Vitra presents Jean Prouvé designs at Tramshed

Jean Prouvé's designs "more relevant today" says daughter Catherine Prouvé

The daughter of late French architect and designer Jean Prouvé says her father's work has become more important in recent times.

From modular buildings to lightweight metal furniture, Jean Prouvé's designs pioneered ideas and techniques that helped to define the era of mass production.

Catherine Prouvé, who has managed the Jean Prouvé archive since his death in 1984, told Dezeen that the work is better appreciated now than during his lifetime.

Catherine Prouvé
Above: Catherine Prouvé has managed her father's archive since his death in 1984. Top: Vitra presents Jean Prouvé designs at Tramshed during London Design Festival

"I see how my father's approach towards architecture and furniture design is better understood among the younger generations," said Prouvé.

"His works feel maybe more relevant today than in his own time."

Now aged 82, Prouvé has spent the last 20 years collaborating with furniture brand Vitra to update and re-release designs from her father's archive.

She spoke to Dezeen ahead of London Design Festival, where Vitra is presenting products including the newly released Fauteuil Kangourou lounge chair, designed in 1948.

Jean Prouvé's Fauteuil Kangourou lounge chair launched by Vitra
She has worked with Vitra to re-release designs including the newly launched Fauteuil Kangourou lounge chair

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 this attitude may have contributed to her father's work being initially undervalued.

"When I was a child, my father was making school and university furniture; he wanted to make the best at the lowest price possible," she said.

"This didn't generate much interest in the context of the time."

Maison Jean Prouvé
Jean Prouvé used the same modular construction principles he developed for his Demountable Houses for the design of his own family home in Nancy

She recalls being upset when people used the words "barracks" or "shacks" to describe the Demountable Houses that Jean Prouvé developed to shelter those made homeless after the second world war.

"It was only later, when his furniture was picked up by gallery owners, that vintage pieces became so highly sought after," Prouvé said. "Now, his designs are better understood."

Interior of Maison Jean Prouvé
Maison Jean Prouvé is now looked after by Musée des Beaux-Arts. It is open for tours by appointment, but is also still in use as a home

As the youngest of five siblings, Prouvé grew up in Nancy, France, with her father and mother, Madeleine.

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 greatest 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."

Jean Prouvé archive at Vitra Design Museum
Furniture originals at the Vitra Design Museum were used to develop new versions

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 close examination of vintage originals from the extensive collection at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany.

Vitra is launching more Jean Prouvé designs at the Tramshed in Shoreditch during London Design Festival 2022

Vitra presents Jean Prouvé designs at Tramshed
Vitra is relaunching the Tabouret N° 307 and Tabouret Métallique stools as part of its London Design Festival exhibition. Photo is by Taran Wilkhu

Vitra is relaunching some lesser-known Jean Prouvé designs during London Design Festival, including the Tabouret N° 307 and Tabouret Métallique stools, and the Rayonnage Mural wall shelving.

These will be exhibited 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 would be happy and surprised to see his designs still alive," she said. "It is a big responsibility, but it's important to do it right."

The main image is by Taran Wilkhu