Jean Prouvé (1901 – 1984)

Jean Prouvé

Jean Prouvé was born in 1901 in Paris, France to his father Victor Prouvé, an artist who was a founding member of the Art Nouveau School in Nancy. In Nancy, Jean Prouvé apprenticed under a creative blacksmith between the years 1916 and 1919. Prouvé continued to apprentice metal working in Paris until 1921 under another metal worker, Szabo. Through this experience, Prouvé gained skills in metal working and eventually opened his own shop in Nancy 1923. He began by creating metal pieces and moved into metallic furniture design. In 1930, he helped found the Union des Artistes Modernes (UAM). In 1931, with the help of A. Schotte, Prouvé was able to purchase new machinery for metal working (opening Société des Ateliers Jean Prouvé), mass producing pieces and finishes including handles and for schools, and a chair and desk combination. He had the chance to meet Le Corbusier, Jean Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1935. His work evolved into mass produced architecture, where he was commissioned to design huts for the French Army in 1939 and collapsable units for the homeless. Following the end of World War II, Prouvé was the mayor of Nancy.  In 1947, Prouvé moved his factory to Maxéville. In 1949, he was commissioned to design prefabicated housing for French colonies of west and central Africa. After two years, this project was cancelled because it was not cost effective. During this time, Prouvé was also involved with Le Corbusier, where he designed floors, staircases and furniture for a show apartment in Le Corbusier's Unité d'habitation. Prouvé also worked with Charlotte Perriand during the 1950's. After selling his practices in the 1950's Prouvé worked for the Compagnie Industrielle de Matériel de Transport.  Prouvé also taught at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM).

Jean Prouvé and Le Corbusier

Victor Prouvé was a great influence of Jean Prouvé, and despite their difference in styles (Victor - Art Nouveau & Jean - modernist), they both maintained a desire to create originality. Prouvé credited  both his father and the Art Nouveau School in Nancy for his focus on bringing something new to the formalized art that existed.  Prouvé was not influenced by history as his father was, but looked forward, believing that modernist design was based on what was not there.  Neither he nor his father were in design to make money.  Le Corbusier also greatly influenced Prouvé.  Both men believed in practical housing, this belief arising from the two world wars, which lead to a housing crisis.  One difference between the two was where there ideals lay: for Le Corbusier - in the theory, for Prouvé - in the process.

"Jean Prouvé" accessed November 10, 2012, http://www.jean-prouve-architect.com

"The Architect," accessed November 10, 2012, http://www.lamaisontropicale.com/www/

"On the Subject of Modern Mastery: Jean Prouvé, 1901 - 1984,"  accessed December 5, http://secretforts.blogspot.ca/2009/11/on-subject-of-modern-mastery-jean.html

O'Day, Kathleen. “Tropical or Colonial? A Reception History of Jean Prouvé's Prefabricated Houses For Africa.” (Thesis, Louisiana State University and Art College, 2009.)

"Fondation Le Corbusier," accessed December 10, 2012, http://www.fondationlecorbusier.fr/corbuweb/morpheus.aspx?sysId=13&IrisObjectId=4523&sysLanguage=fr-fr&itemPos=10&itemCount=13&sysParentId=51



Jean Prouvé was commissioned to produce three prototype homes that could be mass produced for the French colonies of West and Central Africa to address the shortage of infrastructure in 1949. The hope was that these buildings could be applied to both residential and civic buildings.  Photos of Maison Tropicale in Brazzaville in 1951 and in its present state today show the increase in infrastructure in the region.  This house was also created to sell aluminum for Aluminum Français. Jean Prouvé sold part of his shop, Atelier de Jean Prouvé, to Aluminum Français in order to get government projects.  However, in contracts Prouvé was required to increase the use of aluminum in his design.  The design of these houses also capitalized on France's ability to produce aluminum following the end of World War II.  

Brazzaville, 1950

Brazzaville, now

Any such political move is done with underlying motives.  The underlying motivation can be seen as way to appease  and assimilate African colonies, which were moving towards independence and anti-colonialism at the time. The French government attempted to improve the rights of French colonies, without actually providing autonomy. The need to appease and assimilate the French colonies of West and Central Africa was necessary for France to be able to stay in these colonies and operate them. These colonies have some of the greatest amount of bauxite resources available, and France required this bauxite to ship home to produce aluminum. As well, the loss of these colonies, would result in a loss of markets for French goods, which would follow the impending loss of the Vietnamese and Algerian markets. The situation in Africa needed to be approached with tentativeness, as situations in Vietnam and Algeria were worsening, and France's violent resistance led to failure. France's approach to dealing with stalemate in Vietnam was to open fire, killing 6, 000 (1946). The approach to retaliating a riot, by a mob in Algeria, led to death of approximately 40, 000 in a killing spree by the French Army (Setif Massacre, 1945). Both approaches sparked independence wars: the First Indochina War (1946) and the War of Algerian Independence (1954). Maison Tropicale can be seen as a non violent political tool employed by the French government in order to retain control of the flow of resources and goods between the colonies and France. 


O'Day, Kathleen. “Tropical or Colonial? A Reception History of Jean Prouvé's Prefabricated Houses For Africa.” Thesis, Louisiana State University and Art College, 2009.

"The Architect," accessed November 10, 2012, http://www.lamaisontropicale.com/www/ 

"Ruins of the 20th Century," accessed December 9, 2012, http://briangdillon.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/31/


Prouvé's Legacy

Jean Prouvé is considered as a pioneer by many people who have observed his work. The full potential of his work was only recognized a few years later as many people, especially in France, did not fully appreciate his high-tech style of architecture. 

Many people have taken Prouvé as a huge inspiration towards their work. Renzo Piano has always referred to Prouvé as an exemplary figure as Piano himself grew up in the same fashion as Prouvé did. Renzo grew up around many builders and he learned about fabrication in the same respect as Prouvé did, giving him a greater respect for Prouvé.
One of the greatest attributions to the high-tech movement started by Prouvé is the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. This flexible, industrialized, prefabricated building was designed by architects Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and assisted by Peter Rice. Jean Prouvé had nothing but admiration when the building was completed as he believed this building would give the architects of the current time a boost to their otherwise backwards designs.  

Other notable inspirations from Prouvé are derived from his furniture design and his light design. Many design companies, like Ikea, have taken his famous potence lamp and reworked it into a modern industrial lamp similar to Prouvé’s original. 

Botti, Andrea. "The work of Jean Prouvé and its infuence on contemporary architecture of the late 20th century ." Edinburgh School of Architecture.

Cengiz, Deger. "Poorprouve Lighting Fixture ." Inhabitat.
Sulzer, Peter. Jean Prouve Complete Works 1944-1954. Vol. 3. Basel, Switzerland: Birkhauser, 2005.

No comments:

Post a Comment