T eddy Cruz and Fonna Forman are among the most exciting voices in architecture and urbanism today. In a profession marked by starchitecture worship and megadevelopment, the work they are doing at the informal fringes of Tijuana provides a necessary counterpoint of modesty, empathy and good old-fashioned DIY ingenuity to a profession sorely in need of a reboot.
I first met Teddy in 2008 at a focus group convened by the Museum of Modern Art ahead of its Home Delivery exhibition, a survey of prefabrication in architecture. I was there as the custodian of Jean Prouvé's Tropical House, which my wife, Stéphane Samuel and I had donated to the Centre Pompidou after extracting it from Africa and restoring it. Prouvé has been at the center of my relationship with Teddy ever since. I enthusiastically share my knowledge and understanding of Prouvé's work with him, and in turn, Prouvé's principles inform Teddy and Fonna's practice. Both focus on the key social question of how to adequately house the world's burgeoning refugee/immigrant populations. Their shared aesthetic is not an a priori one of signature stylistic moves. Rather, it flows from an understanding of the humanitarian purposes of the built environment.
They are both, to use Bruno Reichlin's term, "poetic functionalists." They aim to develop simple, elegant constructive systems that are portable and easy to erect. They are pragmatic recyclers of the materials around them. Prouvé built his own house in Nancy out of rejected job lots from his factory. Teddy and Fonna continue to work with Mecalux, a Tijuana-based manufacturer of light-weight metal pallet rack systems, to adapt some of its mass-produced elements for use in informal housing in the city's slums, as well as in a newly-planned public building. The infill for the housing comes from recycled urban waste from San Diego, which they import to Tijuana and repurpose as new emergency shelters and infrastructure.
I enthusiastically share my knowledge and understanding of Prouvé's work with Teddy, and in turn, Prouvé's principles inform Teddy and Fonna's practice. Both focus on the key social question of how to adequately house the world's burgeoning refugee/immigrant populations.
We began to refer informally to the planned public building, a community center, as a "Maison du Peuple," in homage to Prouvé's seminal project in Clichy. Ironically, the actual Maison du Peuple is currently under siege from the forces of development, which may well disfigure the center in the interest of "progress." One day it occurred to me that Teddy and Fonna's deep connection to Prouvé could be memorialized in this new Tijuana Maison du Peuple. I was still in possession of the elements we did not use in the restoration of the Tropical House. I had made a somewhat smaller prototype out of the elements salvaged from Brazzaville, and so had plenty left. I sent these "remains" in a container to San Diego and suggested to Teddy and Fonna that they use the elements to "brand" the new building – not structurally, of course, but somehow iconographically, while at the same time paying homage to Prouvé directly in the use of the Mecalux elements to create something new. The result does not disappoint. The new Maison du Peuple is no pastiche. It pays homage to Prouvé's social vision while being entirely of our new century and its ever more urgent social imperatives. The remains of the Tropical House will provide an archaeological referent to a building that shares Prouvé's DNA.
The new Maison du Peuple is no pastiche. It pays homage to Prouvé's social vision while being entirely of our new century and its ever more urgent social imperatives.
Fifteen years ago, I sold much of my collection of Prouvé furniture at auction here at Sotheby's to finance the restoration of the Tropical House. Now I am selling the last major Prouvé object I retained, the sister chair to Lot 506 from that sale. All of the proceeds will go to The Center on Global Justice at UC San Diego for Maison du Peuple 2.0 and the development of the constructive system for residential housing. My family has lived with this chair for nearly 20 years, and we will be sorry to see it go, but its sale will help advance Prouvé's legacy through Teddy and Fonna's important work.