Architects may come and
Architects may go and
Never change your point of view
When I run dry
I stop awhile and think of you…
These words penned by Paul Simon as a musical tribute to the American master architect Frank Lloyd Wright resonate the feelings of many architects, scholars and students who revere Pierre Jeanneret, acknowledging the true genius of this architect who continues to inspire to this day.
Jeanneret has finally emerged from the mammoth shadow of his vastly better-known cousin Le Corbusier and is now considered a vital contributor to the Modern Movement not just in India but all over the world. Here was a creative force whose expression ranged from institutional buildings to pieces of furniture celebrated worldwide for sensitively blending the sometimes-contradictory demands of context, climate, material and technology. Like all gifted creators, he effortlessly changed gears designing buildings to window latches, creating furniture with steel and leather in Paris with the same dexterity as wood and cane in Chandigarh.
Jeanneret contributed to the urban morphology and architectural character of Chandigarh as deeply and widely as Corbusier. He was part of Corbusier’s four-member Capital Project team but contributed the most due to the length of his stay and the depth of his involvement with the city and its creators.
From 1951 to 1965 Jeanneret was the anchor of the creation and development of Chandigarh with his legacy continuing to impact the city to date through the young architects he trained with extreme patience and devotion. He stayed on in Chandigarh as the Chief Architect of Chandigarh from 1955-65 and as the Town Planning Advisor to the Government of Punjab during the critical period when the city was still largely under construction but the other members of the Capital project team had already left.
He successfully bore the herculean responsibility of coordinating and managing the completion of Corbusier’s projects here — most notably the Capitol Complex, whose basic drawings came from Paris while Jeanneret worked out an astounding amount of building details and oversaw the day-to-day construction work of the same.
As a prolific designer, he evolved a unique vocabulary for most of the government housing stock, several civic buildings, schools, hostels, and university buildings and some private residences — all within the constraints of money, material and technology available. Fully aware of but unaffected by the critical post he held in Chandigarh, Jeanneret won the trust and respect of the Indian administration through his tremendous work ethic, intuitive negotiating skills, and most importantly the perseverance to get things done despite the many challenges he faced.
A team player averse to self-aggrandisement, he was fiercely protective of his staff, truly commanding their respect which his humility could never have demanded. Jeanneret’s furniture is still famous worldwide as a true manifestation of the spirit of Modern Architecture showcasing his sensitivity to context and creativity in the most tangible manner. He evolved a unique vocabulary based on an interpretation of indigenous materials and techniques. Some innovative chairs were made using bamboo sections, rope, cane and iron chains! The chairs, sofas, tables, work stations, storage units, light fixtures, stools and daybeds designed by Jeanneret and his team became the identity of most government institutes and departments.
He reluctantly returned to Geneva when his health failed him but his deep attachment to Chandigarh was poignantly evident in his wish that his ashes be immersed in the Sukhna Lake! His spirit and soul still lives on in Chandigarh. Jeanneret’s philosophy of finding aesthetics through the humblest materials making the best of manpower and technology available is even more relevant today as we face a crisis of managing unprecedented growth with sharply diminishing resources.
So as we run dry of ideas, it’s time to stop a while and think of you cher Jeanneret. see also page 3