London’s Design Museum is to stage an exhibition dedicated to the work of French designer  Charlotte Perriand, whose work includes being a major contributor to the creation of the famous French ski resort of Les Arcs, in the 1960s.

The exhibition ‘Charlotte Perriand: the Modern Life’, will run from 19 June to 5 September 2021.

Today recognised as one of the giants of 20th century modern design, Charlotte Perriand was a free spirit who loved nature and championed good design for all.

The exhibition pays tribute to Perriand’s incredible visionary spirit and creative force. As well as recognising her pioneering designs and modern ideas, the exhibition also recounts her passion for the mountains, notably through her contribution to the creation of the French ski resort of Les Arcs. To which she devoted the last 20 years of her career.

Image credit G Volpe

In the 1960s Perriand and the group who created the resort, had the chance to design from conception an architectural utopia in an untouched alpine terrain. And that is what they did.

Already 65 years old when she started working on the ski resort project with Roger Godino, the developer and Robert Blanc, a mountain guide who grew up in the area. They formed a collective who were captivated by Perriand’s inventiveness, her ability to innovate and her natural authority.

Throughout the Les Arcs project, Charlotte Perriand ensured the strong concepts that had been decided at the very beginning of the project were carried out.

Image credit Christophe Stramba-Badiali

She was able to ensure respect for nature and the importance of bringing people into contact with their natural environment.

The main rules set out by Perriand and the other designers of Les Arcs included the concentration of housing so as not to «crowd» the mountain; the integration of apartment complexes into the relief of the mountains and nature; the conservation of the existing old mountain chalets that the modern architecture tried not to imitate; the use of local materials (including wood) in construction and the creation of a summer mountain season from the outset, unheard of at the time.

A Ski Resort Designed To Free Women From The Usual Family Constraints

A socialist and feminist before her time, Charlotte Perriand was able to create Les Arcs in accordance with her humanist principles. She designed all the interiors of the Arc 1600 and Arc 1800 apartments with functionality in mind and from the view of the user. She designed simple, beautiful apartments which also sought to free women from their usual constraints at that time, such as cooking and cleaning.

 In Les Arcs Perriand can particularly be credited with the raised balconies allowing light to enter the apartments fully and to have a wider view of the mountain panorama; the fact that each piece of furniture was conceived and designed by Charlotte Perriand herself; the innovative technical solutions such as bathroom cubicles designed in a single block to minimise time and costs. A process unknown at the time and the integrated kitchens that open onto the living space. Almost a standard today, they were a revolution 50 years ago.

By responding to the tourist needs of the time whilst preserving space and nature, Charlotte Perriand and the founders of Les Arcs designed a contemporary architecture that respected the environment.

It was this ethos and ultimately the architecture of the resort which made the French Ministry of Culture recognise it by awarding Arc 1800 and Arc 1600, in their entirety, the “Remarkable Contemporary Architecture” label in 2006.

Les Arcs itself is in fact a life-size Perriand exhibition and numerous architecture tours are organised with a local guide. On foot, on skis, or with a photographer, most of them free of charge, and they are a unique way to get to the heart of Perriand’s work.

Les Arcs architecture tours run throughout the summer and winter seasons.

Credit Andy Parant

(Images credit Les Arcs, image top also credit Carole Godino)