Rare and Important Professor Desk for the Université de Lille

Beginning in the mid-1930s, Jean Prouvé explored numerous designs for desks to meet the needs of an expanding population in France. The desks were largely developed for use in commercial and educational commissions, but later proved useful for domestic interiors. Prouvé’s desks clearly reflect the principles of structural engineering as implemented in his architectural practice. Four basic types of leg structure were developed and variations within these types culminated in the Professor desk of 1952.

The earliest leg type was developed for C.P.D.E. in 1934 by Prouvé. These desks feature two pairs of rectangular shaped legs set perpendicular to each other at the outer perimeter of the design. In the 1940s, the legs became parallel pairs and are flush with or inset from the desktop to support variations of drawer cabinets. The legs narrow as they meet the floor, predicting the Compas structure of the 1950s. In the Professor desk, there is a combination 
of leg pairs, set perpendicular to each other and both inset and flush with the corners of the large-scale desktop.

In 1952, Jean Prouvé was commissioned to provide furnishings for lecture halls at the Faculté des Lettres, Université de Lille. In addition to built-in seating for students, only three examples of the large-scale Professor desks were produced for this commission. With its boldly placed legs tipped in stainless steel and supporting a curved oak top, this masterpiece of structural design and sculptural form is a culmination of twenty years of desk designs by Jean Prouvé.

Jean Prouvé

Jean Prouvé was born in Nancy, France, in 1901. Prouvé‘s father Victor founded the École de Nancy, an Art Nouveau school that focused on hand-made objects. Apprenticing with an ironsmith as a teenager, he learned the value of simple forms and metalworking techniques. Prouvé founded his studio, Ateliers Jean Prouvé in 1923 and created restrained metal objects that rejected excess decoration. Within his workshop, he favored industrial materials like sheet steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. Engineers employed these materials in the emerging aircraft industry, and these materials inspired Prouvé to design a pre-fabricated houses with Le Corbusier in 1923 that was reminiscent of aircraft design. Working with Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, Prouvé created breathtaking furniture that forged the process of prefabrication. Prouvé tirelessly focused on finding creative and useful solutions to design problems throughout his career, crafting everything from aluminum vacation homes to university bookcases, living by his words that one should “never design anything that cannot be made.”

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