Charlotte Perriand was a French architect and designer, who believed that better design helps in creating a better society. She said her inspiration stemmed from motor cars and bicycles on the streets of Paris. She was also nudged by a friend into reading a couple of books by Le Corbusier (Vers une Architecture and L’Art Décoratif d’Aujourd’hui). She later managed to arrange a meeting with the prestigious designer.
Although Le Corbusier had originally turned her away at the age of 24, a few months later, he saw her work on Bar sous le Toît (rooftop bar at the Salon D’Automne exhibition in Paris), and hired her to join his studio as a furniture designer. While there and with the help of Corbusier and Pierre Jeanerret, she produced a number of steel chairs, tubular in design, iconic of the machine age.
Charlotte put Corbusier’s principles of into action when designing three chairs for two of his projects Maison La Roche (a house being designed in Paris) and a pavilion job for his clients Henry and Barbara Church. Corbusier required that one was designed for conversation (the sling-back chair), one for relaxation (square shaped LC2 Grand Comfort), and a third for sleeping (B306 chaise lounge chair, inspired by 18th century day beds). These three were designed with chromium-plated steel bases and were cutting edge for the time. Perriand even modeled for the publicity shots, wearing edgy clothing.
Working with Le Corbusier definitely had an impact on Charlotte. ‘”The smallest pencil stroke had to have a point,” she later recalled, “to fulfill a need, or respond to a gesture or posture, and to be achieved at mass-production prices.’” She even tried convincing Peugeot, the bicycle company, to adapt its tubing for furniture use. When they declined, Thonet was used to produce a series for the 1929 exhibit Salon d’Automne. The installation was an apartment designed to be a display of modernity. The floors were made of glass which were lit from below, to create a visual effect against the glass ceiling.
Amidst the 1930’s she created a number of designs for Corbusier’s projects: the student lodgings at Cité Universitaire and the headquarters of the Salvation Army in Paris, along with works for Corbusier’s own apartment on rue Nungesser-et-Coli.
Taking inspiration from the furniture in Savoie, she began experimenting with more rustic materials, like wood and cane around the mid 1930s. Despite such materials seeming outdated or odd, she was convinced working with them would enable her to produce affordable works for a larger consumer base.
She left Le Corbusier’s studio to collaborate with Fernand Leger on a stand at the 1937 Paris exhibition, then a ski resort in Savoie. She then worked alongside Pierre Jeanneret and Jean Prouvé designing prefabricated aluminum buildings. She then traveled to Japan to serve as the advisor to industrial design at the Ministry for Trade and Industry. She found herself stuck in Vietnam between the years of 1942 to 1946 due to the naval blockade. While stuck in Vietnam, she studied local techniques of woodworking and weaving.
When she returned to France she undertook the task of reviving her career. She kicked this off with a job at a ski resort, then worked with Fernand Leger on a hospital. Finally she met up with Le Corbusier in Marseilles and aided in designing the Unité d’Habitation apartment building. The architecture materials she came across during her travels in Japan and Vietnam greatly influenced her work, especially with the inclusion of wood and bamboo. These themes found their way into her work at Méribel ski resort and the League of Nations building in Geneva, and the remodeling of Air France’s offices.
As in the case of Plurima, the influence of Japan and Vietnam is easily seen. The clean edges, and square divisions of space, and medium of wood all point to characteristics of Asian design. The sliding doors are also a known characteristic of Japanese buildings. This is fitting for her since her design-sense was constantly evolving, in her pursuit of modernity. ‘“The most important thing to realize is that what drives the modern movement is a spirit of enquiry, it’s a process of analysis and not a style..’”
(Swivel Chair 1928-1929)
(Fauteuil Dossier 1928)
(Chaise Longue 1928)