Under the name Housing and innovation: Technique and domestic space in the residential works by Pierre Jeanneret, a contemporary analysis for design housing solutions, the doctoral thesis focused on the research carried out by a forgotten modern architect and his quest to solve the domestic habitat in different geographical and emergency contexts is presented, with the aim of contributing and enriching contemporary research on prototypes, techniques and tools for new residential proposals that respond to contemporary socioeconomic and climatic conditions, pursuing what Walter Benjamin wrote: "Nothing that has ever happened can be taken for lost", since the new is accompanied by the redemption of everything past1.
Pierre Jeanneret: The great unknown
Considering that there are many works that can be highlighted as part of the legacy of the modern movement, the work of Pierre Jeanneret stands out for possessing sufficient qualities to justify the contemporary review that is proposed. A review that deepens the residential works developed by the architect outside the Atelier 35 rue de Sèvres, mostly unknown and little studied, whose research in various fields of housing, typological, technological, economic and cultural, contributed to the construction of the domestic habitat of the twentieth century. In addition, Pierre Jeanneret gives the image of the true creator, of the man thirsty for constant discoveries. He looks around, invents and proposes with the generosity of those who live intensely. His whole life is a search for truth. To unravel, to understand, to find new answers.
Figure 1: Tonneau hut, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, 1937. Axonometric reconstruction of the model made by Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand showing the assembly of the shelter and the way the different parts are assembled and details of the joints of the different parts of the shelter. Above: joints between floor, wall, and roof panels. Below: joints of the tubular structure, and stiffening cables. Axonometry drawing by the author.
Time-frame: Approach to the residential work of Pierre Jeanneret
What is known of Pierre Jeanneret's work is related, for the most part, to the works carried out in association with Le Corbusier. An extensive production that began in 1922 and ended in 1940, as a result of the war, resuming again in late 1950 with the commission for Chandigarh. Of these two stages a long bibliographical reflection can be found which, for the most part, focuses on the figure of Le Corbusier, leaving Pierre Jeanneret as the operational and technical executor of the projects. Even worse, of the decade after the separation, between 1940 and 1950, his production is unknown, a period little documented that has only left record in the collaborations that he made with other architects and designers such as Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé; but that represented a stage of experimentation and conceptual deepening on the meaning and form of domestic space.
Now, with the above in mind, how can we determine P. Jeanneret's contribution to the construction of the modern habitat and thus its implementation in contemporary residential research if we do not know his residential work in depth? It becomes inevitable to reconstruct and know the work of P. Jeanneret before making any formal or technical analysis of the projects, reconstructing them in such a way as to see the research period as a holistic process in order to extract the elements, systems or technical or architectural themes that contribute to contemporary design, as Josep Quetglas puts it: "The act of seeing does not consist in the passive and automatic reception of a fixed and established image in front of us, but in the active process of elaborating, approaching, separating, building relationships. The eyes receive an impact, and the memory sets off in search of possible links, producers of meaning"2.
Figure 2: Maison Demontable 8 x 8, Pierre Jeanneret and Jean Prouvé, 1941, BCC. Redrawing of the central space with the V’s portico, a light and itinerant wood structure as part of the space. Perspective drawing by the author.
Hypothesis: About innovation and technic
As the title of the thesis indicates, the research wants to stipulate the innovative and technical character of P. Jeanneret's residential projects seeking to discern that it was orchestrated as a process of heuristic projection. In order to do so, it is necessary to determine what is meant when we talk about innovation and technique, starting with the meaning and etymology in order to begin to understand. In one hand, to innovate is to create or alter something, to introduce a novelty; its own Latin etymological root indicates it: "in" (to penetrate, to be inside) and "novus" (the new). The definition resonates in the words of Alvaro Siza: "Architects do not invent anything they just transform what already exists". But what does exist and what was new in the work of P. Jeanneret? It will one of the questions the thesis want to afront. In the other hand, technique, from the Greek, derives from the word tekton, carpenter or builder. It can be understood, if the intent is not specified, as Bruno Reichlin explains it in three different ways: the frist one, “la costruzione intesa nel suo aspetto materiale, e quindi la struttura e il suo guscio, i materiali e i dispositivi tecnici che si collegano a essa, le installazioni come pure le modalità di fabbricazione e il procedimento di messa in opera”. The second one, “l’immagine “tecnica” dell’opera, vale a dire ciò che nell’opera compiuta è dato di vedere e comprendere della sua costruzione. (…) indicata con il termine “tectonica”. And the last one, “il complesso dei saperi, dei metodi e degli strumenti di cui gli architetti (…) si sono dati per occuparsi in modo razionale ed efficace della concezione, e quindi dell’innovazione e della creazione, architettonica” (…)”3.
Following this order of ideas, the thesis is structured from the four main periods of the residential work of P. Jeanneret, the first, his training and collaboration in the atelier 35 rue de Sèvres between 1922 and 1940 [ 1 ]. The second, with a greater burden of research and exploration to the resolution of the residential unit, industrialization and housing for the masses between 1937 and 1945 [ 2 ]. The third, the search for a local character of architecture, starting from an exploration that began before the split with Le Corbusier and carried forward with the construction of villas and chalets during 1940-1951, and finally, the design and construction of the city of Chandigarh, during 1951 and 1965 [ 3 ], with the formulation of about thirty residential models that were part of the main body of the city.
Each of the periods will be analyzed following the structure drawn from the third idea of technique, understanding as the instruments, and the way the architects project. In the case of Pierre Jeanneret, it’s the Photography. Pierre Jeanneret, used photography not only as a form of documentation4, but beyond that, what this thesis wants to demonstrate, was an instrument of design, a tool that allowed him to study his environment, reflect on what he was seeing and thus appropriate these images to make them part of his study, for what to do as an architect. We want to understand the value of the photographed images and their influence on the generation of the architectural form and its architecture, how the image (of the event, object, building) has remained both on paper and in memory and has been used in the generation of new architecture.
The objective, then, is to build a map of interactions that highlights the relationships between the photographed by Pierre Jeanneret and his architectural projects, establishing a theoretical basis from the Warburgrian approaches on the image and the production of ideas and how they can be reflected in photography from the plans of authors such as John Berger, Walter Benjamin, Jesus Vassallo, Josep Quetglas or Susan Sontag and similar photographers such as Walker Evans, August Sander or John Szarkowski.
Figure 3: Chandigarh houses, Pierre Jeanneret. Some examples of the government houses designed between 1951-1965, the cases mixed different typologies and social categories. Facades drawing by the author.
The thesis proposes to establish two moments of approach to the proposed theme. The first, a conceptual and introductory moment where we establish the basis of photography as a document, and its use in architecture in relation to Pierre Jeanneret, since our goal is to unveil the work of P. Jeanneret through photography, it is necessary to understand the first steps, his apprenticeship as a photographer and his first teachers. In order to, in a second, empirical moment, present the various cases where the image and the project have contact, confronting the images and the projects (whether built or not built) and establishing the elements and contents that unite photography and architecture. With the diversity of cases, we want to establish the argumentative bases that we want to verify with the thesis, and above all, the different declinations that the photographic image can have in order to use it as an instrument of design.
- Quetglas, Josep (2020): A Casandra: Cuatro charlas sobre mirar y decir. Madrid: Ediciones Asimétricas, p. 21
- Quetglas, Josep (2017): Restos de Arquitectura y de critica de la cultura. Barcelona: Arcadia, p. 144
Reichlin, Bruno (2007): “Intruduzione”, In AA.VV, Jean Prouvè: The poetics of the technical object. Ginevra – Milano: SKira
Libros como Jacques Barsac, Charlotte Perriand and Photography: A wild-Angle Eye (Milan: 5 Continents Editions, 2011) o Tim Benton, Le Corbusier Secret Photographer ayudan a entender la relación que dichos arquitectos han tenido con la fotografía. En el caso de Pierre Jeanneret, son mas de 3000 las fotografías que se encuentran en el Fondo Archivo Pierre Jeanneret perteneciente al Canadian Center for Architecture, aun por estudiar.