Jean Prouvé’s Maison Tropicale in London

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Fashion photographer Ben Rayner has been documenting the assembly of Maison Tropicale - a prefabricated housing system developed by Jean Prouvé in the 1950s - in front of Tate Modern in London.

The flat-pack house, made of folded sheet steel and aluminium, is one of three prototype Maisons Tropicales created by the French architect and was originally erected in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, in 1951.

The installation - which opens to the public on 5 February - coincides with the ongoing Jean Prouvé exhibition at the nearby Design Museum (see our earlier story).

Maison Tropicale was originally designed to address the shortage of housing in French colonies in West Africa during the 1950s.

"Jean Prouvé invented British high-tech architecture," said Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic. "He shaped the careers of Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and a generation of others. But he never built anything in Britain.

"To bring Prouvé’s Maison Tropicale to the heart of London is a historic event.It’s a tribute to a great designer. And as Britain wrestles with how to go about building the millions of new houses that the governments wants, Prouvé’s house is a stunning example of how to build new homes quickly, cheaply, and well."

The house will be open to the public from 5 February to 13 April 2008.

Above and below: Maison Tropicale as it will be when completed. These photos:Jean Prouvé Tropical House in New York, © C. Baraja & É. Touchaleaume, Archives Éric Touchaleaume.

The following press release is from the Design Museum:

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PROUVÉ HOUSE FOR DESIGN MUSEUM AT TATE MODERN

The Design Museum, in partnership with Tate Modern, brings a house designed by architectural visionary Jean Prouvé to Britain for the first time thanks to New York hotelier André Balazs.

The prototype house, designed by the French architect Jean Prouvé (1901-1984), for 1950s colonial West Africa, will be erected outside Tate Modern. Prouvé House for Design Museum at Tate Modern is an extension of the Design Museum’s current exhibition Jean Prouvé – The Poetics of the Technical Object. The house demonstrates the full scale and vision of Prouvé’s economy of design.

Visitors will be able to walk around this ‘flat pack’ house which was originally erected in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, in 1951. In 2000 the house was found in Brazzaville, in a dilapidated state and riddled with bullet holes. The house was dismantled, returned to France and restored.

Jean Prouvé designed and manufactured three prototype Maisons Tropicales for West Africa between 1949 and 1951. The Brazzaville house is made from folded sheet steel and aluminium. For ease of transport all the parts were flat, lightweight and could be neatly packed into a cargo plane.

The Maisons Tropicales were designed to address the shortage of housing and civic buildings in France’s African colonies. Prouvé aimed to design for the demands of the climate and included a veranda with an adjustable aluminium sun-screen. The inner walls are made of fixed and sliding metal panels with blue glass portholes to protect against UV rays. A double roof structure was designed to produce natural ventilation.

Although designed for mass production, the prototype proved no less expensive than locally built buildings and with their industrial aesthetic did not appeal to the conservative expatriate French bureaucrats. So the house exists as a unique expression of a radical architectural vision.

Jean Prouvé (1901-1984) was a genius of 20th century design. With remarkable elegance and economy of means, he designed prefabricated houses, building components and façades, as well as furniture for the home, office and school.

La Maison Tropicale was purchased by hotelier André Balazs in June 2007. André Balazs is also a patron of contemporary architecture and has commissioned contemporary designers such as Jean Nouvel, Shigeru Ban, and Richard Gluckman. André Balazs Properties is a collection of innovative hotels and residences that have received outstanding critical acclaim, as well as numerous awards for design excellence.

Jean Prouvé – The Poetics of the Technical Object is at the Design Museum until 13 April. A comprehensive exploration of Prouvé’s life, work and ideas, the exhibition covers his early career as a blacksmith in Nancy, France, the establishment of his own factory in the 1930s producing metal components and structures, and his later work as a consultant engineer.

Jean Prouvé – The Poetics of the Technical Object is an exhibition of the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany in cooperation with Deutsches Architektur Museum, Frankfurt and Design Museum Akihabara, Japan. The exhibition is supported by Allies and Morrison, Foster + Partners, with additional support from Wilkinson Eyre and Hopkins Architects.

HOUSE OPENING (Tate Modern): Sun – Thurs 10.00–18.00, Friday and Saturday 10.00–22.00

EXHIBITION OPENING (Design Museum): Daily 10.00 - 17.45

  • pacharan

    Great. But london weather is not quite tropical. Did anyone think of uv-rays projectors around? This silly lack of place sensibility and crazy love for objects had awfull consequences through the last century. This great building -inside london fog- becomes an UFO. Prouvé never built UFOs.

  • phone

    yeah, what’s going on here?…

  • roadkill

    Looks great and they picked a great spot… love the detail and and structure!
    It is a fantastic project and considering when it was done… a masterpiece!

  • pedro pablo arribas

    I would like to know if there is a book showing the architectural work-parts of the tropical house.thanks in advance

  • http://www.scala-architecten.nl peter drijver

    pacharan is right:
    Great. But london weather is not quite tropical. Did anyone think of uv-rays projectors around? This silly lack of place sensibility and crazy love for objects had awfull consequences through the last century. This great building -inside london fog- becomes an UFO. Prouvé never built UFOs.

    nevertheless, the buildings tells us how to build and how to deal with climate. think of it as a lesson, not a solution. cheers