Jean Prouvé, the famed 20th Century French architect and designer, is best remembered for leading industrialized building, applying industrial manufacturing technology to architecture while maintaining an aesthetic appeal. He is one of the most influential architects in recent time, pioneering the use of new materials and a nomadic philosophy which emphasized portability when approaching architecture.
Prouvé was born in Nancy, and was the son of Victor Prouvé, whose art collective, “L’Ecole de Nancy” became very influential on the young Prouvé. The school’s philosophy was to focus on the relationship between art and industry, and this forged Prouvé’s own architectural philosophy later on. In his early years, Prouvé served an apprenticeship under the blacksmith Emile Robert, and trained in metal crafts until 1921. In 1923, Prouvé opened his own studio in Nancy, winning many commissions for his metalwork.
It was Prouvé’s furniture – particularly the furniture that he created out of sheets of iron - that caught the attention of his peers. The French architect Le Corbusier in particular was enamored by the cool yet functional aesthetic of Prouvé’s work. In 1930, along with Le Corbusier and several other notable architects, Prouvé would become a founding member of the Union des Artistes Modernes – a collective of modern architects and designers that he would collaborate with over the years.
In 1931, Prouvé opened his own studio, Ateliers Jean Prouvé, where he began working on multiple projects, usually in collaboration with other architects such as Eugène Beaudoin and Marcel Lods on building projects, and Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret on furniture projects. Prouvé took pride in the fact that he was not married to one aesthetic, and really adjusted his style to each project.
Prouvé made a major leap in his work in 1947, melding the philosophy he held to his furniture work with his architectural work. Holding the belief that buildings should be transportable – something that was heavily influenced by his commissions to build temporary structures for the army – Prouvé designed pre-fabricated, collapsible housing for homeless and refugees, sending his home as far as Africa.
By the 1950’s, Prouvé’s companies had been bought our by larger industrial companies, and even though he continued to work, he scaled back the amount he did until his death in 1984. Ultimately, he not only leaves behind furniture designs that are still sold today, but an architectural philosophy of nomadic, pre-fabricated housing that many are still trying to apply to low-income, underdeveloped parts of the world.