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Claude Parent, a visionary standing the test of time. Interview with Audrey Jeanroy

By 2 March 2023June 13th, 2023No Comments

Art historian Audrey Jeanroy has just published a monograph on the work of Claude Parent, published by Editions Parenthèses.
To mark the centenary of the architect’s birth, we contacted her for an interview.

Project for the Praticable in Venice, 1970
© Gilles Ehrmann, Archives Claude Parent, all rights reserved

  • When and how did you come across Claude Parent’s work?

I was doing a Master’s degree in art history and was interested in the concept of sculptural architecture. My research supervisor at the University of Tours suggested I go and work at the FRAC Centre-Val de Loire, which is developing an international collection of architectural models and drawings. The FRAC needed someone to inventory the Claude Parent collection; I didn’t really know the architect’s work, apart from the Maison Bloc at Cap d’Antibes, which I’d seen in books on sculptural architecture. So I became familiar with his work through archives, which gave me a vivid picture of his creations.
The first archive boxes I opened at the FRAC concerned his Praticables. I was immediately fascinated by these popular and architectural experiments from the early 1970s. I then discovered that he had designed shopping malls and power plants, and that he had written extensively. I thought I’d find a lot of interesting elements in this mass of documentation, capable of shedding new and exciting light on this period.

Maison Drusch, Versailles, Study model, 1963-1965, Collection FRAC Centre-Val de Loire

Les ponts urbains, Felt on paper, 1971, Collection Frac Centre-Val de Loire

  • The architect’s career is impressive. Can you briefly situate it within the history of 20th-century architecture?

He’s a French architect emerging in the second half of the 20th century. He’s not a great master of the period, like Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe. He’s a second-rate figure, not at the forefront of the construction world, but part of the French scene in different ways.

Architecturally, he built little compared to the great Parisian agencies of the Trente Glorieuses, such as Roger Anger and Emile Aillaud. But he published a great many books and articles, and from the 1960s onwards, he enjoyed an important audience, thanks in particular to his close relationship with André Bloc, founder of the magazine Architecture d’aujourd’hui. He played an important role on the radical, forward-looking scene of the time, among those visionary architects trying to think the future and rethink society, notably through drawing. He had a very strong presence well into the 1990s. This longevity is particularly interesting. A study of his career gives us a better understanding of the period, during which he evolved in an ambivalent way: sometimes against the tide, sometimes at the forefront, when he delivered shopping centers or supermarkets; he was also one of the first architects to follow, in the long term, the programs of the Messmer plan for nuclear power plants.

His entire career has been one of back-and-forth movement between the avant-garde and the rearguard; it’s a very rich journey from that point of view.

© Archives Parent

  • Parent is often associated with the idea of utopia and a form of “radicalism” in the definition of space. Why is this?

This phenomenon is very much a feature of the period. Claude Parent belongs to a generation that emerged after 1945, having “digested” the legacy of the moderns, having read them and worked alongside them, but trying to adapt to the upheavals of the times. The notion of inhabited space, of space experienced by the inhabitant, the idea of dialogue with the city, were central issues for the period. Through his work with Paul Virilio and his collaborations with numerous artists in the 1950s and 1960s, Claude Parent developed a new, radical vision of space.

For him, space must be an active zone, to be understood and assimilated by its inhabitants. Parent’s intention was to push the inhabitant into a form of constraint: the inclined plane or the ramp induce a whole way of making one’s own body conscious in action. The body, thus put to the test by the oblique function, can access new perspectives. The architect also seeks to renew interior views and sunlight, and to integrate phenomena that disrupt perception of the outside world…

Claude Parent, Les centrales nucléaires, 1975, Les pattes du tigre, Drawing © Collection FRAC Centre-Val de Loire

Claude Parent, Les amphores, 1975, Drawing © François Lauginie – Collection FRAC Centre-Val de Loire

  • Would you say that Claude Parent places little importance on studying the uses and needs of the inhabitant?

I’d say he’s not guided by a desire for comfort. In a period marked by the desire to produce environments that are as comfortable, fluid and accessible as possible at the lowest possible cost (cf. the Grands ensembles), Parent adopts another, shall we say, more “constraining” approach. This constraint plays on the dynamics of the body, on the inhabitant’s regaining control of his or her own body, and on the way in which this active relationship with individual space can generate a new relationship with the world.

After that, when we move from theory to realization, few of Claude Parent’s creations embody these elements. It’s only with the Praticables that this theoretical research is really explored, as these are event-based devices, with no furniture or fittings, and no specific residential use. They are wooden blocks offering temporary experimental space for children and families. They are places for experimentation, exchange and discussion. As for the interior design projects delivered, whether for high schools, houses or shopping malls, most of these remain fairly traditional in their relationship with space.

Project for the French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 1970
© Gilles Ehrmann, Archives Claude Parent, all rights reserved

“The line of the steepest slope”, Praticable.
French Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 1970
© Gilles Ehrmann, Archives Claude Parent, all rights reserved

  • Claude Parent has designed many single-family homes. In what way do they constitute an experimental laboratory for him?

Generally speaking, 20th-century architects made the single-family home a key site for experimentation, whether technical (as with Marcel Lods or Walter Gropius), spatial (as with Bruno Taut or Adolf Loos), aesthetic or social…

Claude Parent is an integral part of this movement. His first houses, dating from the 1950s, have all the characteristics of the “modern house” – as defined by historian Gérard Monnier: over-equipped, strongly inspired by modernist aesthetics and incorporating a form of Synthèse des arts. Maison G. (1952-53) in Ville-d’Avray, for example, is an experiment in “modern living” as it was understood in the 1950s.

In the villas of the 1960s, such as Bordeaux-Le Pecq or Drusch – which remain the architect’s most famous – experimentation becomes spatial.
Parent developed a new apprehension of space. Although these houses do not, strictly speaking, feature any inclined surfaces, the architect uses tilting effects, reversals or “swings” in their structure, which generate a different vision and experience of space. There’s also a real connection with nature in these houses, which are exceptional places to live both in terms of the quality of their materials and the quality of their surroundings.

  • What kind of relationship did he have with his clients? Did he involve them in the design process? How did he get them to adopt such innovative, daring and often spectacular forms?

Claude Parent adopts an approach comparable to that of many 20th-century architects, such as Mies van der Rohe, in that he imposes his design.
He sees his client as a child, to be taken by the hand and taken somewhere. He also adopts an artist’s posture, through the idea that the spaces he produces have something to say and that their identity must be preserved over time.

Alongside this, he has developed a deep ability to listen to his customers. In projects such as Maison Mannoni (1972) and Maison Carrade (1974), Parent explains – and his clients have confirmed to me – the extent to which dialogue is essential to the development of a project. His conversations with clients are almost like psychological research. He really tries to understand these artists, their way of life, their psyche, to ensure that the house resembles them and matches their desires, expressed or otherwise. So there’s a really interesting closeness in these portrait houses. Despite this, Parent also always tries to make each project “a work in its own right”, a place where he can realize his ambitions for architecture.

Architectural polychrome design for Maison G., 1952, no author (Fasani)

Claude Parent, Maison Bordeaux-Le Pecq, 1965 © Laurent Kronental, 2019 – courtesy Architecture de Collection

  • Our era remains fascinated by architecture’s ability to conceive space in a relationship of integration with art, design and craft. Was Claude Parent attached to the modern idea of a synthesis of the arts?

Yes, clearly. Claude Parent was caught up in the Synthèse des arts movement that permeated his period and his professional circle. He was nourished and influenced by the debates of the Groupe Espace and the work of André Bloc. Since the 1950s, he has always believed that the artist has a role to play in defining space, habitat and the city.

He and his wife are also art lovers and collectors. Claude Parent didn’t have an exceptional collection, as we understand it today; however, over the course of his life, he collected works by artists he met and loved. He himself is a great draughtsman. The notion of art is essential and omnipresent in his daily life.

Claude Parent, Maison Drusch, 1966 © Laurent Kronental, 2022

  • How did he apply the principle of Art Synthesis to his projects?

He didn’t work with craftsmen – as Art Nouveau architects might have done – but collaborated extensively with artists. He worked for them, with them, or designed for them, according to different modes of collaboration. He often invited Michel Carrade to create works in the buildings he built, even for small-scale refurbishments. The artist’s presence, bringing life and vibrancy to a space, is essential for Claude Parent. The artist has a voice in his architecture.

  • What would you say about Claude Parent’s posterity? How does his work mark our times?

I’ve taught in architecture schools and I’m still impressed by the power of attraction this work has on the new generation of architects.
When I talk to them about Claude Parent, Paul Virilio and the oblique function, they are attracted and interested by this freedom of thought and breaking of codes. This doesn’t make them Claude Parent “fanatics”, but the gesture and the desire for freedom appeal to them. This ongoing relationship with the stimulation of the mind makes Claude Parent an emblematic figure.

This craze also exists on an international scale. A few years ago, the La Cambre school of architecture in Brussels organized a seminar on the architect.
A certain amount of research on Parent is currently being carried out in Germany. I get the impression that his legacy is alive and kicking.

La fonction oblique, 1963-1965 Collection FRAC Centre-Val de Loire

Claude Parent, Dans la nature vierge, 2007, Collection FRAC Centre-Val de Loire

© Valérie Sadoun

Interview by Emilie Bloch and Aurélien Vernant


Photo credits – Architecture de Collection warmly thanks Laszlo and Chloé Parent, the FRAC Centre-Val de Loire, Laurent Kronental, Valérie Sadoun and the copyright holders of Gilles Ehrmann, for their kind and invaluable contribution to the production of this article.


With a PhD in Art History, Audrey Jeanroy has been a lecturer at the University of Tours since 2019. She wrote her doctoral thesis on the work of Claude Parent (Claude Parent, architecture et expérimentation, 1942-1996 : itinéraire, discours et champ d’action d’un architecte créateur en quête de mouvement, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Minnaert, 2016). Associate curator of the exhibition “Claude Parent: l’œuvre construite, l’œuvre graphique” at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine in 2010, she has contributed to numerous publications on the architect; her work was awarded the Prix Françoise Abella by the Académie des Beaux-Arts-Institut de France in 2011.
She has just published Claude Parent, les desseins d’un architecte with Editions Parenthèses (2022). Her current research focuses more generally on the interactions between art and architecture in the 20th century, and on energy landscapes.

Audrey Jeanroy

Claude Parent, Les desseins d’un architecte

Editions Parenthèses – Collection Architecture
384 pages  / 17 x 24 cm
38 €