The Jean Prouvé house, Nancy, 1954
During an interview in March 1984 with Isabelle Da Costa, Jean Prouvé talked about the construction of his family home in Nancy thirty years earlier.
Isabelle Da Costa: You told me that there were two versions of this house, an initial version of single-piece shells—a first version that would only have been possible had you kept the workshops. Having left your workshops,1 you conceived another way of building it.
Jean Prouvé: There were indeed two projects. I lament the first one. Later on I will tell you why. Let’s talk about the layout of the house first of all. Why different widths in the house? It is based on the functions to be fulfilled. I wanted to make a house with a large space, that which we are now in. Why? Because I have a large family, with many children, and we are very sociable people and often have guests. Because the children play music, they make noise and have a life that I see as being like living in an inn, an “auberge”. I call this room for gathering, with its fireplace, “auberge”. I have had as many as fifty visiting architects here and we talked all day perfectly comfortably. So this large space was essential, and the orientation led us to build everything facing south, which is not necessarily a panacea—you have to be careful. A large family needs storage. My wife has a system of twenty-seven meters of wardrobes that are around sixty centimeters deep and two meters thirty high. The plan was entirely free with modules of one meter, which is not the current recommended modulation. As you know, the CSTB2 and regulations impose a modulation of thirty centimeters. The reason for this, which is really quite funny, is that the composite materials (Isorel, Linoleum, carpet etc.) are generally sold in multiples of thirty. So a multiple of thirty was imposed on the ministry’s official services. It was a ridiculous logic because having a material in a certain width does not mean that it will be used in that width. It will need to be framed, assembled, covered behind, inside, outside, etc. If I had taken a module of ninety centimeters for my house, it wouldn’t have worked because we had made studies of the minimum bedroom. At the time of construction, I only had three children still living at home. Originally we had made four children’s rooms. We had calculated that a child’s bedroom could be no smaller than three meters by two meters and that the parents bedroom, with a double bed, couldn’t measure less than three meters by three meters. However, these dimensions are not allowed: it is not permitted to make a bedroom smaller than nine square meters, whether it’s for a baby or for the parents. But the “troublemakers” calculated this to ensure that we can breathe at night, so that we’re not asphyxiated or I don’t know what. So we used the minimum bedroom sizes: for a couple, three meters by three meters; for a school-aged child, three meters by two meters, that is to say comprising a standard single bed, a desk table, a chair and a bookcase—that’s enough, a child in high-school doesn’t need anything more. If we now have a double bedroom at the far left of the house, it’s because one of my daughters is a weaver.3 In order to house the loom, and because there was no longer a child in the room, we took down the partition which served no structural purpose. Another desire was to completely separate the kitchen and utility room from the living spaces and to put them at the other end from the bedrooms. We nevertheless placed one bedroom on the far right of the house for the au pairs who shared our family life. Later on my son adopted this room away from the others. Naturally the bathroom must be close to the bedrooms and accessible to everyone, with nonetheless direct access from the parents’ room so that they can keep an eye on the children. The bathroom is in masonry. Why is it? Because there is water, condensation, and synthetic materials or even good timber don’t really like damp. So it is a masonry element, which is not structural; it is isolated, separated from the roof by a void. It does not support anything, it is a box with a ceiling, completely isolated because water noises are disagreeable. We realised that you need a dimension of three meters by three meters in order to comfortably integrate a basin, a shower, a bathtub and a cupboard, necessary for a bathroom, and also to install a little washroom corner accessible via the passageway. All bedrooms are accessed via the passageway, which runs the entire length of the house, barely a metre in width because the handles on the cupboard doors encroach a bit. There you have the basic philosophy of the house. Nothing is left to chance. It is a house that has been meticulously studied.
This interview was conducted on Tuesday, 13 March 1984 in Jean Prouvé’s house in Nancy, and was published in AMC (Architecture Mouvement Continuité), no. 4, June 1984 (extract).
1. At the end of June 1953, in dispute with Aluminium Français, which had become the major shareholder in his company, Jean Prouvé left his Maxéville workshops to temporarily rejoin the company’s design office in Paris. Although far from the factory, he designed buildings, some of which, such as the Aluminum Centenary Pavilion (1954), figure among his major works.
2. Centre scientifique et technique du bâtiment (centre for the science and technology of building), a state-run organisation founded in 1947 by the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urban Development (MRU) in order to supervise and regulate innovation in building.
3. Simone Prouvé.