An exhibition at the LUMA Foundation in Arles features 12 of the socially-minded architects buildings made from prefabricated parts

ARLES, France — Jean Prouvé, the socially motivated 20th century French designer, is best known for his elegant furniture and innovative architectural designs. Partly in response to the migrant crisis in Europe, the LUMA Foundation and Paris-based Galerie Patrick Seguin have put on a major survey exhibition devoted to Prouvé’s functional yet stylish nomadic structures. Featuring 12 prefabricated buildings created between 1939 and 1969 (the largest number of Prouvé’s demountable constructions ever assembled in a single location)


Aesthetically, I also greatly enjoyed stepping into the minimalist, silver-colored harmony of Prouvé’s porthole-peppered structure “École de Bouqueval” (“Bouqueval School,” 1949) and the starker, yet flashier, red-hot shelter “École de Villejuif” (“Villejuif School,” 1949), as they both exemplify Prouvé’s stylish, industrially produced architecture as applied to social necessities that challenge bourgeois notions of architecture as investment properties. There is something irreducible about their modest beauty. Intellectually, they are part of a long and ongoing effort to engage with past discontinuities — to recognize them and to work to remedy them by mixing elegance with social justice.

The structures in Architect for Better Days embrace techniques that utilize economical but enduring materials in conjunction with chic, constructivist, savvy and dashing design. As such, the show offers an encouraging blueprint for responding to the current crisis of migrants in need of help today. It exemplifies the perspicacity of humanist, anti-luxury values at the core of much vanguard art and architecture, both in Prouvé’s time and now.