The Masion Tropicale really was a flat-pack house, and it was way ahead of its time - not for nothing has Prouve been labelled "the godfather of high tech" (he was also on the judging panel for the Pompidou Centre). It was designed to be flown out to remote parts of Africa in cargo planes, to house French colonials - not the most politically noble of intentions, perhaps - so it is made entirely of flat, lightweight aluminium and steel pieces. The house is also ahead of its time in terms of eco-design.
Build for Tropical Conditions
Built for tropical temperatures, it features an ingenious natural ventilation system - using heat on the roof of the house to draw in fresh air through openings in the walls and up into the ceiling. There are also adjustable sunshades around the veranda, double-skinned insulated walls and sliding doors with lovely little circular portholes of blue glass. Only three of these houses were made, and they stood forgotten and neglected in Niger and Congo since the 50s until a man called Eric Touchaleaume went over there, bought them, shipped them back and got them restored. This one was torn, smashed, corroded and riddled with bullet holes when he found it, having survived Congo's numerous civil wars (you can still see a bullet hole in the railings). In commercial terms, the Maison Tropicale was a failure - it was too expensive and complicated to manufacture. But really, it's a work of art. It's an architectural milestone, and a gorgeous piece of retro design that's somehow classically French.
The Maison Tropicale is occasionally considered the finest expression of Jean Prouve's penchant for mobile structures, evident in a great many prefabricated houses, construction elements and facades. The prefabricated house "Maison Meudon", for example, (1949-52) is considered a "mainland" version of the Maison Tropicale - conceived to help alleviate the shortage of living space in post-War France. When designing the Maison Tropicale, however, Prouve paid particular attention to ensuring that the individual components, before assembly, could be packed in such a way that they could be loaded onto aircraft for transport overseas. In addition to the Maison Tropicale, Prouve also designed the prefabricated house "Maison du Sahara" (1958) for use in Africa. Given the desert climate, he attached particular importance to the ventilation and cooling system in the house. Even the Maison Tropicale, with its shutter-like flaps in the walls and openings in the ceiling, for instance, was geared to the African climate. However, when he came to design his Maison du Sahara, Prouve went several steps further in terms of 'air conditioning'. The house is structured similarly to a Bedouin tent, with heat-resistant materials and integrated cooling devices. At the end of the day, all these designs make use of a comparable frame construction that can be disassembled. That said, the individual configurations of the houses vary, making them unique.