Jean Prouvé is known for his innovative designs which were heavily influenced by the aeronautical industry. His studio specialized in the manufacture of metalwork, first steel and then aluminum. His designs are characterized by a functional, stripped-down aesthetic derived at through relentless experimentation. He was obsessed with exploiting the capabilities of sheet metal to find the most economical and functional solution.
He is most famous for his wooden, steel and aluminum furniture, often produced in collaboration with architect Charlotte Perriand. These industrial pieces differ greatly from the polished chrome and leather furniture of earlier architects.
I had always assumed that Prouvé had an engineering education due to the industrial aesthetic of his work, and was surprised to learn that he had very little formal design education. Like Le Corbusier, he attended a fine arts school and then had an apprenticeship. Born in Nancy into a creative family, he attended the Fine Arts Academy of Nancy and then worked as an apprentice from 1918-1921, to blacksmith Emile Robert and then the metalworker Adalbert Szabo. In 1923 he opened his own studio with financial help of family and friends. At the beginning it produced mostly wrought iron work, . He was immediately successful and by 1926 was producing metal work for architects such as Robert Mallet-Stevens, and the studio of le Corbusier, (where he met Charlotte Perriand). In 1931 he opened a new studio that worked primarily in folded steel and aluminum. It was here that he produced much of the streamlined school furniture that he is most identified with. During WWII, the studio was engaged by the French government to produce portable barracks, furniture for schools and hospitals in addition to bicycles and other sheet metal products for building construction.
After WWII, he produced temporary modular housing for refugees. This refugee housing eventually became La Maison Tropical, a modular house that was shipped to French colonies in Africa to address housing shortages there. He continued to work with the studio of le Corbusier well into the fifties, producing interior décor and furniture for such mega projects as the Cite Radieuse in Marseilles.
In 1953 the French national aluminum company Studal, purchased a stake in his company. Studal re-organized the studio, separating the design and manufacture. This was in opposition to Prouve’s way of working which encouraged experimentation and innovation. He reisgned ater that year. After his resignation, he spent the following year designing his own metal-prefab home in Nancy. In 1955 he started another company with construction as well as manufacturing capabilities. The company produced buildings all over France and as far away as Holland.
In 1964, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris exhibited his work. In 1971, he was the president of the jury for the design of the Pompidou center, and is largely credited with the selection of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano as the architects. He died in 1984. His most iconic furniture designs have been re-issued and are available for purchase through Vitra.
1.Penelope Rowlands, edit. Marisa Bartolucci. Jean Prouvé. Chronicle Books San Francisco 2002
Peter Sulzer. Jean Prouvé Complete Works Vol.2 Birkhauser Books Basel 2000
Phillips de Pury et al. Design Masters Auction Catalogue 2011
Prouvé Chez Nous?