With the timeless appeal of the Bauhaus movement and the modernist aesthetic very much in vogue, has the utilitarian avant-garde furniture of Jean Prouvé ever been more relevant?
Jean Prouvé was a French metal worker, self-taught architect and designer who Le Corbusier called a ‘constructeur’, blending architecture and engineering. Prouvé transferred manufacturing technology from industry to architecture, without losing aesthetic qualities.
Jean Prouvé completed his training as a metal artisan before opening his own workshop in Nancy in 1924.
In 1930 Prouvé helped establish the Union of Modern Artists whose manifesto read, “We like logic, balance and purity”. It is this balance and purity which is in evidence in his furniture, today produced under license by Vitra.
In the following years he created numerous furniture designs & collaborated with Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret on a variety of furniture designs, and in 1947 Prouvé established his own factory. Due to disagreements with the majority shareholders, he left the company in 1953. During the ensuing decades, Prouvé served as a consulting engineer on a number of important architectural projects in Paris.
He favored the public sector which reflected a social ideal but also offered the economies of scale.
Prouvé’s style is set apart from the Bauhaus steel furniture of the time by his rejection of the steel tube technique. Prouvé had more faith in the durability and form of sheet metal, “bent, pressed, compressed than welded”. His designs speak of a work philosophy that includes knowledge of the materials at hand, a commitment to collaboration between artists and craftsmen, an attention to evolving technical developments, and “the principle of never postponing decisions so as neither to lose the impetus nor indulge in unrealistic forecasts.”
From 1957 to 1970 Prouvé lectured at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris. The most ambitious project he worked on during the last years of his life was the building for the Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale (1970), a metal skyscraper designed around a vast internal patio, which was to be built at La Défense.
He left his mark on architectural history again in 1971, when he played a major role in selecting the design of Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers for the Centre Pompidou as chairman of the competition jury. Prouvé’s work encompasses a wide range of objects, from a letter opener to door and window fittings, from lighting and furniture to façade elements and prefabricated houses, from modular building systems to large exhibition structures – essentially, almost anything that is suited to industrial production methods.
Prouvé’s use of metal in his furniture gives an authenticity and edge which somehow sits perfectly in today’s modern home.
Jean Prouvé died in Nancy in 1984.
In close cooperation with the Prouvé family, Vitra began to issue re-editions of designs by this great French constructeur in 2002.