Jean Prouvé was one of the great French twentieth century designers and architects. He was from an artistic family and although he desperately wanted to become an engineer, he began his career as a blacksmith’s apprentice when he was 15.
In 1923, Prouvé set up his own workshop near Nancy. He began by making products such as handrails and grilles but soon became more interested in cutting-edge technologies like electric welding and metal folding and materials including steel and aluminium. He worked there until 1953 creating bold and innovative designs, often inspired by aircraft or automobile engineering.
In 1931 he created Atelier Jean Prouvé and began to make metal furniture. His creations were strong whilst also being light, which meant that he became a well-known name in the mass-produced market, mainly accepting large commissions for the public sector such as schools, hospitals and offices.
The restrictions of materials during World War II meant that Prouvé had to adapt his designs, experimenting with different materials such as wood when steel was hard to come by. He moved his workshops to Maxéville outside Nancy and employed over 200 workers. Here, he moved further towards a mechanised process of design and worked on houses, prefabricated huts, building elements and also furniture.
When Prouvé’s factory was taken over by Aluminium Français in 1953, he built himself a house and worked from there with a new approach. He completed more complex architectural projects, some of which were important commissions, such as a pavilion on the banks of the Scene as a celebration of aluminium. Many of these buildings have since been made national monuments. From 1957 onwards, Prouvé taught at the Parisian Conservatoire National des Arts et Métier where he gave fascinating weekly lectures based on his practical experience and practice rather than any official training.