Rare example of Prouvé architecture comes under the hammer
For once it’s not a wrecking hammer but an auctioneer’s. A fully restored example of Jean Prouvé’s prefabricated tropical houses, designed for the French Colonies in the mid twentieth century is due to be auctioned at Christie’s Rockefeller Center, New York on 5th June.
Prouvé’s designs were probably ahead of their time and featured futuristic louvres, screens and an outer cladding of aluminium brise-soleil with built in ventilation, all features to make living in the tropics more bearable.
Prouvé’s cutting edge design for the colonies was not destined to be a success, manufacturing and shipping costs were almost double the traditional, local built methods which prevented the pilot scheme leading to production. However, he later presided over a defining moment in contemporary architecture, chairing the jury the selected the Rogers/Piano team to build the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
The system built designs were seen as a possibnch Frle solution to the urgent shortage of accommodation in French Africa. In 1949 French Minister of reconstruction visited Prouvé’s workshop in Maxéville and commissioned two tropical houses which were later shipped to Brazzaville, the capital of French Equatorial Africa. One was used as a regional base, the other the home of its commercial director.
Inhabited until the mid-1990s they were becoming increasingly dilapidated until 2001 when they were rescued by a group of Parisians. The buildings were dismantled and fully restored to their original condition which included removing bullet holes, a remnant of the many civil wars in Brazzaville. One was taken on a tour of America and now permanently resides at the Pompidou Centre the other, having been located on the banks of the Seine is now in New York awaiting auction.