Jean Prouvé: Tropical House

by | 29. Aug 2012

Exhibitions and Events

The prefabricated metal house, known as the Tropical House, is installed in the Hammer Museum courtyard during October and November 2005.

The installation and deinstallation periods last for approximately two weeks and are integral aspects of the display, allowing the public to observe, firsthand, Prouvé’s notions of prefabricated architecture in practice.

Photo: arcspace

The construction of the house in the Hammer courtyard is a 20 x 20 foot configuration of the refurbished house, which is ringed by a veranda, creating an overall structure of 266 x 33 feet. The structure is more than half the original 460 square foot house with veranda constructed in Brazzaville. In this configuration, the room dividers, bathroom, and kitchen have not been installed in order to highlight the buildings design.

Photo: Elon Schoenholz, courtesy Hammer Museum
Photo: Elon Schoenholz, courtesy Hammer Museum
Photo: Elon Schoenholz, courtesy Hammer Museum
Photo: Elon Schoenholz, courtesy Hammer Museum
Photo: arcspace
Photo: arcspace
Photo: arcspace

Prouvé designed the Tropical House in 1949 as a prototype for inexpensive, readily assembled housing that could be easily transported to France’s African colonies.

Fabricated in Prouvé’s French workshops, the components for two houses were completed in 1951 and were flown disassembled to Africa in the cargo hold of an airplane. The houses were erected in the town of Brazzaville, Congo, where they remained for nearly 50 years.
In 1999, the Tropical House was disassembled and shipped back to France for restoration.

By the end of the 1990s, the Civil War in Congo had taken its toll on the two Tropical Houses. A team was dispatched from paris to Brazzaville to acquire the houses. Under armed guard, each piece was numbered and matched to drawings made on the fly. The houses arrived in France in 2001. The smaller of the two, which weighs about 8 tons, was transported to Presles, France, to be repaired and reconstructed by Alain Banneel, under the direction of Christian Enjolras.

Ninety-two pages of plans were generated retroactively, after the team figured out how to put the house together and restored or refabricated its constituent parts. As part of the restoration process, two shipping containers were outfitted to transport the disassembled house from location to location.

Drawing courtesy Atelier Banneel

The house sits on a simple one-meter grid system with fork-shaped portico support of bent steel. All but the largest structural elements are aluminum. No piece is longer than 13 feet, which corresponds to the capacity of the rolling machine, or heavier than 220 pounds, for easy handling by two men.

To deal with the extremes of the tropical climate, the outer light- reflecting skin, consisting of brises soleils that shielded the structure from direct sunlight, was separated from the inner insulated skin of sliding doors and fixed panels. The floor was suspended above a one-story base, made locally in Brazzaville, to control humidity, and warm air was drawn up through a ventilation chimney in the center.

Drawing courtesy Atelier Banneel

Jean Prouvé (1901 – 1984) is widely recognized for his pioneering use of industrial materials and new technologies. While today he is best known for the furniture he created, he worked with such leading architects as Robert Mallet-Stevens and Le Corbusier, and his innovative designs included many influential experiments in prefabricated architecture.

The exhibition was curated by Robert Rubin and installed by Alain Banneel and Atelier Banneel; consulting architect for the restoration was Christian Enjolras.


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