Jean Prouvé: Three Nomadic Structures

by | 29. Aug 2012

Exhibitions and Events

Photo: Lucien Hervé


He combines the soul of an engineer with that of an architect.
/Le Corbusier

Prouvé (1901-84) sought to create furniture and simple lightweight metal building systems whose constructive logic permitted easy fabrication and use. His major preoccupation was with prefabrication technology for architecture, and all his work, from cafeteria chairs to public buildings to new solutions for temporary housing, adheres to the dictum “Never design anything that cannot be made.

The exhibition installation presents Prouvé’s commitment to cutting-edge technology and his contributions to modular systems for mass production through a unique displayscape membrane.


Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace

Architect and Exhibition Co-Curator Evan Douglis designed the membrane utilizing the most current applications in architectural software along with rapid prototyping fabrication. The bright blue wave flows throughout the exhibition space, displaying Prouvé’s three-dimensional artefacts.


Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace

The featured architectural projects evoke important aspects of Prouvé’s career: his role in education, his interest in the tropics, and his use of aluminum.

Designed as an exhibition hall, the Aluminum Centenary Pavilion (1954) is a seminal example of Prouvé’s preoccupation with aluminum. The pavilion consists of an airplane wing roof on vertical supports of extruded aluminum. It was Prouvé’s most ambitious work and integrates his solutions of transport and site limitations into a structural logic. Period photographs by Lucien Hervé documents the pavilion’s history.


Photo: Lucien HervéAluminum Centenary Pavilion, Paris, 1954Digital C-PrintPrivate Collection


Photo: Lucien HervéAluminum Centenary Pavilion, Paris, 1954Digital C-PrintPrivate Collection

Originally erected on the banks of the Seine river, the pavilion travelled by barge to Lille and was bolted onto an existing exposition hall. In 1992, it was moved to Villepinte and carefully restored, and presently, it is used to host exhibitions.


Photo: Mark Lyon


Photo: Mark Lyon

The Glassmaking School in Croismare, France (1948), was conceptualized by a French crystal manufacturer who hoped to revive the glassmaking industry through a school of apprenticeship, and reflected Prouvé’s interest in teaching.
The exhibition features a lighting fixture from the Glassmaking School and school desks and chairs, staple designs of Prouvé’s Maxéville, France, workshops.


Photo: arcspace

Fabricated in France, then transported in cargo planes to Niamey, Africa, the Tropical House (1949-51) was a lightweight steel and aluminum prototype for a building system that encompassed larger scale public buildings as well as housing. Recently, one of the Brazzaville examples was shipped from Africa to Paris where it was carefully restored. The exhibition includes easy-to-assemble lightweight furniture made for export to the tropics and a façade element from the Brazzaville house.


Photo: arcspace

Also on view are sun breakers from the Air France dormitory office in Brazzaville, Congo, a project on which Prouvé assisted Charlotte Perriand.


Photo: arcspace

Jean Prouvé, born in 1901 in Nancy, France, grew up surrounded by the principals of his father’s art collective, the School of Nancy. Although he was never committed to a single aesthetic, he adopted the school’s ideas in his own designs, such as making art readily accessible and forging a relationship between art, industry, and social consciousness.

Prouvé trained as an artistic ironworker, and in 1923, opened his first workshop producing wrought iron lamps, chandeliers, hand rails, and furniture. In 1931, he started Ateliers Jean Prouvé and collaborated with various French architects and furniture designers. After World War II, he was commissioned by the Reconstruction Ministry to mass-produce frame houses for refugees. In 1947 he built the Maxéville factory. Here he refined his ideas on the industrialization of architecture which informed his work since the 1930s.

After losing control of Maxéville to the French aluminum monopoly that had been one of his initial strategic investors, he worked primarily as a consultant. During this phase of his career, he developed new architectural uses of plastic.
He chaired the jury which selected Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers to design the Centre Pompidou in Paris. A revered teacher at CNAM (Centre National des Arts et Metiers), Paris, Prouvé died in 1984.

The exhibition, originally presented at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, was organized by architect Evan Douglis and historian Robert Rubin.


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