Who is he? One of the most innovative and influential figures in 20th-century design. How did he start? Humbly but with pedigree. His grandfather had worked as a ceramicist with the father of Emile Galle (the French Art Nouveau glassmaker). From 1917 to 1920, Prouve trained as a blacksmith, apprenticed to a master called Emile Robert. He then attended the Ecole Superieure in Nancy, in the Lorraine region of France. After graduating in 1923, he opened what would prove to be the first in a succession of workshops and studios, creating wrought-iron lamps, chandeliers, handrails and furniture. Towards the end of the decade, he worked for Le Corbusier, who commented that he married 'the soul of an engineer with that of an architect'. Prouve was political. In 1930, he helped to establish the Union of Modern Artists, whose manifesto advocated a mixture of 'logic, balance and purity'. The following year, he opened Jean Prouve Studios and joined forces with compatriot architects Eugene Beaudoin and Marcel Lods on schemes such as a flying club and an army camp. What did he do during the war? While churning out bicycles, he took part in the Resistance. Thanks to his courage, after the war he was named mayor of Nancy. Further accolades followed. In 1947, he built a factory at Maxeville near Nancy. The factory produced furniture and conducted research into aluminium's potential in architecture. The factory's finest hour was the Tropical House, the winning entry in a Charles de Gaulle government-run contest to design cheap housing and administrative buildings for France's African colonies. Collapsible and portable, the aluminium innovation was shipped by cargo plane to the outposts of France's shrinking post-war empire. Like a sci-fi fable monstrosity, the house perched a metre above the ground on 15 concrete posts and had a natural cooling system. What other wonders came out of Maxeville? The Trapeze conference table and an aluminium-panelled sideboard. A la Andy Warhol, Prouve became synonymous with his factory. Consequently, after he lost control of it in 1952, he descended into depression, which later drove him to say he felt as if he had died. But he bounced back, beginning the Industrial Transport Equipment Company and building the Rotterdam Medical School, the Exhibition Centre in Grenoble and the Orly Airways Terminal facade. After he died in 1984 at 83, his reputation began receding into oblivion. However, in 2001 - the 100th anniversary of his birth - six French exhibitions of his work took place. We are now in the throes of a Prouve revival. What should I have at home? Try his 1950 Compass table (pictured) or his Antony chair, one of his last furniture designs and regarded as his finest. Where in Hong Kong can I buy his work? Aluminium: shop 1B, Capitol Plaza, 2 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, tel: 2546 5904.