Paul Arzens (1903–90)

Paul Arzens was one of the foremost European industrial designers of the 20th century.

He spent most of his life in Paris and was best-known before the Second World War for his concept cars. He produced ‘La Baleine’ (the whale) on a Buick chassis in 1938, and in 1942 designed the extraordinary aluminium and flexiglass vehicle called ‘L’Oeuf electrique’ (the electric egg), which is acknowledged as the ancestor of all bubble cars. An example is preserved in Mulhouse.

He was best known for his railway designs, and was the principle influence on the design of locomotives and passenger carriages on the French railway system (the SNCF) between the early 1950s and the first stages of work on the TGV (Tres Grande Vitesse) trains in the late 1960s. He designed most of the diesel and electric locomotives built for the SNCF in the 1950s, and in the 1960s produced the design for a locomotive front end with the windscreen inclined to the rear. Arzens modelled the design on an image of a sprinter in his starting blocks at the commencement of a race, but it is sometimes called ‘le nez casse’ (the broken nose). The first locomotives with this feature were built by Alsthom for the Finnish state railway system, but the design was used on numerous French locomotives, and on series built for the Dutch and Belgian systems.

Arzens had a remarkably rich imagination that has influenced people’s daily lives in many parts of Europe.