Joseph-André Motte: Public Commission 1965
November 3 – December 3, 2022
In the 1960s and mid-1970s France developed important architectural programs in an effort to modernize its urban landscape. Supported by a burgeoning economy, some of the most significant architects of that period were hired to create new buildings using the latest technological achievements to accommodate a growing population. The 1960s was also a very prolific decade for Joseph-André Motte. As a successful and talented young French interior designer of that era, he had been commissioned to design several important public and civic buildings including Orly Sud Airport (1961), Le Havre Seaport Building (1964), Dunkirk Seaport Administrative Building (1965), Grenoble City Hall (1967), Préfecture du Val d’Oise (1967-1969), and Bondy City Hall (1969).
The original Dunkirk Seaport was entirely destroyed during World War II, as was much of the surrounding city. Its recovery started at the end of the war in 1945, and from 1958 to 1962, large extensions were newly constructed, making the structure once again one of the most important seaports in Europe. By 1964, the architect Robert Bidot was hired to create a new building to host the administrative departments and the offices in charge of the direction of the port. Joseph-André Motte was likely approached for this project because of his experience and expertise in the field as well as his realization of the Le Havre Seaport one year before, where he was commissioned to design the interiors of the administrative building and the ferry terminal.
For the Dunkirk Seaport Administrative Building, Motte developed the interiors of all the directional offices as well as the meeting and conference rooms, waiting rooms, and reception halls. Like his other interior design projects, Motte designed specific and original furniture for each room, such as an aluminum, formica, and rosewood design Desk (1966) for the Office of the Director General and a teak, ash, and metal Cabinet (1966) for the Office of the directeur de l'exploitation.
Based on a combination of dedicated functionality and the position of their users, Motte created a series of desks, cabinets, and tables, integrating some of the seating he designed in this period for companies like Steiner, including Rigel Chair (1965) and Bridge Chair, Model 763 (1958). Motte is known as one of the most prolific midcentury French designers, having the highest output of designs for industry among all designers in the years 1955 to 1965. In the mid-1960s, Motte was primarily involved in architectural projects, mainly designing new models for public commissions.
For the past 15 years, Demisch Danant has been dedicated to researching, locating, and investing in Motte’s public and private commissions designed throughout his professional career. Many original Motte pieces no longer exist as interiors have been renovated and the furniture removed over the decades. However, there are original designs still in place and preserved because of their public status. Other sites like Dunkirk are in the process of renovating their interiors and slowly the furniture will be replaced. Fortunately, through our contact in Lille, Fabien Delbarre, Demisch Danant were alerted more than 10 years ago that the Dunkirk Seaport planned to change some of its original furnishings. Since then, according to the administrative calendar regarding furniture renewal, we have been collecting each piece of furniture that has survived for more than 50 years.
These designs are unique, commissioned specifically for this architectural site. Our acquisitions include a desk with glass legs designed for the President of the Dunkirk Seaport as well as the desks of the General Director and the Chief Operating Officer, cabinets from meeting rooms and directional offices, and two types of tables (low tables and working tables) which were designed for the Polyvalent room — an area dedicated to informal meetings and a breakroom for employees. A selection of these pieces has been shown by Demisch Danant in the past, but we are now pleased to exhibit the entire collection.