She was a successful female architect of the 20th Century and today she has the spotlight. Here’s how Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) advanced modern architecture, from innovative materials to functional concepts.
About the French designer
Charlotte Perriand was born in Paris, France in October 24, 1903. She pursued design at the Ecole de l’Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs from 1920-1925 and only two years later this ambitious woman applied to legendary architect Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret).
The response was not as hoped, though, as Perriand was told, “we don’t embroider cushions here.” At age 24, she didn’t give up. Fast forward a month and she had the opportunity to show Le Corbusier the furniture she had designed in her tiny attic.
The pieces included nickel-plated copper stools and a chrome-plated table. The highly-esteemed architect hired her right then and there.
As she later explained in an interview, “I think the reason Le Corbusier took me on was because he thought I could carry through ideas. I was familiar with current technology, how to use it and, what is more, I had ideas about the uses it could be put to.”
Perriand is perhaps best known for her collaborative work with Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret on tubular steel chairs. The furniture made from tubular steel, such as the B306 chaise-longue, was a modern innovation for its time.
It combined the simpleness of material with practical function for revolutionary pieces for the home and workplace. The three collaborated for about a decade, from the late 1920s to the late 1930s, with Charlotte Perriand in charge of furniture and fittings at the design firm.
On the Art of Living
Charlotte Perriand preferred to be called an interior architect rather than a furniture designer, as per The London List. She was central in advancing the form follows function mentality with her creations, which was part of a modernist movement.
Following this way of thinking, she created pieces over a career spanning eight decades that would include tubular “equipment for living.” Her work focused on flexible spaces and functional design to elevate a room.
In those early years with Le Corbusier and Jeanneret, her work was credited to the studio of Le Corbusier and branded under the studio’s collection. The famous creations included the LC2 chair “Grand Comfort” for relaxing and the LC4 B306 chaise-longue (shown in the top image of this post) for rest. She also unveiled a bamboo version of the chaise-longue in 1929, as well as an alternative version of the folding armchair in 1936.
Two of her salon exhibitions in the late 1920s that are well-known are her 1928 dining room and 1929’s model apartment called Equipment d’Habitation. The latter work featured tubular steel and glass, providing a new vision of the home interior, which inspires modern end tables, chairs, and more.
In 1937, she left Corbusier’s studio to work with Fernande Leger, a painter. She then worked with the Japanese Ministery of Trade and Industry in 1940, advising on industrial design.
The impacts of Charlotte Perriand on design
She was a key figure in Modernism with the use of new materials and a focus on functionality in interior design pieces, as well as ergonomics. As The London List posits, she did not focus on a certain method or style but instead on how the creation was enjoyed as part of everyday life. Even up until the end of her life, she was still exploring different materials to use for interior design, such as carbon fiber, and a quote she was often heard to say was:
“Nothing is off the table; there is no single answer.”
I like that she was open to what had yet to be discovered in design, from form to materials. If only she could see today’s home environments with reading nooks, espresso machines, extendable dining tables, and lift-top coffee tables.
Also admirable is the young age at which she worked in a collaborative way with well-known creative Corbusier. She did not give up upon receiving his sexist dismissal about sewing cushions at their first meeting.
Finally, the way she envisioned the home environment, as per the salon installations of the late 1920s, shows that she saw change ahead for the domestic area. She took a rational approach to design at a time when functionality was perhaps seen as a predominantly male concept. The changes in design were redefining what the domestic space looked like and the way it was used to help liberate women and create a new identity, both individually and within society as females.
In 1985, a retrospective of Charlotte Perriand’s designs was held at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Her autobiography Vie de Creation (Life of Creation) published in 1998, just a year before she passed away in Paris at the age of 96.
Top image: The LC4 chair, photo by jeanbaptisteparis, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr.