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Le Corbusier, Judges desk

After Indian independence in 1947 and the subsequent partition of India and Pakistan, there was a need for a new administrative capital for the Indian Punjab. Chandigarh was to discard the weight of tradition and as stated by Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru to be “an expression of the nation’s faith in the future”. After a false start, Le Corbusier was approached for a Master Plan of the new city. Here was the opportunity he had been waiting for since the 1920’s, to construct a complete city, nonetheless, he made it a condition that he work in collaboration with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. Other members of the design team were the British architects, Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry, and the Indian team of administrators, engineers and architects, including P.N. Thapar and P.L. Varma.

The High Court was the first of the Capitol Complex buildings to be completed and Le Corbusier was involved in all aspects of its design. The monumental building accommodated eight small courtrooms, various antechambers and the main courtroom. The design of the Judge’s Desk is arguably the most significant item of furniture designed by Le Corbusier for the new city of Chandigarh. Its design was determined by Le Corbusier in November 1954, and he ensured it would be one of the most memorable expressions of his “Modulor”, a proportional system created by in accordance with the Golden section.

As Le Corbusier was always concerned with plateaus and shifting horizons, he intended the element of the assemblage at which the judges sat, to be raised so that the judiciary were physically and therefore metaphorically the highest beings in the room. He designed a ceremonial route between the courtroom and the judge’s private chamber so that the steps up to the ‘altar’ of the main desk injected a theatricality into the judge’s promenade.

The Judge’s Desk was constructed from large pieces of Indian-teak plywood, not just because it is resistant to rot and termites but also because Le Corbusier disliked wood with knots and favoured ‘new’ composites such as veneered plywood. The veneer of the desk had an unusually wide figure, emphasizing the significance of the piece. Similarly, the 2.6-metre-long beam that provides structural support and also acts as a footrest was lavishly crafted from solid teak. The unadorned, mitred construction and sharp edges conceal the core of the plywood, allowing a pure expression of the design’s monolithic form.

The Judge’s Desk is an iconic piece from a heroic period that fully embodies Le Corbusier’s approach to geometry, functionality and symbolism.

“The geometry of the work, in certain buildings, is inscribed in the very texture of the Modulor. But it is possible to dimension a part of the essential elements by regulating lines. For the High Court the lines will be simple, making use of the square, the Φ rectangle, and the √2 rectangle. Everything will then take a harmonious course, provided, of course, that the venture is grasped and carried through felicitously.” -Le Corbusier, Modulor 2

- Boesiger W., Le Corbusier et Pierre Jeanneret, Bâle 1995.
- Rüegg A., Le Corbusier. Meubles et Intérieurs 1905 - 1965, Zurich 2012.
- Touchaleaume E. & Moreau G., Le Corbusier. Pierre Jeanneret. L’aventure indienne/The Indian adventure, Paris 2010.

Object information

Indian teak-plywood
Date and place:
Chandigarh, India, 1954
108 x 322 x 252 cm
Private collection, United Kingdom, December 2005; Acquired directly from the High Court of Chandigarh, India.

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