martes, 28 de agosto de 2007
Renzo Piano en memoria de su maestro Jean Prouvé
Prouvé: engineer, architect, builder
Jean Prouvé was a model for my work. He’s a personality who has always enchanted me, ever since I was a university student. In the early 1960s, even before I had graduated from the polytechnic, I went to Paris and slipped into the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers and asked permission to attend Jean Prouvé’s lessons. I was very interested in this person because, especially at that age, I was very powerfully drawn by the myth of the designer builder Today I realize I was seeking an alibi, since I knew I wanted to be an architect, not a builder. That was what my father desired. So for purely strategic reasons I was attracted by all those examples that allowed me to narrow the gap between the builder’s and the architect’s craft. In that sense, Nervi’s work had a big pull on me, too. But the fact that Prouvé taught surely made it more attainable.
The experimental approach
I was highly impressed by his way of presenting the problems, his working method. For example, I remember an exercise he often gave to his students: the professor distributed a plain sheet of paper and they had to build a bridge much longer than its dimensions. Necessarily, one had to get busy, fold, cut and join the pieces using small staplers...In the end, he placed a pencil on the models to test their strength. It pretty much seemed to be a game, but actually this was the kind of exercise that obliged you to be utterly concise. At the same time, it taught you to get your mind to work in three dimensions immediately. This was one of his fixed ideas. He maintained that drawings can turn out to be a deadly trap, since one can fall in love with a sign. Instead, one has to image architecture in three dimensions right off the bat – and structurally too, of course.
The ethical attitude towards work
I met him many years later when we won the Beaubourg competition. To tell the truth, Richard and I decided to participate in the competition because we had learned that Prouvé headed the jury. Prouvé’s office was located in the Marais district, near Beaubourg. Since he loved building sites and all their bustle, he frequently dropped in on us. Interfering with the work of others wasn’t his nature; above all, his advice was ethical and concerned behavior. He exhorted us to stick to it and never be satisfied with the first result. And later on, when I lived in Paris, I kept on seeing him. We used to go out for lunch often, because he commuted. Every week he came in from Nancy and returned Thursday evening. I’m telling you this so you will com-prehend that the everyday side to his life was also imbued in work, by an attitude of constant query. I recall that once we lunched with the engineer who had designed the Deux Chevaux. Another time there was another extraordinary person, a man who had always designed airplanes. The main subjects were cars, sailboats and planes (biplanes). The discussion could focus on a particular type of joint, how a biplane’s wing distributes and sudden load caused by a gust of wind, or the concept of planned breakage. Prouvé had an extraordinary ability to move beyond the boundaries, to meet diverse fields.
A transgressive personality
In this world of meetings, of associating with terrific people who were also crazy, the patent world also was part of his way of conceiving work as constant innovation. I remember that once Prouvé ended up by getting himself involved in some wild calculations which had been kicked off by maintaining that one cubic meter of automobile cost less than a cubic meter of building. This fact seemed inconceivable to him, for cars are able to move around, heat themselves, stop and do loads of other marvelous things. This led him to reason with a very rigorous demonstration of how one could compare the real cost of one cubic meter of car to that of a building. In short, this entire way of Prouvé’s thinking lay on the borderline between the construction and the auto universes. This is my sharpest memory of Jean, this continuous crossing into other sectors. In fact, all these discussions were at the limit – even insolent – between categories that were considered sacred and untouchable, like architecture. The barriers were especially high then. It’s significant that one of the motives behind the controversy that halted work on the Beaubourg (and the stoppages were legion) was that Prouvé wasn’t an architect. So he supposedly wasn’t able to judge architecture. Prouvé was an iconoclast and, in a way, today he’s still paying for this, by being considered a sort of technician, a bit player.
Invention and design
I was struck by the modesty that led him to never talk directly about form, although all the discussions really implied formal questions. On the other hand, paying too much attention to this type of problems leads to the folly of no longer recognizing the very, very close ties between form and materials. On the contrary, the desire to deny an extemporary gesture and gratuitous form in order to root it in the materials may risk generating the opposite reaction. That is, the technical side appears to get the upper hand and take on too much importance. But Jean thought in terms of form, in terms of elegance and the strong relationships between the parts. Anybody can build using too much material. Instead, Prouvé was able to recognize what was truly necessary, he knew how to pare the structure to the bone. He had the wonderful capacity for seeing forms in space. Jean knew how to join two pieces simply by “following one”, almost as it were a hologram (I’ve always sought to cultivate this skill). At times, while chatting he followed a form, and he seemed to draw it in the air. Prouvé systematically refused to believe that thought and action could be separated. His wealth of ethical energy blended with the scientific curiosity of building and the courage of ‘doing’. He was curios about the new. Prouvé always was ready to experiment new technologies and materials. Jean knew what running risks means. In order to innovate, he was not afraid of throwing himself into things, even if it signified defeat. Each time he wandered into other fields he eluded the rules of the game; the great architecture ‘saloons’didn’t forgive him for this. They thought what he did was promiscuous, whereas it was a superlative mixture of everything. Patents are the mark of his exploratory attitude, of his experimental approach. This is meaningful because it represents design straying into invention.
Este texto forma parte de un artículo titulado "Prouvé inventor, 32 patentes", aparecido en la revista Domus nº807, de Septiembre de 1998. Junto al texto de Renzo Piano hay una excellente muestra del trabajo de JP, que recomiendo no perderse. Las imágenes de la Maison du Peuple en Clichy y el prototipo de la Maison Tropical fueron tomadas de la web y podrían tener derechos.
Editado por el arq. Martín Lisnovsky