Seeking Corbusier

A French photographer in the living rooms of Chandigarh

01 October 2012
Manuel Bougot’s photograph of the kitchen of a retired army major’s house in Chandigarh’s Sector 16.
COURTESY MANUEL BOUGOT / PHOTOINK
Manuel Bougot’s photograph of the kitchen of a retired army major’s house in Chandigarh’s Sector 16.
COURTESY MANUEL BOUGOT / PHOTOINK

IN SEPTEMBER 2007, the architect BV Doshi delivered a lecture at the Institut Français d’Architecture in Paris in which he presented a critique of his own early work. Doshi, known for his role in designing the expansive Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, had worked with the Swiss modernist planner Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as ‘Le Corbusier’, in Paris in the early 1950s before returning to India to serve as one of Corbusier’s site architects in Chandigarh. Although deeply influenced by the Swiss architect, Doshi had since begun to wonder about the relevance of the houses in Chandigarh he had a hand in creating. In Contemporary Architects, published in the late 1980s, he expressed this sentiment: “the buildings that I have designed seem somewhat foreign... they do not appear to have their roots in the soil”.

Listening attentively in the audience to Doshi’s lecture in Paris was French photographer Manuel Bougot. “Doshi’s words were really the starting point for this work,” he said, sitting on a bench surrounded by his photographs from Chandigarh, on exhibit at PhotoInk gallery in Delhi. “At times people living in houses he had helped design would change certain things, like windows—he wanted to see how they adapted to a house that wasn’t conceived by them.”

Bougot by then had developed a serious interest in Corbusier’s imprint on Chandigarh. In 1996, he had helped a friend with a project on Corbusier’s Maisons Jaoul, a well-known pair of houses in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, and had immersed himself in the modernist master’s architectural oeuvre. With Doshi’s own impulse in mind, Bougot wanted to see for himself what the residents of Chandigarh had made of their homes.

Jyothi Natarajan  is a former associate editor of The Caravan.

Keywords: photography architecture Chandigarh Manuel Bougot Le Corbusier
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