Pierre Jeanneret’s architectural legacy in Chandigarh is well known. Lesser known is that he worked tirelessly on the master plan and key buildings of the Panjab University in addition to his own role as the Chief Architect of Chandigarh. Much of the university’s heritage buildings were carefully supervised by Pierre Jeanneret in the evening, after he had finished his day at the Old Architect’s office as the City Chief.
Educational campuses represent the backbone of a city’s cultural resource and the citizens draw their inspiration from such institutions that serve as their alma mater, as an intellectual and cultural hub, and, in case of Chandigarh, a heritage precinct. Chandigarh, Pandit Nehru’s brainchild, came up to fill the void created by the loss of Lahore; a harbinger of change signifying the promise of freedom. Within it was seeded a microcosm – the Panjab University – that travelled from Lahore to its scattering of transit campuses in Solan, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Delhi, Amritsar and Shimla, was finally consolidated in Chandigarh in an area of 550 acres towards the north-western edge of the city bordering the Patiali Ki Rao rivulet. Thus was born the Panjab University in 1956 – the nerve centre of learning in North India.
The development of the Panjab University Campus represents the overcoming of architectural challenges with an understanding and empathy to ground realities of mitigating the constraints of a shoestring budget, the vagaries of a harsh composite climate, the utilization of local men and methods of construction and, most importantly, the search for a modernist expression to fulfil the aspirations of the displaced population in the aftermath of India’s partition. Going a step further, the Panjab University has the largest stock of furniture types and variants serving academic, library, hostels and administrative functions designed as early as the University itself.
The campus exhibits sustainable architecture features which were inbuilt into its layout, design of buildings and associated open space structure – Pierre Jeanneret, the foot architect, supervised the construction of buildings and insisted upon the precision of design and detail. The use of local materials such as riverbed stones, aggregate, sunburnt brick and precast purlins generate the urban vocabulary of the campus buildings. Coupled with the immense tree cover and garden landscape it is a perfect ‘building in a garden’ stage set. The extensive use of red sand stone, exposed RCC surfaces and stonewalls, terrazzo and conglomerate floors represent low maintenance.
Jeanneret’s favourite icon was the Gandhi Bhawan. Inaugurated in 1962, by Dr. S Radhakrishnan, it is the symbol of the University. The three-winged structure of the Gandhi Bhawan is the most artistic building of Panjab University. The building’s abstracted lotus form represents Gandhian ideals, standing in a pool of water amidst landscaped gardens and rows of palms. It was commemorated with the release of a Postal Stamp in 1989.
It is a proud moment for the Panjab University to receive the Planning and Research Grant for the Gandhi Bhawan which is the symbol and most important landmark of the Campus. I congratulate the entire team which has worked tirelessly towards the successful preparation of a path breaking document – the Conservation management Plan which will serve as a beacon light for the large ensembles of modern heritage and their conservation strategies. I wish the team of collaborators for this unique venture all success.