Building designer and engineer, son of (1) Victor Prouvé. He was born into a milieu concerned with the unity of art and industry, and this background, together with the apprenticeship as a craftsman in wrought iron that Prouvé served in Paris (1916–21) under the ironworkers Emile Robert and Szabo, gave him an acute sensibility to his materials. His first contact with the world of architecture, a field in which he received no formal education, was as a craftsman in wrought iron; he supplied the gates for the War Memorial at Verdun in 1918 and various parts for a number of buildings in Paris, including those designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens, for whom he produced the railings and gratings for the private mansions in Rue Mallet-Stevens in 1926. He also supplied the windows in 1933 for the Hôpital de la Grange-Blanche (1915–30; now Hôpital Edouard Herriot) built by Tony Garnier in Lyon.
Prouvé changed his status when he joined the practice run by Eugène Beaudouin and Marcel Lods, and he was a full member of the design team that worked on the Roland Garros Flying Club in Buc in 1935 (for which Prouvé designed a structure in folded metal). He also installed a curtain-wall system of metal panels for the façade of the Maison du Peuple (1936–9) in Clichy, executed with the help of Vladimir Bodiansky, which completely revolutionized earlier techniques. Thereafter, without ever assuming the title of architect, Prouvé worked as a dedicated and exacting independent builder. On the eve of World War II he was working on prototypes for lightweight housing units that could be dismantled; he studied this problem initially with Le Corbusier and then with Pierre Jeanneret, with whom he later established a close bond through their shared experience of resistance against the Germans. When France was liberated, he briefly became Mayor of Nancy, and then from 1947 to 1953 he devoted himself to directing his own design and production company in Maxéville, specializing in metal buildings and furniture.
In Maxéville Prouvé was at last able to direct research and development work on new steel and aluminium components that he produced himself, while attempting to avoid the pressures that industrialists sought to bring to bear on him. Prouvé was fascinated by the thin shells used in the car and aviation industries, and he pursued the dream of a lightweight, transportable, industrially produced house (comparable with the 2CV car then being produced by Citroën), for which he executed numerous prototypes. In this way he established a range of construction possibilities using stamped or folded sheet-metal, which allowed him to cover vast surfaces both elegantly and cheaply. He was never able to execute the great series of constructions to which he aspired, however, and only the Meudon group of individual houses, which Prouvé built with André Sive in 1952, was realized. After the closure of his factory (1954), he built his own house in Rue Augustin-Hacquard, Nancy (in situ), with the remaining panels and shells as an example of the innovative techniques he proposed.
Prouvé then worked as a consultant, participating in some of France’s most spectacular building projects. He designed the façades of the Centre National des Industries et des Techniques at La Défense, Paris, in 1956, as well as those for the Tour Nobel on the same site in 1968. He developed several space-frame systems, particularly for the trade fair hall at Grenoble in 1967, and he brought all his experience in curtain walls to the aid of Oscar Niemeyer while the latter was designing the headquarters of the Parti Communiste Français (1970; unexecuted); at the same time he continued to perfect his lightweight construction techniques for schools and youth clubs. The most ambitious project he worked on during the last years of his life was the building for the Ministère de l’Education National (1970), a metal skyscraper designed around a vast internal patio, which was to be built at La Défense. From 1957 to 1970 Prouvé lectured at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris where he communicated his enthusiasm and his ideas to students who had rejected the highly academic approach of conventional teaching.
© 2009 Oxford University Press