Charlotte Perriand

Design in Mauritania

Cité Cansado, Mauritania

Post-war Europe was a time of reconstruction and innovation. Architects and designers were charged with creating new homes, infrastructure and in some instances, entirely new cities and towns. The modernist sentiment that had been at the forefront of creative thought was more than ever apparent in in the minds of designers who sought to realize both useful and beautiful furniture and spaces.

Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé had been friends and collaborators for many years, but it is in this period after the war when their collaboration reached a new level of fruition. In 1952, Perriand entered into a formal agreement with Ateliers Jean Prouvé which expanded production of her designs featuring sheet metal, a material Prouvé had been exploring in the years prior. When the atelier was forced out of their agreement with the Maxéville factory that had been producing works by both designers, Perriand encouraged her friend to seek out other options for production and sale. In 1954, with the consent of Prouvé, Perriand signed a contract with Steph Simon marking the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship. In 1956, Simon purchased a gallery on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in the heart of the artistic center of Paris. Galerie Steph Simon was inaugurated on March 16th of the same year, becoming the exclusive retailers of furniture by Prouvé and Perriand.

Steph Simon brought Prouvé and Perriand together regularly, encouraging a natural collaboration between the designers on numerous projects. In 1958, they participated in the Salon des Arts Ménagers with each of them designing aspects of a prototypical residence for employees of oil and mining companies exploring the prospects of the Algerian Sahara. Prouvé designed the unit’s prefabricated shells and Perriand was charged with the interior furnishings. The residence, dubbed Maison du Sahara was headed by the architecture firm of Guy Lagneau, Michel Weill and Jean Dimitrijevic, or Atelier LWD. In 1958, the firm began construction on Cité Cansado, a town in north-western Mauritania built entirely for the iron ore mining company MIFERMA. The firm commissioned Perriand to furnish the 750 residential and community spaces.

Bahut worksheet for Steph Simon (Reproduced from Charlotte Perriand: Un Art d'Habiter by Jacques Barsac, 2005, Éditions NORMA)

Perriand was as much an interior architect as she was furniture designer. Her ideas about organizing domestic interiors involved considering the spatial arrangement, what she called the “volumetric measure of space”. Part of this spatial arrangement included reflecting on the activities of the users, their belongings, and storage. Perriand was engrossed with the standardization of storage units, a preoccupation further refined during her stay in Japan where domestic harmony was achieved through a minimal aesthetic and storage concealed behind sliding doors.

In her approach to designing storage for the residents of Cité Cansado, Perriand combined Japanese aesthetics with the modular aspects of her Nuage Bibliothèque and the storage units created for the dormitories at Cité Internationale. The present lot features five sliding Masonite doors set between two planks of ash wood. Perriand revisited the U-shaped steel shelving supports that she developed with Prouvé in 1952 to form the storage compartments and included a unit of four red and white plastic drawers. The wood elements were produced by Négroni and Métal Mueble manufactured the shelving and joinery components. As Perriand’s agent, Steph Simon editioned the Bloc Bahut among other furnishings, including variations of her Nuage Bibliothèque and Toyko bench, for the Cité Cansado project.

The present lot was designed to be functional but also to incorporate seamlessly into the visually cohesive city. Commissions like the Cité Cansado project provided the opportunity for designers such as Perrriand and Prouvé to fully realize their modernist vision and put their theories to practice. This moment of reconstruction and opportunity resulted in the culmination of long held ideals, lasting collaborations and some of the most landmark designs of the 20th century.

Charlotte Perriand 1903–1999

At the age of twenty-four Charlotte Perriand approached Le Corbusier and asked to join the designer’s famed studio. While studying at Paris’s École de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, Perriand read two of Le Corbusier’s most notable works, Ver une architecture and L’Art decorative d’aujourd’hui prompting her to distance herself from the Art Deco aesthetic and seek out a style more relevant to the machine-age. Le Corbusier famously turned her away, stating "we don’t embroider cushions here." Months later, after seeing her Bar sous le toi the Salon D’Automne exhibition in Paris, he apologized and hired her on. Perriand worked for him for ten years, collaborating with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret on numerous projects, most notably a set of tubular steel chairs that would become one of her most well-known designs. In the 1930s, concerned with social issues, Perriand worked to create functional and affordable designs. Moving away from the machine-age aesthetic of glass and metal, Perriand began experimenting with natural materials. She traveled to Japan as an official advisor on industrial design to the Ministry for Trade and Industry and became enamored with the simplistic beauty of Japanese design. Perriand studied local woodworking and immersed herself in the functional yet refined forms. Perriand revitalized her career upon returning to Europe in 1947, creating harmonious simplicity in her designs – what she called l’art d’habiter. She continued her collaboration with Le Corbusier on the Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles and worked with Fernand Leger and Jean Prouvé on various commissions. In 1985, her long career was celebrated with a retrospective at the Musée des Arts-Décoratifs in Paris and she remains one of the most influential designers of the 20th Century.

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