Jean Prouvé: Tropical House
Los Angeles, California, USA
On view: October 04, 2005 - January 01, 2006
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
The exhibition was curated by Robert Rubin and installed by Alain Banneel and Atelier Banneel; consulting architect for the restoration was Christian Enjolras.
Last updated: December 19, 2013
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