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One of India's most visited tourist attractions is the City Palace in Mysore, Amba Vilas , which was completed a hundred years ago this year. This Indo-Saracenic masterpiece, work on which began in 1900 after an earlier palace had been destroyed by fire in 1897, is perhaps the finest work of Madras architect Henry Irwin. It was built at an estimated cost of over Rs. 40 lakh. Irwin's design of the Palace undoubtedly inspired N. Grayson when he designed the Madras and South Mahratta Railway headquarters — now the Southern Railways headquarter — in Madras. If this is on a smaller scale than the Palace, almost on the same grand scale is another palatial building inspired by it, the Vidhana Soudha , the State Legislature and Secretariat, in Bangalore. It was a Vidhana Soudha -like building that I was anticipating when the Karunanidhi Government decided on a new legislature and... Read more...
secretariat; alas, what was raised was a far cry from such impressive architecture.Irwin, who succeeded J.W. Brassington as Consulting Architect to the Government of Madras, completed — with his own additions, variations and adaptations — the Madras High Court buildings that Brassington had initiated. He then went on to design the Law College buildings in a manner that harmoniously blended on the same campus with the High Court buildings. He then designed in the same regal manner the Bank of Madras's headquarters (now the State Bank of India's Main Branch on Rajaji Salai), the Egmore Railway Station for the South Indian Railway, and what I think was probably his best work, the Victoria Technical Institute's Memorial Hall, now the sadly neglected, virtually derelict National Art Gallery in the Government Museum campus, Egmore. Perhaps the most lavish work Irwin did was the Viceregal Lodge in Simla. Apocryphally it is narrated that Income Tax — introduced the year the building was completed — was invented to pay for the construction! It is also related that Edward Lutyens had a low opinion of the design. He is reported to have said, “If one was told that it was built by monkeys all one could say was, ‘What wonderful monkeys!' But they must be shot if they tried to do it again.” Lutyens, however, never accepted that he and Baker were designing on a conceptual foundation laid by Robert Chisholm and Irwin who, in turn, derived inspiration from Paul Benfield's Chepauk Palace. On the other hand, the building Irwin did at a pittance of a fee was probably the building he was fondest of — the second pavilion of the Madras Cricket Club (Miscellany, September 13, 2011). A building right out of the splendid cricketing past of the counties of England, it was pulled down a few years ago with little thought for the fact that cricket in Madras owed its beginnings to it. Irwin's affection for it was due to the all-round sportsman he was, though he did fare better as an amateur jockey than as a cricketer.