Jean Prouve and Prefabrication
Jean Prouve is most famously tied to his Maison Tropicale project when talking about prefabricated homes. However Maison Tropicale was not his final end point, nor was it his starting point in his prefabrication history, Maison Tropicale was simply another iteration in Prouve’s prefabrication library. The morphology of his prefabricated structures can be seen with is development of the structural frames for each of his buildings. He developed: the jointed frame, shed type, vaulted type, propped type, H-type, and central core type. The two frames that were implemented in his African prefabrication work were the joint type for Maison Tropicale and the H-type for his Sahara House.
The approach that France took to its colonization of Africa was the path of gentle assimilation. France wanted to integrate the local African people with the French colonialists, and eventually turn them into Evoluee’s or Westernized Africans. One of the best ways that the French government felt this could be achieved would be to introduce French culture into the colonies. By implementing buildings the French hoped to achieve a superior reign over the Evoluee’s and at the same time assimilate them with much needed French infrastructure; specifically housing.
Enter Jean Prouve
Jean Prouve received the contract for the construction of modular homes, to be built in the French-African colonies, from the government of France after they had seen his previous work with steel prefabricated homes. With the contract came specifications in the form of a colonial building code. The building code was not specific on the performance of the building itself, but rather the materials it was made out of. Previous colonial homes in Africa were made of concrete, and needless to say they were highly inefficient as they did not breathe but rather cook its occupants. The materials that were specified in the building code were aluminum, concrete, and brick. The choice to use the selection of materials that cost money versus the local indigenous materials that were free to use was part of the French assimilation plan to bring in foreign materials that would mark the area as a truly separate entity from the surrounding area.
With the only requirement of certain materials, Prouve got to work on designing his aluminum prefabricated home. With Prouve having started as an industrial metal worker, he understood the logistics of creating a home out of many panels that would be build to a specific dimension in order to be shipped to its final destination. By today’s shipping standards the pieces for one complete house could fit into 2 shipping containers with a dimension of 2.4 meters wide by 12.2 meters long. He had the pieces fabricated at his Maxeville factory to fit a certain dimension of a 4 meters wide as that was maximum width his machine presses could handle, and that was also the maximum width that the cargo plane could handle. He also made the specification that the pieces could not weigh more than 100 kilograms partly because that was the maximum his machines could handle, but also that was the ideal weight for a 2 man team to carry the pieces without the aid of machines.
To see the dimensions of the prefabricated pieces, see the post about his housing pieces