A symbol of freedom
In 1949, the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, had a vision. Two years had passed since his country had gained independence from the British Empire and, seeking a symbol of India breaking with its colonial past, he saw an opportunity 160 miles north of New Delhi. Here a new planned city called Chandigarh would be built, one which would become the capital of the federal Indian state of Punjab. A city that would be brought to life by one of the most famous architects, planners and designers of the 20th Century – Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, professionally known as Le Corbusier. Today, in a country which fuses ancient history with a dynamic, contemporary present, it’s a unique destination for any Indian travel experience.
Le Corbusier – who had taken over the project early in its life cycle from the American urban planner Albert Mayer – had long dreamed of creating an ideal city. From 1951 until his death in 1965, the Swiss-French visionary succeeded in creating an architectural masterpiece and an icon of modern town planning with his work on Chandigarh. He went about it with customary Swiss precision and attention to detail – from the master plan right down to the door handles. His cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, was a key figure in implementing the plan, designing the furnishings for the government offices which are today lauded as design classics.
Chandigarh is an example of how to successfully combine modernism and nature conservation. Newly built from the ground up, Le Corbusier put its citizens at the centre of its development – some 60 per cent of the city is green space, more than any other Asian city. The grandiose Capitol complex, in particular, is a prime illustration of his vision of the ideal city. Le Corbusier deliberately connected the monumental buildings he and his team created to the landscape. Organic, sculptured shapes form a relationship with the nearby foothills of the Himalayas, which rise spectacularly in the background. Visiting Chandigarh is a unique travel experience for any fan of architecture and design, one whose legacy has been enhanced by its addition, in 2016, to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The city of Chandigarh is planned to human scale. It puts us in touch with the infinite cosmos and nature. It provides us with places and buildings for all human activities by which the citizens can live a full and harmonious life
A classic makes a comeback
One forgotten design classic from Chandigarh recently made a grand comeback at the Design Miami fair in 2019 – Pierre Jeanneret’s chairs that he designed especially for the project. They were originally produced in their thousands for Chandigarh during the 1950s and 1960s. As there were no furniture stores or carpet shops in the nascent city at the time of its construction, the architects simply designed their furnishings themselves, following a similar aesthetic to the magnificent buildings springing up around them. Pierre Jeanneret was in close, continuous contact with local artisans and succeeded in combining modern European design ideals with a traditional Indian spirit. As with so many other design icons, form followed function. Chief among them were the Capitol Complex Chair with their trademark inverted V legs.
Today they are considered design classics, but they were nearly consigned to the dustbin of history when the authorities in Chandigarh scrapped them in the 1980s. Thankfully, there were a couple of design experts who recognised the symbolic importance of the furniture and saved some original examples of these unpretentious but highly covetable treasures. Initially, they appeared at exclusive auctions, but they would later become popular with renowned interior designers like Axel Vervoordt and Joseph Dirand. The Capitol Complex Chairs are now wooing fans of mid-century design worldwide, finding their way – often as reproductions – into the homes of celebrities, collectors and influencers. When we head to India with the Porsche Travel Experience, we hope to visit the unique city that influenced these beautiful examples of 20th Century furniture.
This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.