Design in Diaspora: Pierre Jeanneret’s Furniture for Chandigarh Transcends its Roots
Amie Siegel’s film installation Provenance (2013), on view now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, traces migration stories in reverse chronology, beginning with its protagonists in their current surroundings: a warmly minimal New York loft, a gilded Paris pied-à-terre, a hushed and plushly carpeted luxury yacht. The film’s subjects are pieces of furniture—chairs and banquettes, shelves and tables—designed by Pierre Jeanneret to populate the government headquarters his cousin and collaborator, Le Corbusier, devised for Chandigarh, India in the early 1950s.
In a series of cuts we see our heroes arriving at workshops where they’re stripped and recovered in new leather or rich upholstery before being presented at auction. Rewinding further, we observe the pieces in their original settings, desks and shelves buried under heaps of paper; chairs pushed aside by ergonomically superior plastic models, or broken, stacked and left to weather in the cavities of the concrete buildings.
Siegel’s stunning film coincides with Le Corbusier & Pierre Jeanneret: Chandigarh, India, an impressive new book by Paris design gallery Galerie Patrick Seguin, which catalogues Chandigarh’s furniture and fittings and details the genesis of the city. With Prime Minister Nehru’s blessing to proceed without being “hindered by tradition,” Le Corbusier conceived the nascent capital as a modernist utopia. Monumental and rational, with forms and aesthetic details that referred to the climate, landscape, and local livestock rather than Western architectural tradition, it was meant to embody India’s newfound independence.
This comprehensive 432-page book, written in English and French, also features sketches, plans, maquettes, and photos, including a chapter devoted to photographer Lucien Hervé, best known for his stunning images of Le Corbusier’s work. A section of the book is devoted to Chandigarh’s furniture in diaspora, providing a typology that includes every variation Jeanneret designed for the Punjab capital, and there were many. Noted beside each is the location it was intended to furnish—the High Court, the Secretariat, the University of Punjab—although, now immaculately restored and reupholstered in luxury materials, the subjects of these glamour shots have clearly transcended their plebeian past.
Images courtesy of Galerie Patrick Seguin.