Chennai has a rich architectural inheritance which reflects its historical relationships with South-east Asia, the Portuguese, French, Danish, and of course the British. In the absence of a strong legislation and an authoritative body to oversee conservation, heritage sites and buildings in Chennai could soon become the stuff of legends. Unfortunately, rapid unplanned urbanisation has ridden roughshod over the architecture of the city, and even current residents of some heritage buildings are not aware of their historic significance. Posters, hoardings, encroachments, garbage dumps, and general decay render some of these past treasures unrecognisable. With the builders, architects and original inhabitants of these buildings long gone, there is a need for residents to take action to save the memories of our history.
Transparent Chennai is working hard to place the list of nearly 600 buildings listed in the report of the High Court-appointed Padmanabhan Committee on the map. Digitally representing built heritage includes collecting information about the buildings and their architects that is maintained in files by different individuals and organisations, collating the stories that surround the buildings from their past creation to the current use. The Transparent Chennai team searches for the buildings by their old names, compare them to local residents’ versions, and identify them using a brief description of their current state and old photographs. Using GPS units to mark the physical locations of these buildings, some of which have already quietly disappeared, we have already created an interactive heritage layer, which shows locations and information about heritage buildings all around this city. Transparent Chennai hopes that a public database of these precious buildings will help to strengthen citizen advocacy for better conservation of our heritage.