripon now facing new challenges including the city’s underground metro rail construction, cracks and deformities have appeared in the age-old building. In 2012, the government made attempts to preserve the building’s beauty with a 77 million rupees renovation. This made Ripon the first building in India to be renovated under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).

Renovating Ripon Building - Mittai Stories
Ripon building – Renovation work

Future – What’s in store for Ripon Building?

While it’s still left to anyone’s guess if Ripon will make it to the next century, I think the future doesn’t look that dull. If anything, the major renovation in 2012 has added strength to the existing structure. While it is still a buzzing place in the heart of Chennai, it is definitely going to be a meticulous task to make it remain the same. With various factors such as the city’s pollution, dust, rapid developments including metro rail construction are still a threat to Ripon’s stability. However, in the hands of the good management, I believe this iconic landmark is here to stay for a lifetime!

Ripon Building Lighting - Mittai Stories
Ripon Building – Light Show

Now that we have reached the end of this post, if you ever visit Chennai I strongly recommend that you pass by this little white house at least once. Also, if you are in the mood for it, why not virtually visit a tragic little beach town at the tip of India – Danushkodi!

Well, until we meet in the next story,

Sharon Abraham Ratna!

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