In 1951, Le Corbusier He plotted in his mind the city of Chandigarh, North India, as if it were a human body. The only major urban project that the Franco-Swiss architect was finally able to execute, should work with the accuracy of a fully functioning heart. The green areas and parks would breathe clean air into the city as lungs, while a meticulous avenue circuit would guarantee the fluid circulation as the uninterrupted passage of blood through our arteries.
Each piece of this effective puzzle would be connected to each other through an orthogonal grid of self-sufficient sectors, and in which the Capitol Complex, it would be the head that put order. Comprised of three monumental displays of brutalism – the Supreme Court, the Registrar and the Legislative Assembly – this Capitol Complex consummated the wishes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of the Indian Union, to build a city that exemplifies the modern spirit of the new nation .
In assuming the baton of the architectural layout in government buildings, Le Corbusier made one condition: not having to travel to the future city during the project. That role would be played by his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, in charge of executing and coordinating the work in Chandigarh with the Paris studio, work that he carried out until the end of his days.
Having as a close relative the great genius of rationalism was not an easy task. Often relegated to the shadow of his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret (Geneva, 1896) he always remained faithfully as Le Corbusier’s right hand man. Such was their connection, that on numerous occasions, Jeanneret drew the first sketches of his open plants, which would later be retouched – and refined – in the company of Le Corbusier.
A graduate of the Geneva School of Fine Arts, between 1921 and 1922 he worked alongside the brothers and architects Auguste and Gustave Perret in Paris, before joining the studio of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, already known by the pseudonym Le Corbusier. As a result of this first stage, it was the publication of the famous manifesto Five Points towards a New Architecture (1926) in both creators they established the key elements of modern aesthetics in a building: the open plan, the garden terrace, the pilotis, the longitudinal window and the free façade. Jeanneret not only knew how to stimulate her cousin’s imagination, but also moderate it with her doses of realism, assuming control of the most technical aspects and the continuity of the study.
A year later, the designer would join the famous studio at number 35 in Sèvres Charlotte Perriand, the third member of the most fruitful creative triangle of the 20th century in terms of furniture. After a first meeting where Le Corbusier received her with the unfortunate phrase “unfortunately, we don’t embroider cushions here”, she soon changed her mind when she witnessed with Jeanneret of the revolutionary interior designs that the young Parisian had sketched. Perriand undertook to humanize Le Corbusier’s often cold rationalism, guided by his talent and intuition in the use of new materials.
Famous designs such as the LC2 chair or the chaise longue LC4, with a chromed steel structure in which its geometric purity and ergonomics endure, are the result of this decade in which they collaborated intensively together. Perriand repeatedly confessed that “Le Corbusier was the man of communication, the complete man, the philosopher.” Instead, Pierre Jeanneret exercised as “the technical man”, the point of reference in the study that handled work in everyday life. They lived in a kind of continuous osmosis, in which one was just as necessary for the other.
When Pierre took over the management of the urban project in Chandigarh at the request of Le Corbusier, his involvement in the construction of the city came to the fore. Gone are the political dissent that they maintained during World War II; Pierre joined the French resistance to confront the Nazi bloc while Le Corbusier left his neutrality latent but without objecting to cooperate with the Third Reich, if that meant continuing to design buildings.
During the following decades, Pierre maintained direct contact with the Indian territory that was not limited to the supervision and construction of public buildings, but included a large family of comfortable, functional and beautiful furniture for daily use. This is indicated Barbara Lehmann, responsible for the historical archive of Cassina. “Most of the projects were supervised by Le Corbusier, but Pierre distinguished himself under his exclusive signature, in the design of some public buildings, in particular schools, and some individual houses, as well as in the design of many pieces of furniture. Chandigarh was truly the culmination of the collaboration between Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, but above all a unique opportunity for the latter to express his personality. “
To do this, he wanted to combine essential forms and solid materials by which the modern ideals brought from Europe would converge and merge with the tradition and culture of the Asian country. This is shown by the exhaustive study of the files that the Cassina firm has carried out with the support of the Le Corbusier Foundation, and which results in the production of four models that Jeanneret designed for the Capitol Complex.
Destroyed, abandoned in landfills and now reissued by Cassina
Designing government furniture resistant to the common movement of public offices, which did not sacrifice beauty for the benefit of comfort, was one of the great challenges that Jeanneret took on. “The furniture designed for the Chandigarh buildings is particularly significant and identifiable because they have developed a coherent and simple lexicon. Is based on the identification of formal types structure (type “x”, type “and” type “z”, etc.), but at the same time it is complex and articulated, since it is capable of generating families of furniture with a wide range of variations in the heights of seats, ”says Barbara Lehmann.
In practice, Jeanneret resorted to the use of local materials such as teak or rattan, of exotic beauty but ultra resistant to the passage of time. Proof of this are the specimens that survived the ‘modernization’ that the inhabitants of Chandigarh promoted at the end of the 20th century, by which they largely destroyed or ended up abandoned in landfills and garbage pits.
The survivors are safe in the Pierre Jeanneret Museum that occupies the house that the architect designed and where he lived until he fell ill in 1965. After recovering its original appearance that several bureaucrats were commissioned to alter with renovations of dubious beauty, today it preserves a fundamental part of the furniture that Jeanneret designed at that time, and which reaches astronomical figures in its online sale through the Srelle portal.
The Cassina Research and Development Center For a few months, it has been republishing the most recognizable models that Jeanneret designed for various offices and secretariats, interpreted as a tribute to the creator since, as Lehmann indicates, there is no documentary evidence of his authorship. “The four pieces that make up the collection were made after an analysis of the available designs and with the relief of some models found in the museums of Chandigarh. However, we know that these models have often been reproduced, even in the past and after, in different details. They were made by artisans and, therefore, sometimes with small changes between one craft workshop and another. It is for this reason that it is difficult to speak of a single original for each model ”.
It is the case of the Capitol Complex Office Chair, Composed of independent pieces such as the inverted V-shaped side bars, which converge and support the armrest. This seat maintains the original solid teak structure, lightened by the rattan seat and backrest, but incorporating two more versions in natural or black stained oak. Manufactured in the company’s historic carpentry workshop, the new model has an optional cushion to make it more comfortable.
The second chair The composition of the collection is smaller and is characterized by the absence of armrests. Its coplanar legs and geometric section form a simple and compact piece, just like the third piece, an armchair that embraces the same shape inverted V. The visible supports together with the backrest padding create a rounded contour that combines comfort and simple elegance.
Finally, Cassina has produced again the meeting table that used to house the Legislative Assembly of the Complex, in float glass cover and wooden structure. It evokes the solemnity and accuracy of the activities that it received for decades, and in which Le Corbusier and Jeanneret surely saw projecting the dream of a city that they would build with their own hands.