Jean Prouvé

Kultureflash #231, 7th February 2008

These days, the idea of an engineer who’s also an architect is almost unheard of, as the world of building things becomes ever more specialised. So Jean Prouve‘s work signifies a lost age; metalworker, engineer, inventor, architect, furniture maker. His name is little known outside architectural circles, but his influence is huge, and arguably greater than Buckminster-Fuller‘s influence on the work of the British high-tech boys — his fascination with mass-produced building systems is evident in the buildings of the young Richard Rogers. Interesting, then, that linked to the Design Museum‘s current Prouve show, one of his prefab Maison Tropicale housing prototypes has been reconstructed in front of Tate Modern. The house was designed for Brazzaville, in tropical west Africa (where it was rediscovered in 2000, in a bit of a state, apparently), so it may feel a little ill at ease in London’s chilly surroundings. Mass-production never followed (it wasn’t economically suited to its purpose) and this raises the question: is the house an unusually large museum piece, an example of Europe’s attempt to impose its approaches on its former African colonies, or a genuine archetype for 21st century cities?

NB: Maison Tropicale is on view in front of Tate Modern till 13/04. The Design Museum’s Jean Prouve retrospective also runs till 13/04.

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