It happens so rarely these days but every now and then you hear of someone stumbling across a classic piece of furniture that has been discarded or taken to charity, unbeknownst of its true value and selling for tenths of its worth.
In a discovery the design equivalent of Howard Carter’s unearthing of Tutankhamen’s tomb, Richa Mukhia stumbled across a host of original one off pieces of furniture designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret for a specific project they were working on in the early 1950s in India in the city of Chandigarh. After five years of salvaging and careful restoration the collection is now on show in London’s cavernous P3 space.
In post-Raj India Le Corbusier and Jeanneret were commissioned to design a city in the foothills of the Himalayas, putting into bricks and mortar their ideas of modern living. Responsible for the town planning, landscaping and architecture it was an opportunity for them to try out their ideas on an unprecedented scale. Less widely documented but certainly no less significant was the furniture they also designed for the city.
'We obtained the furniture about five years ago after spotting it on a rubbish tip in a very tired state,' explains Mukhia. 'Though the buildings in Chandigarh were still very much in use, the furniture, which was predominantly timber, was nearly 50 years old and showing its age. Hence it was discarded when rufurbishment of the interiors was carried out.'
It’s unusual in that it is simple, handcrafted and largely wood, not the mass-produced tubular steel creations more often associated with the pair. It’s a gentler, perhaps truer form of expression of the mass-individualism propagated by the pair, as well as displaying an incorporation of the particular local Indian craft and social requirements, as opposed to post-War Europe where the pair had until then worked.
The exhibition at P3 is the first outing of this comprehensive collection and alongside regular household furniture includes recreated sections of Chandigarh’s Palace of Justice (see above) and the Capitol Complex as well as plans, models and narratives about the project. Though an impressive collection by any standards one can’t help feeling it's all the more precious for the fact that it was so nearly lost for good.