Special bookcase, 1951
In 1939, Jean Prouvé designed an extremely simple system for an all-metal set of bookshelves for the Briey aviation center: hollow steel posts with slots into which were fitted the sheets of bent steel that served as shelves1. The War interrupted the project, which was revisited in modified form in 1951 for the equipping of a bookshop/gallery: held between floor and ceiling by springs, the uprights were pierced at regular intervals with holes that formed shelf channels to hold bent steel shelves and display units, hanging bars and wooden information boards.2 The rise of the university market offered the Ateliers Jean Prouvé the chance to work on a new, light, economical model for student dormitories.3 1954 saw the creation of a hanging “cabinet/bookcase” which combined the principle of the standard cabinet with that of the bookshelves developed shortly before by Charlotte Perriand: set side by side, three large metal “blocks” with shelf channels joined the wooden top and bottom of the unit with
threaded rod. The intervening spaces were equipped with shelving, also wood, and could be partially closed by a sliding aluminum door. This model was proposed, with several variations, for the Cité Universitaire of Antony and found its ultimate form in the 150 single-person rooms the Ateliers Jean Prouvé were commissioned to equip there.4 Made in May 1955, the prototype took the form of two large steel blocks of different widths painted in contrasting colors; they were pierced with shelf channels allowing for placement according to need of the reversible bent steel shelves and the plastic trays designed by Charlotte Perriand. The bottom of the unit extended to form a shelf and the façade had a sliding plywood door with solid wood stiffener handles. Although this model had been proposed for other student dormitories—in Lille late in 1955, for example—production seems to have been limited to the 150 examples made for Antony.5 By contrast the principle of the structure comprising big metal “niches” with shelf channels was simultaneously used for bookshelf projects on a larger scale.6 For his own house in Nancy, Jean Prouvé used the space between vertical metal sides of the rear facade frame for a 27-meter line of cupboards, 6 of which made up the living room bookshelves, arranged as follows: between the horizontal wooden dividers were stacked bent steel modules a meter wide with shelf channels, the ensemble held together and rigidified by threaded rods. The upper part was fitted with movable, reversible metal shelves with rolled edges and sliding glass doors; and the lower part with embossed aluminum sliding doors with solid wood stiffener handles. The narrow space between the horizontal dividers could house drawers or plastic trays.
1. See Sulzer, vol. 2, no. 831.
2. Unrealized project for R. Mossovic, Librairie des Arts bookshop, Nancy. Drawing no. 13.141, January 1951.
3. Notably the new Cité Universitaire of Toulouse (studies in May– June 1954).
4. The second competition for equipping the Antony student dormitory bedrooms, in early 1955, called for teams including designers and manufacturers. The Ateliers Jean Prouvé thus brought together the names of Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand, together with their collaborators André Le Stang and Martha Villiger. After being shortlisted they won the order for 150 single-person rooms.
5. Presentation sheet no. 555.643, dated 13.8.1956, may indicate that the Ateliers de Construction Préfabriquée de Maxéville (ACPM)—the new name given to the Ateliers Jean Prouvé in January 1956—had envisaged continued marketing of the item.
6. Notably the projects for the Cambodian pavilion at the Cité Internationale Universitaire in Paris (architect A. Audoul) and for the Faculté d’Aix-en-Provence (architect F. Pouillon).