Which title is attached when you hear something about Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999)? Architect, interior designer, product designer, artist? The best answer would be all of them.
She was truly a remarkable woman, that wasn’t really “under the shadow” of Le Corbusier, but on his side, working together with others in his studio, which she joined in 1927, and who understood the importance of collaboration.
With studies in interior design, what drove her to Le Corbusier was the interest in new technologies, the possibilities of new materials, mass production as a way to reduce costs and make design affordable. Her use of tubular steel and aluminium was inspired by motor cars and bicycles, industrial machines. In this way, Perriand was searching for a new aesthetic: simple, functional, elegant, without unnecessary details. What we call today modernist.
Charlotte always had people in mind when designing spaces or furniture. She envisioned design to be adaptable, straightforward and affordable. Some of her significant works, including “Unité d’Habitation” in Marseille and the “Pavillon Suisse” at the Cité Universitaire in Paris had these purposes in its conception. So, it’s a shame to think that for someone who believed design should be accessible, today, her work is anything but affordable for the vast majority of people.
Together with artists, like her personal friend Fernand Legér, with whom she collaborated many times, design and art were put together in favour of an “art of living”. She considered the role of art in wellbeing, promoting elegant, relaxing spaces.
She never stopped to explore materials and use them in unexpected ways. Later in her career, she started to favour wood and during her stay in Japan, where she went as Advisor on Industrial Design for the Ministry of Trade and Industry, she discovered bamboo and adapted some of her creations to the material.
One of her designs, which I find most fascinating is “Les Arcs”, the French ski resort in the region of Savoie. The buildings were projected to embrace the natural landscape, in such a way that it feels like they are part of it. It’s not an imposition on the environment, but an addition in harmony with the original scenery, its shapes and contours.
Les Arcs, ski resort in France / Images: Hidden Architecture, The Guardian, Dezeen
Perriand’s work got retrospectives in 1985 at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and in 1996 at the Design Museum in London (with another coming this June celebrating its 25th anniversary). Last year, in 2020 the Louis Vuitton Foundation organized an extensive exhibition, recreating some original spaces designed by her, displaying furniture, art, drawings and more.
To know more:
The Design Museum: Bio, timeline and books.
Musée des Arts Décoratifs: Perriand’s works in the collection.
Design Signé, ARTE France series:
Which is your favourite Perriand design? Let me know in the comments!
Have a great week!