Blurring the lines between architecture, design and art, Jean Prouvé was an influential 20th century designer, architect and engineer who played a significant role in the development of systems for mass production in the post-war Modernist period. Throughout his career, Prouvé explored the multi-faceted relationship between design, architecture and industry. At the beginning of his working life, Prouvé was a blacksmith’s apprentice with a fascination for metals which underpinned his work. Ingrained with the workshop spirit from a young age, this manifests in Prouvé oeuvre the defining principle that ingeniously combines form and function. Entirely self-taught, Prouvé began experimenting with architectural structures. In 1931 he founded ateliers Jean Prouvé which was a departure from the dominant Art Deco forms in favour of a more rational, stripped back aesthetic. Directed by his humanistic agenda and avant-garde spirit, Prouvé was a founding member of the Union des Artistes (U.A.M.), a group of important Modernist designers, disillusioned with the lavish tastes and elitism apparent in 1920s design. Prouvé frequently collaborated with other mid-century design greats such as Le Corbusier who observed that “Jean Prouvé embodies in a singularly harmonious way the ‘constructor’ not yet accepted by law but demanded by the era we live in. I mean by this that Jean Prouvé is, inseparably, architect and engineer. Or rather, architect and constructor, for everything he sets his hand to and designs immediately takes on elegant plastic form, offering brilliant solutions with regard to strength and manufacture. Not to speak of his character, among the finest there is. His post-war work has left its mark everywhere, decisively” (Le Corbusier, Paris, May 12, 1954).
Named for its 6 by 6 meter module, the structure of the Demountable House is expressed externally, exemplifying Prouvé’s belief in portability, simplicity, and practicality. Experimenting with demountable structures that were ahead of their time, Prouvé pioneered the use of lightweight folded steel in architecture as well as furniture. The architect combined his practical production line with readily available materials such as timber for the wall panels. Based on an axial frame, its simple structure was intended for easy and quick transportation. As a form of true architectural performance, the house was designed so it could be erected by two people in a single day; therefore the families who had lost their homes didn’t need to move while the structure was being built. The low-cost prefabricated houses were made entirely of wood and metal with a metal grid forming the floor structure while a central structural metal spine forms the backbone supporting the curtain wall of timber panels. As a result of the ongoing metal shortages during the war, the panels and floor of the houses were made with wood. Two large angled supporting columns are the only intrusion into the interior space, creating a hugely flexible interior. Assembled in a small village in a relatively remote area of Eastern France, the structures served as temporary homes for bombed out villagers and returning soldiers (most of Prouvé’s houses in the area only lasted a few months before rebuilding began). Very few of these houses remained in their completely original form due to their fragile structure with the present work being a rare survivor, existing in exceptional original condition. Beyond the elegance of its form, this house puts the genius of its creator on display and responds to a particular solution in an important historical context. Presented in its original state, the 6x6 Demountable House is one of Jean Prouvé’s manifest constructions.
Prefabrication had obvious and essential applications both in the run-up and during the Second World War. When hostilities began, Prouvé worked for the resistance, ensuring he was well placed to assist with the massive demand for housing after 1945. After the Liberation, Charles de Gaulle’s Minister of Reconstruction and Urban Development, Raoul Dautry, commissioned 800 of Prouvé’s Demountable Houses to regenerate the regions of Lorraine and Franche-Comté, confronting the country’s most pressing housing shortages. Although only 400 of the Demountable Houses were actually realised, the demand for easily-assembled, affordable habitation was paramount: Prouvé was one of the first to develop a solution for this, enabling him to put his designs to use. Prouvé’s Demountable Houses saw a sharp increase in attention in the 2010s. Without compromising on proportion or style, Prouvé’s 6x6 Demountable House epitomizes his ability to fuse art and industry.
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