Ahead of our upcoming 18 July Design Sale, Specialist, Otto Billstrom delves into the history of the iconic Chandigarh Chair.
11 July 2023
Following the declaration of independence in 1947, the Indian republican government launched an initiative to rejuvenate several major cities fit for modern living and reflecting modern ideologies.
In 1950, Modernist architect Charles Eduard Jeanneret, more commonly known as Le Corbusier, and his cousin Pierre were invited by the President Jawaharlal Nehru and the new republican government to present their vision for the city of Chandigarh, the capital of the Northern Punjab region.
A teak paddle armchair (£3,000-4,000)
At it’s core the vision of Chandigarh, much like its Brazilian predecessor of Brasilia, was an attempt at creating a utopian metropolis fit for the post-war world. Whilst Le Corbusier would only visit the city a few times following the signing off the project, Pierre Jeanneret would remain on site overseeing its completion and designing many of the fittings and interiors. .
In regard to the furnishing of the spaces Jeanneret famously said ‘The People Needed Seats’ Considering the size of the project, spanning multiple governmental and educational institutions, the furniture had to be produced with great efficiency to meet the deadlines and demands. The result was a time efficient, minimalist range of furniture which worked with local materials, teak, and rattan, both highly abundant adaptable to the local climate, ensuring their longevity.
A 'Peon' bench (£6,000-8,000)
As the century drew to a close, Chandigarh had grown expansively to the point that adjustments had to be made to a lot of buildings, and new ones erected to accommodate contemporary living. As a result of this the story of Jeanneret’s chair could have ended here, with many of the furnishings being discarded in favour for modern replacements.
Dormant for over two decades these sat discarded in the modernist metropolis which once housed them. Images show frames stashed on rooftops, in alleyways and basements throughout the complex, with chairs selling for a few rupees at auctions to those willing to buy them.
This was all until Eric Tochaleume and Francois Laffanour of the Parisian Gallery 54 encountered them whilst visiting the city. Their decision to revitalise these minimalist pieces, slowly introducing them to the contemporary interiors market proved to be a global sensation with them soon being introduced in most minimalist schemes, and contemporary manufacturers developing their own rattan dining chairs.
In 2022, after many years of lobbying and continuous applications, partially due to furniture now being stolen from the site, the Chandigarh complex was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now a recognised icon of 20th century design, the fate of Jeanneret’s furniture once seemed fated to be written out of public consciousness, instead sitting in the epicentre of minimalist design, and all because people once needed seats.
A 'Low Easy Chair' armchair (£2,000-3,000)
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