The Lasting Impact of Pierre Jeanneret
Archive photos courtesy of cca
The Swiss architect Pierre Jeanneret (1896-1967) is perhaps most famous for a chair. It’s made of Burmese teak and woven cane, with angular and distinctive V-shaped legs. The design cuts an exciting silhouette, one that feels at once forward-looking and old-worldly. All things considered, the chair is strikingly straightforward—and yet, it has undoubtedly stood the test of time.
It was produced in the 1950s, when Jeanneret was in the midst of a massive urban planning project in Chandigarh, India. He was brought into the mix by his cousin, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as the architect and designer Le Corbusier. Though he would abandon the project, Jeanneret remained the chief architect for 15 years. The original objective was to design low-cost, hyper-functional buildings and furniture. Jeanneret believed he could do one better: the Chandigarh people still deserved things that were beautiful and well-built.
“He believed in the elements of purity, simplicity, and order,” one of Jeanneret’s assistants said at the time. He carried those principles in everything he did. You’d often see Jeanneret dressed in a crisp white button-up tucked into pleated trousers. He wore a simple silver watch, black-rimmed glasses, and, sometimes, a hat to shield his bald head from the Indian sun. He was an avid photographer, shooting portraits of local builders as they worked, or pictures of buildings as he biked around the city.
Even outside of work, the architect was designing and building. He built a sharp-looking pedal boat to use at the local lake, weaved dhurries, and built simple furniture for his backyard. By all accounts, Jeanneret was a man who loved to keep his hands busy.
Today, his most famous chair can be seen everywhere thanks to intrepid design dealers. The story goes that the people of Chandigarh eventually found the Jeanneret-designed furniture to look dated. They threw much of it out before international collectors started to buy it all up. You can spot Jeanneret in the homes of interior stylists like Colin King and celebrities like Jonah Hill. Some of Jeanneret’s lesser-known designs are equally as thrilling.
The Model 92 Scissors Chair is as clever as covetable, a piece that deep-pocketed collectors pay top dollar for. A brutalist-inspired bookcase made from aluminium and wood is currently listed online for six figures. He also had his hand in creating the stylish and chrome-framed LC3 collection (alongside Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand), a staple of contemporary high-end interiors.
Some of Jeanneret’s designs are still in production today, while others need to be sought out like treasure. The legacy of the furniture may precede the legacy of the man himself, but he put so much of himself into his work that it’s hard to separate the two. He chose to have his ashes laid to rest in the tranquil waters of the Sukhna Lake in his cherished Chandigarh.
It’s been over a half-century since his death. Still, Pierre Jeanneret’s legacy continues to live on—his mark as a designer and, most importantly, his passion for bringing great design to whoever would appreciate it.