Pierre Jeanneret 'Floating Back Armchair'
A Brief History on the Chandigarh Chair
By Megan McClelland
Unpacking Jeanneret’s Chandigarh chair as a reflective symbol of its origins: the experimental, modernist city, Chandigarh, in Northern India.
Most people travel to learn something new about another culture, in order to deepen their perspective on life. The benefits of learning about cultures outside of one’s own are beginning to appreciate the gastronomy, art, and designs native to an area, which carry historical and cultural significance for a group of people. A key example of this is Jeanneret’s Chandigarh chair, which was built in Chandigarh; a capital city in the Northern part of India, heralded as a utopia in the late 1940s and 50s. The chair’s design is reflective of the modernist ethos of Chandigarh, a city built from scratch after the British decolonized India and created a partition dividing the country between Muslim and Hindu communities. Societal issues, such as displacement, arose from this divide, which lead the Prime Minister, Sh. Jawahar Lal Nehru to create his vision for Chandigarh, not only as solution to his constituent’s problems, but as a brand new, experimental, and secular city that symbolized his optimistic outlook for India's future.
Nehru decided that modernism was the ideal artistic ideology to underpin Chandigarh’s visual identity. This decision was because the modernist movement's aims and goals aligned with his aspirations for the city: to create something visually compelling, methodical, and free of the past. To accomplish this, Nehru hired the prolific Swiss architect and modernist, Le Corbusier, to design the city, along with a team of city planners. Le Corbusier eventually brought his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, onto the job with him, whose significant contribution to the project was furnishing the city's buildings. This contribution is where we get the Chandigarh chair—designed to be a fully functional, reproducible, and recyclable piece of furniture that would reside in the homes, schools, balconies, and governmental buildings in Chandigarh. The sustainable ethos of the chair bodes well against the natural backdrop of the city, which is positioned at the foothill of lush mountains. In an interview with Nice Try!, expert Vikram Prakash stated that if one were to travel to Chandigarh today, they'd find the chairs repurposed in public spaces as public benches and park swings; perfectly comfortable and efficient, underscoring the chair’s modernist engineering.
Jeanneret's Chandigarh chair is composed of teak and cane and appears to float from the armchair up, on an upside-down V shape created by the legs. Since its conception, the Chandigarh chair has become world renown, symbolizing Chandigarh’s unique history and as an apex of modernist design. Once seen as a functional solution to furnishing Chandigarh’s buildings, the originals are currently high ticket luxury items selling upward of £4,000 for a pair. Today, one can see Jeanneret's chairs gracing the Architectural Digest pages in celebrity homes, like Kourtney Kardashian. Whether you glaze over the chairs in magazines, sit on one in Chandigarh, or purchase one for yourself, Jeanneret's chair is worth appreciating - if not for its design, then for the cultural and historical connection to Chandigarh.
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