Pierre Jeanneret (1896-1967): From a backroom boy to star designer
Fifty years after his death on December 4, Jeanneret, the first chief architect of Chandigarh, is finally coming out of the shadows of his cousin Le Corbusier, and getting the tributes he deserved.punjab Updated: Dec 04, 2017 09:01 IST
It is an irony that creations of a man as self-effacing as Pierre Jeanneret are now being appropriated by celebrities who love the limelight. From the pages of Vogue to the houses of French designers and Hollywood stars, the name Pierre Jeanneret is associated with furniture as classy as it is functional.
The V-legged chairs, ubiquitous in government offices of Chandigarh, now find a pride of place in the dining room of reality star Kourtney Kardashian. The celebrated French architect, Joseph Dirand, a favourite with fashion houses, goes into raptures as he describes the chair, “It’s so simple, so minimal, so strong. Put one in a room, and it becomes a sculpture.”
Fifty years after his death, Jeanneret, the first chief architect of Chandigarh, is finally coming out of the shadows of his cousin Le Corbusier, and getting the tributes he deserved even then, way back in the 1950s, when he so painstakingly built Chandigarh.
OBSCURITY TO FAME
His journey from obscurity to fame began with some French art collectors, who descended on the city in the 1990s and found his chairs heaped in junkyards across Panjab University and the Secretariat. Later, the “scrap” they acquired for a song, was auctioned for crores across Europe.
Earlier this year, a set of six armchairs designed for Tagore Theatre fetched Rs 41.83 lakh at an auction in London, while an office teak table meant for the Secretariat went for Rs 24.97 lakh.
In 2013, Amie Siegel, a film director, made a film, Provenance, describing the journey of Jeanneret’s furniture from its rejection in the city of its birth — the film shows heaps of chairs lying discarded — to its resurgence in Europe.
Jasbir Singh, an engineer and interior designer, says Swedish giant Ikea was among the first to take inspiration from Jeanneret. “His furniture was ahead of its time. He followed the principles of ergonomics when few had heard of them. His furniture is simple yet stylish and comfortable. See how easy the chairs are on your back,” says Singh.
“Jeanneret worked on the principle that furniture lives with us and grows old with us. He realised that a wrong piece of furniture could give you a wrong posture. That’s why his V-legged office chair has an upright back unlike the lounge chair shaped like a kangaroo, which allows you to relax while supporting your spine.”
Sangeeta Bagga, principal of Chandigarh College of Architecture, says with an eye on government servants with transferable jobs, Jeanneret made furniture that could easily be dismantled. He was also a master at improvising with local material. “He made a table of bricks with a wooden slab on top. He would invert a ‘tasla’ (a labourer’s wok) and use it as a table lamp,” she says.
The foot architect of Chandigarh also kept the local weather in mind. While Indians were happy to embrace the stuffy, upholstered sofas that the British brought with them from their cold climes, Jeanneret introduced them to airy furniture made of humidity and bug-resistant teak with cane weave.
It’s a testimony to the great artist that while fashions come and go, his furniture has not only endured but has also become more stylish with time.