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Friday, January 21, 2022

Making of Chandigarh: The Jeanneret stamp on Panjab University and Chandigarh schools

Jeanneret’s design for Central State Library strictly followed the volumetric and facade controls laid out for the City Centre demonstrating the possibility of creativity within specific architectural controls.

Chandigarh |
Updated: December 13, 2021 6:10:05 pm
Parabolic brick arch in the corridor of Junior Secondary School in Sector 22, Chandigarh. (Source: cca.qc.ca)

Written by Astha

Born in Geneva, Arnold-Andre-Pierre Jeanneret-Gris was a brilliant artist, sculptor, architect and furniture designer, influenced by Jura landscape in his early childhood. He joined his cousin Le Corbusier in creating the capital of Punjab, namely Chandigarh in 1950.

His responsibilities during his long mandate as “Senior Architect” for the Capital Project ranged from being the building supervisor for the monumental area of the Capitol Complex to being the project manager and developer of plans for housing and public premises.

Fully aware of 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 ability to get things done despite the many challenges.

As a prolific designer, he evolved a unique vocabulary for most of the government housings, educational institutions, civic buildings, schools, shopping centers and some private residences- all within the constraints of money, material and technology.

Jeanneret’s design for Central State Library strictly followed the volumetric and facade controls laid out for the City Centre demonstrating the possibility of creativity within specific architectural controls. The circular concrete columns, beams, parapets, deep verandahs and changed stack levels on the rear side dominate the exterior of the building. Located close to the Central Library is Jeanneret’s Town Hall. Instead of regular verandahs, each floor of this building has been projected out to create a series of overhanging storeys on the north-east facade.

A sketch showing Pierre Jeanneret holding the Capitol Project over his head. Source: Sneh Pandit, The Guide to Chandigarh, 1965.

Pierre also designed the cultural capital complex of the city on the Panjab University campus. The university is his tour de force; a self-contained complex divided into three zones- an academic area to north-east, sports area in the middle and staff housing to the south-west. Buildings like Gandhi Bhawan, Administrative block and University Library are exclusively designed incorporating striking architectural features which have given campus various landmarks.

Administrative block, the five-storeyed exposed reinforced concrete structure has a staggered section, with upper floors shading the ones below. The two internal courts puncturing the solid mass of the building at the upper floors and curiously devised pyramid covering on the lift’s machine room exhibit its structural innovation. The design of AC Joshi Library is based on similar structural module adopted for the State Library, keeping reading areas towards the front, thereby gaining a well-lit, glare-free interior. Reinforced concrete sun breakers on north-east facade provide shade to the glazing and a series of projecting concrete balconies give plasticity to the south-west facade.

Along with the important landmarks of the University campus, Pierre also designed the Science and Arts Faculty Departments. Science departments have been arranged as a series of widely spaced triple-storeyed blocks having north-south orientation. The buildings have a reinforced concrete structure with in-fill brick walls and red sandstone cladding on outer surface, superimposed with regular grid of free standing concrete columns. Arts department blocks are uniformly laid out with leitmotif design at the north-east edge of the campus. Triangular spaces created by diagonal placement of lecture theatres promote interaction between students and teachers.

Cool schools

Jeanneret also designed nursery schools in Sectors 7, 16, 22 and 23 with greater emphasis laid on natural outdoor environment than the built form. Though similar in plan, all the schools are distinguished by minor variation in their built form, external facade, site layout or treatment of outdoor spaces. In Sector-7 nursery school, a serpentine ramp emerging from an earth-mound leads to the terrace with high parapet. The nursery school of Sector 16 has outdoor spaces enclosed by curved walls and a beautiful sculpture chiseled by Jeanneret himself. The Sector 23 school has an interesting porch cum staircase block right at the entrance.

In case of junior secondary schools, Jeanneret experimented intensively with their orientation. In the schools in Sectors 19 and 21, the main classroom blocks have been oriented towards south-east and north-west with verandahs facing south-east. Since the wind direction of Chandigarh follows the same path, this orientation ensures sufficient cross ventilation.

Since brick was the cheapest material, he imaginatively designed the parabolic brick arches in the corridors of the Sector 22 school, and a brick mural illustrating the ‘Pythagorean Theorem’ on the end wall in the Sector 16 school.

It is worthwhile to look at Chandigarh in the light of Jeanneret’s ‘reflection on beauty of line, shape and form’, for this city undeniably owes a large part of its character to his designs.

(This article is part of the fortnightly series by faculty and students of the Chandigarh College of Architecture in collaboration with the Le Corbusier Pierre Jeanneret Forum.)

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