Lecture hall chair, a.k.a. Bergère, 1951
In the beginning of the 1950s, the elaboration of the university campus at Aix-Marseille created the opportunity for the Ateliers Jean Prouvé to submit a proposal for the fitting out of several newly constructed lecture halls. Jean Prouvé responded with proposals for the design of several different types of chairs for the students. Steph Simon had introduced Jean Prouvé to the architect Fernand Pouillon, a meeting which came to fruition with their collaboration on a large-scale commission for lecture hall chairs for the new law school. As opposed to the other projects for furnishings,1 Jean Prouvé worked directly with Fernand Pouillon, the architect, on the lecture hall, for which he constructed folding screens in pressed sheet aluminum and a completely novel type of chair. Effectuated by the end of the 1950s, the principle of the chair consists in enveloping the aluminum seat with a sheet of thin steel that, rising, forms the backrest. The execution of a prototype in 1951, led to the fabrication of several hundred comfortable Bergères: assembled around a wood matrix, the profile of the sheet of steel, comprising both the structure and the backrest, is ergonomic; a vertical slash in the steel allows it to rise, expanding to the shape of a human back. The curvature of the seat in pressed aluminum echoes the shape of the “agricole” stool of 1947. The lecture hall chairs could be equipped with adjustable wooden writing tables. The chair was stabilized by two round, soldered metal disks, and was fortified by a roll in the steel on the outer vertical edge of each side, and by a tube crossmember, allowing for the chairs to be arranged in rows and in columns within the hall.2 The pressed aluminum seat was simultaneously used for a new type of stool with tube legs, produced in limited edition. Archival photos show the impressive effect that 450 Bergères created in the lecture hall of the Faculté de droit of Aix-Marseille, each one individually equipped with a wooden writing table, their metal components painted light grey and the seats garnished with blue leather. Similar archival photos attest to the existence of such chairs in significant quantities, undoubtedly for the same university. These lecture hall chairs varied in color, in the lacquer of the seats, and in the style of the writing tables, either individual or a long communal tablet for each row. Nevertheless, very few of these chairs have survived.
1. During the same period, the Ateliers Jean Prouvé submitted a project for the fitting out of the Faculté de Sciences of Aix-Marseille (Jean Rozan, arch.).
2. In 1954, a proposition for the fitting out of the conference hall at the Saclay nuclear studies center perfected the lecture hall chair model developed for Aix-Marseille, by using the tube crossmember as receptacle through which an electrical wire passed, enabling the individual lighting of each writing table; this model was never executed.