First a metal worker, then a self taught architect, Prouvé sought to implement methods and technology of the manufacturing industry in architecture without sacrificing beauty. He built a factory and produced prefab aluminum shelters and prototype houses for extreme environments.
His reworking of his 1948 Maison Tropicale is a masterpiece of prefabricated design that was conceived as a kit of standardized parts that could be transported by air to the French colonies and assembled on site. The lightweight frame of its vented roof, which has the airiness of airplane wings, sums up the aspirations of a generation of architects.
The ‘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.
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.