Restoring Chandigarh

Berluti and Laffanour Galerie Downtown partner to restore original furniture pieces by designer Pierre Jeanneret

In 1951, the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier penned a letter to his wife Yvonne, writing: “We are on the site of our city, beneath a marvellous sky in the midst of a timeless landscape…All is calm, slow, harmonious, lovely… Chandigarh (this is the name of our new capital)”. A year prior, the modernist planner had been invited by the Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to create a utopian city from scratch, symbolising the country’s post-war independence. Chandigarh, a compound of the Hindu goddess Chandi and Garh (meaning fortress), was also supervised by Le Corbusier’s cousin Pierre Jeanneret, who looked after both the Capitol’s major administrative buildings and designed all the furniture within the Complex together with Charles-Édouard and Charlotte Perriand.

The latter is the focus of a recent collaboration between Berluti and Laffanour Galerie Downtown, who have lovingly restored 17 original pieces, upholstered in Berluti’s iconic Venezia leather. The hallmark X, U and V-like forms of cinema chairs, daybeds, folding screens and desks crafted in solid teak have been given new life and by incredibly high conservation standards, with no filling holes or removal marks in the wood. Tops, panels, cushions and upholstery are finished with specially tanned leather, their unique colour palette developed afresh by Berluti’s creative director Kris Van Assche, who was directly inspired by the light, landscape and flora of the North Indian region and two colour collections originally created by Le Corbusier. “I have always loved and collected Pierre Jeanneret’s furniture,” notes Van Assche, “I knew that the Berluti patina know-how would give back all their splendour to those iconic pieces, aged through time. It is an opportunity for this Berluti craft to be rediscovered in a new context.”

Port spoke to Francois Laffanour – the founder of Galerie Downtown – about the partnership, the ambition of Chandigarh and shared design aesthetics.

Photography Franck Perrin

How did the project come about – what first drew you to Pierre Jeanneret’s work?

The project sprung out of a friendship between myself and Kris Van Asche. We both share a communal interest and passion for Pierre Jeanneret, his values and his work.

Why does the Chandigarh Capitol Complex ambition continue to inspire architects and designers?

There is an ode to modernity and industry in the architecture of this time, which contrasts sharply with the primary function inside of the Chandigarh capitol complex (administrative reflecting law and order). 

What was the working process behind the restoration?

We worked hard to restore the Jeanneret furniture like we are used to doing. Berluti then reupholstered the furniture in a very different way with their leather, inspired by bright colours which remind us of some of the buildings in Chandigarh.

What design or aesthetic values do you and Kris share?

A taste for determination and rigour. Minimalism – when less is really more.

What one item would you save from a burning building? 

Pierre Jeanneret’s base building desk.

The Berluti x Laffanour Galerie Downtown series will be presented during DesignMiami until December 8th 2019

Modernist Architecture Redefined

As it opens up the modernist canon to include both contemporary buildings and lesser-known examples from around the world, a new book asks what modernism means today

Shigeru Ban: Curtain Wall House, Tokyo, Japan, 1995 © Hiroyuki Hirai

In 1910, Austrian architect Adolf Loos delivered a radical lecture railing against what he called ‘the plague of ornament’. Later published as an essay titled ‘Ornament and Crime’, Loos’ polemic was first and foremost a violent reaction to the excess and elitism of art nouveau. For Loos, art nouveau’s decadence was an unnecessary burden on both the powers of invention and human labour. Both, he claimed, slow the tempo of cultural progress. Subject as it is to changing taste, the form of an object, he argued, should last as long as the object lasts physically. This was not the first time a moralising stance has been taken on style, but more than century later, it has proved to be one of the most influential.

A new book, Ornament is Crime: Modernist Architecture, plays on Loos’ legacy and celebrates the architectural language of modernism with a visual survey of extraordinary homes dating from 1910 to present day. As it opens up the modernist canon to include both contemporary buildings and lesser-known examples from around the world, it necessarily asks what modernism means today. 

Adolf Loos: Villa Müller, Prague, Czech Republic, 1930. Picture credit: Vaclav Sedy

“Modernism isn’t just a style, it’s actually a radical approach to life and to art,” says co-author Albert Hill. “That clear purpose has resulted in great architecture, and people recognise that this is not architecture by numbers, this is not architecture by corporate committee, this is architecture by vision and values.”

In the 20th century, the tremors of modernism were felt in everything from painting to literature, and to underscore the lasting intensity of these values, authors Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill have interspersed silky black and white photographs with punchy quotes, song lyrics and literary excerpts from figures such as Susan Sontag and Samuel Beckett. “Instead of just being about architecture, the book is about architecture’s place within modern culture,” Hill says.

Tadao Ando: House in Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico, 2011. Picture credit: Toshiyuki Yano

Although modernism is often historically confined to the 20th century, Ornament is Crime liberates the term by looking at how some of the most respected contemporary architects – including John Pawson, Richard Meier and Tadao Ando – continue to work in the modernist tradition. 

“There are very obvious characteristics that these houses share,” explains Gibberd. “Flat roofs, often horizontal bands of glazing, cubic or cylindrical forms. Modernism came about because of new technologies – the possibilities of curtain-walling, and the fact that concrete allowed you to have these open floor plates, huge expanses of glazing – and those still very much apply.”

Le Corbusier: Villa Savoye, Poissy, France, 1929. Picture credit: Fondation Le Corbusier

Many of these defining characteristics were outlined by Le Corbusier in his five points of architecture. With its free facade, ribbon windows, pilotis, roof terrace and open plan, the Swiss-French architect’s iconic Villa Savoye, built in 1929 in Poissy, on the outskirts of Paris, is an embodiment of these principles and remains a benchmark for modernist design. In the absence of surface decoration, Gibberd suggests that modernist architecture becomes about “shape-making”, and like Loos, Le Corbusier and legions of architects since, Ornament is Crime extols the virtues of pure form.

Ornament is Crime: Modernist Architechture is out now, published by Phaidon

Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today


Maristella Casciato considers the story behind Chandigarh, the futurist Indian city created by Swiss-French modernist architect, Le Corbusier

On 19 December 1950, the Swiss-French planner Le Corbusier signed a contract with the Indian government to act as architectural advisor on the master plan for Chandigarh. It would be a long endeavour: more than thirteen years would pass before the Legislative Assembly building was inaugurated on 15 April 1964, and the government of Punjab received its institutional seat. As a capital built from scratch, Chandigarh was to compensate this region in northwestern India for the loss of Lahore during Partition. It would also show that modern architecture, on its new postwar path, could still embrace a political ideal in order to construct the social and cultural identity of a city and its future residents.

Le Corbusier and Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the central figures of this enterprise, were enacting a modern version of a patronage relationship between the architect and the enlightened prince. Both were aware not only of the project’s historical and political significance but also of its looming programmatic difficulties. The Cold War was well under way, and our two principal actors had only partly similar aims. While both were motivated by deep idealism and linked by their humanitarian socialism, this common ground should not to be confused with a shared political creed. Nevertheless, for more than a decade the two men invested a great deal of energy in advancing the Chandigarh project, using the full weight of their institutional and intellectual charisma while balancing their respective goals.

Even before landing in India, Le Corbusier conveyed not only a total confidence that he could undertake the project successfully but also an almost boyish enthusiasm for the adventure. It was a moment of apotheosis for the architect, who seemed transformed, immediately appropriating the place as his own in a letter to his wife Yvonne: ‘Chandigarh (this is the name of our new capital) . . . . We are on the site of our city, beneath a marvellous sky in the midst of a timeless landscape. . . . All is calm, slow, harmonious, lovely. . .’ (25 February 1951; italics added).

The Indian adventure had barely begun. As he had pledged to Nehru, Le Corbusier would remain committed to his task even under adverse conditions. The architect made twenty-three trips to Chandigarh in fourteen years; the final visit took place in April 1964 for the inauguration of the Legislative Assembly building, at which Nehru was also present. Both men had kept their appointment with history and with architecture.

Extracted from the foreword by Maristella Casciato in Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today by Shaun Fynn (Princeton Architectural Press, out 4 April 2017, £45)

For more info on the book, click here.

Photography Shaun Fynn


Celebrating Gio Ponti: Molteni&C

We take a look at the new Molteni&C furniture that celebrates the genius of the pioneering modernist Gio Ponti and eight decades of Italian design

Small Table D.552.2 by Gio Ponti for Molteni&C
Small Table D.552.2 by Gio Ponti for Molteni&C

In 1929 the designer and architect, Gio Ponti, founded the magazine Domus. Focussing on ‘the cultural debate of architecture and Italian design in the 20th century’, Domus and Ponti would become some of the key figures that established Italy as a centre of modernist design. They were also the driving force behind one of the country’s largest design houses, Molteni&C.

Until the Second World War, Molteni&C had manufactured reproduction Louis XIV chairs, but with peace came economic growth. “After the war there was a need to furnish Italy,” says Giulia Molteni, the granddaughter of founders Angelo and Giuseppina Molteni. “Following the war, my grandfather found designers and architects who had a different idea of modernity like Le Corbusier and Gio Ponti. He thought it would be a great adventure and believed in it. On the appointed day they simply stopped producing the reproduction furniture, threw away everything they were working on, and started anew.” It was an audacious move, but one that worked.

Armchair D.270.2 by Gio Ponti for Molteni&C
Armchair D.270.2 by Gio Ponti for Molteni&C”

Today, Molteni&C comprises four subsidiary companies that are currently celebrating 80 years in business. Fittingly, in collaboration with Gio Ponti’s heirs, Molteni&C has recently reissued a selection of Ponti’s designs that reflect on their history within Italian design and give a potted history of Ponti’s illustrious career. The first, Small Table D.552.2, is made of solid rosewood with bronze legs and a transparent triangular top and was designed for the American market in the 1950s. Joseph Singer, of Singer&Sons, travelled to Italy from New York in search of new designs and ideas and it was his patronage of Italian designers that helped to establish the reputation of Ponti, Carlo Mollino, Ico Parisi and many others in America.

The second piece, Armchair D.154.2, was commissioned for the Caracas villa of the collectors Anala and Armando Planchart – “a game of spaces, surfaces and volumes offered in different ways to those who visit”, as Ponti wrote in Domus. Ponti had travelled to Latin America in 1952–3 and his conception of both the villa and the furniture was inspired by what he had found there; Italian art and design was mixed with a Venezuelan vernacular. This armchair, despite being explicitly Italian in design, embraces a softer, more organic form, enclosing the sitter and reflecting its domestic purpose. It is this sensitivity to the object’s destination, to the requirements of the modern home, that is at the root of Molteni&C’s post-war transformation.

Molteni&C continues to innovate and experiment with its products, a strategy remains at the core of the business’ ethos. “We put at least 5 per cent of our profits into research and development,” explains Giulia. “And we try to ensure that we find international designers so we are not too Italian.” Perhaps this is best evinced by Patricia Urquiola’s Night and Day collection for Molteni&C – a series of sofas, chaise longues and single beds that can be configured for the needs of the user and, as Giulia puts it, the “varying needs of modern homes”.