HOUSE NUMBER 57, Sector 5, Chandigarh. December 1954 to August 1965, Pierre Jeanneret lived here, reads the humble, embossed black brass plaque at the entrance. The row of type 4J houses was designed by Jeanneret and he lived in this corner house for almost 11 years This home of the Swiss architect, which is now a museum dedicated to his contribution to Chandigarh, is from where we begin our journey, as we attempt to come closer to Jeanneret’s footprint in Chandigarh, spread far and wide. From schools to the majestic buildings of Panjab University, State Library, Sector 17 to Post and Telegraph Building, Jeanneret has contributed to the urban morphology of Chandigarh as deeply and widely as Le Corbusier. Jeanneret’s largest and most visible contribution to Chandigarh has been its government housing, the soul of India’s first modern city, as his imprint is in the more lived part of the city.
From 1951 to 1965, Jeanneret was the anchor of the creation and development of Chandigarh. He was the Chief Architect of Chandigarh from 1955-65 and the Town Planning Advisor to the Government of Punjab.
“Except for two, he designed 13 categories of government houses, and from the Chief Minister’s house to the smallest peon’s house, he used the same materials, aesthetics, climate responsive elements, detailing and innovation, without any discrimination. His work is minimalistic, simple, artistic, detailed and that makes it timeless,” says architect S D Sharma, who worked with Jeanneret on many housing projects.
Walk through sectors 11, 15, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 27…and you will view the aesthetics of Jeanneret’s residential architecture, based on the contrast and composition of exposed brickwork, plastered surfaces and stone panels. Latticed brickwork or jaalis serve as ornamental and functional elements that give privacy to terraces and verandas while allowing ventilation. The articulation of facades with openings, lintel beams, parapets and shading devices become elements in an abstract composition heightened by the play of texture and shadows.
A compact, functional plan, within the constraints of space, time and budget is what Jeanneret achieved, without any compromise on aesthetics, as he designed housing for the masses. “And today, as we face the lack of space and budget, Jeanneret’s housing can be a role model for cities across the country,” says Deepika Gandhi, director, Le Corbusier Centre and Museum of Architecture. Some of the characteristic features of his government houses include a compact entrance and foyer-cum-circulation space while ensuring a segregation of semi-private and private areas, features like deeper rear verandahas, terraces and verandas for outdoor sleeping and living to cater to the largely outdoor lifestyle of Indian households and segregation of toilets from main house in the smaller houses. “The smaller houses in Sectors 22 and 23 are designed with the street picture in mind, as these appear to be joined together, but each is a separate unit,” Gandhi adds.
Jeanneret designed four private houses in Chandigarh, the only non-government projects he undertook. Concerns of climate control resulted in sculptural sun shades for openings, deep verandahas, brick screens and shaded open areas. Jeanneret preferred NE-SW orientation of housing streets with a narrow front to reduce exposure and heat gain. Sun breakers, small openings and ventilators ensured low heat gain and glare. Verandahs with jaalis or louvers to direct air currents were employed in larger houses.
Rajneesh Wattas, former principal, Chandigarh College of Architecture, says Jeanneret created poetry with bricks, referring again to the lowest category of houses in Sector 22. Using just brick and mortar, and elementary technology, Wattas says he gave people beauty and dignity, with his exposed brick cervices, jaalis that suited the Indian climate, windows with sun shades, stonewalls for a feel of grandeur, a work of sheer brilliance. “Great architecture is of the moment, with what you have. But Jeanneret’s architecture is eternal, for he understood the life and needs of the masses he was designing for.”
“In many ways Chandigarh feels the impact of Jeanneret’s work more than it does Le Corbusier’s, for it is he who helped design the mass of humbler dwellings around which the daily life of the common man is woven,” Sneh Pandit, author, says.