La maison tropicale - Jean Prouvé
Between 1949 and 1951, Jean Prouvé was commissioned to produce three prototype prefabricated tropical houses to address the shortage of housing and civic buildings in the French colonies of West Africa. Les Maisons Tropicales can be seen as the most elegant expression of Prouvé’s love of mobility. The ability to construct and dismantle was fundamental to Prouvé’s work and is evident in his designs for chairs, tables, tents and buildings. Les Maisons Tropicales are the culmination of twenty years of experimentation by Prouvé into the prefabrication and industrial production of buildings. Two were erected in Brazzaville, in the Republic of Congo, in 1951. Built side by side and connected by a bridge, the smaller Brazzaville house was an information office for the company Aluminium Francais while the larger 18 x 10m house, was the home of the company’s commercial director, Jacques Piget. It is this larger Maison Tropicale that is being exhibited for the first time outside the Tate Modern in London.
Set on concrete stills because of the sloping site, La Maison Tropicale consisted of a folded, sheet steel portal frame with fixed and sliding aluminium wall panels. In response to the hot climate an adjustable aluminium sunscreen surrounded the veranda and acted as an outer reflective skin. Blue glass portholes protected against UV rays and the double roof structure provided natural ventilation. The design of the component parts was crucial. Flat, they could be tightly packed into a cargo plane for ease of transport. Light, they could be carried by just two men for ease of construction and not wider than 4m, the width of the rolling machine at Prouvé’s factory, for economy of manufacture.