[Chandigarh] is the biggest example in India of experimental architecture...It hits you on the head and makes you think. I like the creative approach, not being tied down by what has been done by our forefathers but thinking in new terms…in the ultimate analysis, a thing which fits in with social functions is beautiful.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Former Prime Minister of India

Chandigarh

The New City

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, conceived of the planned city of Chandigarh in his pursuit of large-scale projects to express what he called “the nation’s faith in the future.” In his 1947 speech, “Tryst With Destiny,” delivered on the eve of India’s Independence, Nehru said, “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new”. Visiting Chandigarh in 1952, Nehru declared publicly that the city would “be a new town, symbolic of the freedom of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past.”

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new”

Nehru and the Chandigarh government hired Swiss-French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, to create a master plan for the city. Named for Chandi, Hindu goddess of power, Chandigarh was Le Corbusier’s largest and most ambitious project, involving residential, commercial, and industrial areas, parks, and a complex of government buildings.

In turn, Le Corbusier insisted on hiring his cousin Pierre Jeanneret to design the city’s furniture. Jeanneret designed furniture for the entire complex, using inexpensive, locally-sourced teak, which was bug and humidity-resistant. 

Jeanneret’s simple and functional designs, which were also robust and sturdy, were executed by local craftsmen, and included bamboo, iron rod, rope, caning, cotton, and upholstery. The V-leg construction of the Committee chairs—first developed in the earlier Scissor chairs, designed for Knoll, Inc.—was an element used extensively in his Chandigarh designs.

For Pierre Jeanneret, the Chandigarh project was the pinnacle of his work as an architect and designer.

For Pierre Jeanneret, the Chandigarh project was the pinnacle of his work as an architect and designer. The project affected him profoundly; he remained in Chandigarh after the city’s construction was complete, rarely returning to Europe. Upon Jeanneret’s death, his ashes were scattered in Chandigarh’s Sukhna Lake. Before he passed, however, Jeanneret explained candidly what the Chandigarh project meant to him personally and professionally:

The working methods that I discovered in India finally taught me self-esteem after so many failures in France. Chandigarh was for both of us a kind of glade in the human jungle. Le Corbusier’s works brought us up against nearly unsurmountable execution problems in terms of the technical and ethnic considerations of the country. I’ve thought long and hard. […] Finally, when all is said and done, I’m sure that Le Corbusier was right—subsistence solutions are not solutions for fighting for a state of civilization.

The city of Chandigarh was completed by the mid 1950s. Yet it had already begun to deteriorate by the 1980s, with much of the furniture succumbing to heavy use, high temperatures, and extreme humidity. As the furniture fell into disrepair, it was put into storage, auctioned, or left out in the elements.

Jeanneret’s contribution to the grand city solidified his legacy as a visionary designer, decades ahead of his time

While much of Jeanneret’s furniture for Chandigarh was abandoned or destroyed, the surviving examples remain as timeless and singular as they did 70 years ago. Highly desired by experienced collectors and novice buyers alike, elements of the planned city have made their way into collections across the globe. While the trajectory of Chandigarh as a modern utopia changed throughout the course of history, Jeanneret’s contribution to the grand city solidified his legacy as a visionary designer, decades ahead of his time.