The daughter of the late French architect and designer Jean Prouvé says her father’s work has become more important lately.
From modular buildings to lightweight metal furniture, Jean Prouvé’s designs pioneered ideas and techniques that helped define the era of mass production.
Catherine Prouvé, who has run the Jean Prouvé archive since his death in 1984, told Dezeen that the work is now better appreciated than during his lifetime.
“I see how my father’s approach to architecture and furniture design is better understood among the younger generations,” said Prouvé.
“His works may feel more relevant today than in his own time.”
Prouvé, now 82 years old, has spent the past 20 years collaborating with furniture brand Vitra to update and re-release designs from her father’s archive.
She was speaking to Dezeen ahead of the London Design Festival, where Vitra is presenting products including the newly released Fauteuil Kangourou lounge chair, which was designed in 1948.
Like many Jean Prouvé designs, the Fauteuil Kangourou was originally designed for public spaces rather than for the home. This is indicative of the designer’s ambition, which was to make quality design accessible to all.
Prouvé believes that this attitude may have contributed to the fact that her father’s work was initially undervalued.
“When I was a kid, my dad made school and college furniture; he wanted to make the best at the lowest price possible,” she said.
“It didn’t generate much interest in the context of the time.”
She remembers being upset when people used the words “barracks” or “huts” to describe the demountable houses that Jean Prouvé developed to shelter those made homeless after World War II.
“It was only later, when his furniture was picked up by gallery owners, that vintage pieces became so sought after,” said Prouvé. “Now his designs are better understood.”
The youngest of five siblings, Prouvé grew up with her father and mother, Madeleine, in Nancy, France.
Together with friends and family, she helped her father build their own modernist house in 1954, the now celebrated Maison Jean Prouvé. “His designs were part of our daily life,” she said.
Prouvé said the biggest lesson she learned from her father was the value of simplicity in design.
“His reflection began with a sketch,” she said. “He was creative and inventive, and he was inspired by new materials – sheet metal, glass, polymers – and the innovative possibilities they offered in response to housing problems.”
Since 2002, Prouvé has worked closely with Vitra to release more than 20 of her father’s most successful designs, including the Fauteuil Direction armchair, the Cité lounge chair and the EM table.
The new versions were developed through careful examination of vintage originals from the extensive collection at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany.
Vitra to launch more Jean Prouvé designs at the Tramshed in Shoreditch during London Design Festival 2022
Vitra is reintroducing some lesser-known Jean Prouvé designs at the London Design Festival, including the Tabouret N° 307 and Tabouret Métallique chairs, and the Rayonnage Mural wall shelves.
It will be on display in Vitra’s new London showroom in the Tramshed building in Shoreditch, which opens its doors on 20 September.
Prouvé says she feels proud to be the custodian of her father’s designs.
“I believe my father will stay and be surprised to see how his designs are still alive,” she said. “It’s a big responsibility, but it’s important to do it right.”