Saturday, December 8, 2012

Attention to Detail

It is rare in architecture to have the same person or group design as well as manufacture the design. Atelier de Jean Prouvé was an example.  In this shop, Jean Prouvé designed and manufactured furniture and components for buildings, including Maison Tropicale.  In the design of Maison Tropicale, his goal was to develop a housing system that was suited to the tropical climate of French West Africa, and could be erected quickly and cost effectively. His attention to detail is very noticeable in the final design, from the building envelope that would act as a ventilation system to the connections of the components. Prouvé was able to combine the work of an architect and an engineer.  Prouvé took an engineering approach to all his designs, visually illustrating the transfer of forces, and choosing materials suitable materials. He approached the development of prototypes from the perspective of an artisan, paying close attention to materials, the feel of them and how they react when combined with other materials. The intention in all of his designs and developments, was to combine utility, an honest use of materials, and economy, with the high demands of mass production. Being involved in both processes allowed Prouvé to put as much care into the manufacturing and structure of the design as the design itself.  It was Prouvé's relationship with the design and construction, that allowed him to design every bit of the furniture or buildings down to what connections were used and how they interacted with the components.  

Instead of continuing to work in the typical format, where a building is constructed by many different people from many different places, he had the design and building process organized in the same place with a consistent group of supervisors including both designers and engineers.  The collective nature of Atelier de Jean Prouvé reflects Prouvé's ideals that the design and manufacturing process should be collective.  The quote below provides insight into why the building process should occur as previously described.  

"Every object except a building is made by a single organic entity, a single industry equivalent to one firm." - Jean Prouvé

The simple elegance of Prouvé's style is evident in all his designs, from his furniture to his buildings. He developed a timeless aesthetic, which is what made him so well-known and well-respected.  

The typical format of a building process is currently the design, bid, build process, the traditional process, where the design and construction are handled by separate parties.  However, Prouvé's process of combining design and manufacturing (construction) into one process, is becoming more prevalent, leading to the design, build process, where both process are carried out simultaneously, working off each other.

O'Day, Kathleen. “Tropical or Colonial? A Reception History of Jean Prouvé's Prefabricated Houses For Africa.” (Thesis, Louisiana State University and Art College, 2009.)

Maison Tropicale and The Assembly Line

The assembly line was never invented but rather developed over time. Prior to the assembly line, in order to mass produce something would require teams of craftsmen to build one unit at a time. The more complex the unit was, the more time it took to build, and also the harder it was to control quality as when it came time to assemble the unit trimming and modification would take place to ensure that the piece could be assembled. Some huge problems with the approach to mass production are the problems of quality control, efficacy, and speed. The process of production began to change over to an assembly line method during the industrial revolution. The first linear and continuous assembly line was the Portsmouth Block Mill in England. They had developed 22 machine tools to fabricate pulley blocks for the British Navy. Their process was so efficient and successful that the plant operated from 1805 right on through to 1960.

With each new assembly line came greater efficiency, speed, and consistent quality; but there was one man that turned mass production into a science. In his book My Life and Work, Henry Ford outlines 3 principles for the ideal assembly line:

(1) Place the tools and the men in the sequence of the operation so that each component part shall travel the least possible distance while in the process of finishing.

(2) Use work slides or some other form of carrier so that when a workman completes his operation, he drops the part always in the same place—which place must always be the most convenient place to his hand—and if possible have gravity carry the part to the next workman for his operation.

(3) Use sliding assembling lines by which the parts to be assembled are delivered at convenient distances.

Henry Ford had revolutionized the assembly process of all manufacturing with his 3 guidelines. His process of manufacturing was influential for many people in the industrial and manufacturing field. His process was largely responsible for the style of architecture that made Jean Prouve so famous. Jean Prouve actually admired the work that Henry Ford did, and greatly admired his ability to turn out consistent parts in a timely manner. Prouve used this as a basis to design and then manufacture many of his prefabricated homes; most notably Maison Tropicale.

Ford, Henry. My Life and Work. N.p.: Doubleday, 2007.
"Henry Ford Changes the World, 1908," EyeWitness to History (2005).
"Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Trust."


Ideal Maison Tropicale Front Elevation

Ideal Maison Tropicale Plan

Republic of the Congo Geography

 The Republic of the Congo is located in the western area of Central Africa on the Congo River. Congo is a tropical climate with the rainy season lasting from March to June and the dry season lasting the remainder of the year. Temperatures and humidity are very high in this region and the rivers of the country flood seasonally. Some environmental problems in the Congo include air pollution for vehicle emissions, water pollution from dumping raw sewage, and deforestation.

Brazzaville is the capital of the Republic of the Congo and can be found to the north of the Congo River. The city is south of the equator and about 500 km inland from the Atlantic Ocean. It is removed from the rest of the Congo because of it's location in the centre of the Pool Region. It is surrounded by a large savanna and is fairly flat. Brazzaville is the largest city in the Republic of the Congo by a large margin, home to approximately 1.5 million people.


"Map Republic of the Congo", Ginkgo Maps,, last updated May 10, 2012, accessed December 9, 2012
“The World Factbook- Republic of the Congo”, Central Intelligence Agency, last updates November 30,2012, accessed December 8, 2012,

Jean Prouvé and Prefabriacation

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
Machine Press

Jean Prouvé (1901 – 1984)

Jean Prouvé
Jean Prouvé was born in 1901 in Paris, France to his father Victor Prouvé, an artist who was a founding member of the Art Nouveau School in Nancy. In Nancy, Jean Prouvé apprenticed under a creative blacksmith between the years 1916 and 1919. Prouvé continued to apprentice metal working in Paris until 1921 under another metal worker, Szabo. Through this experience, Prouvé gained skills in metal working and eventually opened his own shop in Nancy 1923. He began by creating metal pieces and moved into metallic furniture design. In 1930, he helped found the Union des Artistes Modernes (UAM). In 1931, with the help of A. Schotte, Prouvé was able to purchase new machinery for metal working (opening Société des Ateliers Jean Prouvé), mass producing pieces and finishes including handles and for schools, and a chair and desk combination. He had the chance to meet Le Corbusier, Jean Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1935. His work evolved into mass produced architecture, where he was commissioned to design huts for the French Army in 1939 and collapsable units for the homeless. Following the end of World War II, Prouvé was the mayor of Nancy.  In 1947, Prouvé moved his factory to Maxéville. In 1949, he was commissioned to design prefabicated housing for French colonies of west and central Africa. After two years, this project was cancelled because it was not cost effective. During this time, Prouvé was also involved with Le Corbusier, where he designed floors, staircases and furniture for a show apartment in Le Corbusier's Unité d'habitation. Prouvé also worked with Charlotte Perriand during the 1950's. After selling his practices in the 1950's Prouvé worked for the Compagnie Industrielle de Matériel de Transport.  Prouvé also taught at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM).
Jean Prouvé and Le Corbusier

Victor Prouvé was a great influence of Jean Prouvé, and despite their difference in styles (Victor - Art Nouveau & Jean - modernist), they both maintained a desire to create originality. Prouvé credited  both his father and the Art Nouveau School in Nancy for his focus on bringing something new to the formalized art that existed.  Prouvé was not influenced by history as his father was, but looked forward, believing that modernist design was based on what was not there.  Neither he nor his father were in design to make money.  Le Corbusier also greatly influenced Prouvé.  Both men believed in practical housing, this belief arising from the two world wars, which lead to a housing crisis.  One difference between the two was where there ideals lay: for Le Corbusier - in the theory, for Prouvé - in the process.

"Jean Prouvé" accessed November 10, 2012,

"The Architect," accessed November 10, 2012,

"On the Subject of Modern Mastery: Jean Prouvé, 1901 - 1984,"  accessed December 5,

O'Day, Kathleen. “Tropical or Colonial? A Reception History of Jean Prouvé's Prefabricated Houses For Africa.” (Thesis, Louisiana State University and Art College, 2009.)

"Fondation Le Corbusier," accessed December 10, 2012,

Aluminum Français - Influence on Prefabrication Manufacturing

Meudon Houses
Following the end of World War II, Jean Prouvé was interested in capitalizing on the post war construction projects that would be commissioned by the government of France. He believed however, that these projects would be given to larger companies and not smaller shops such as his, Atelier de Jean Prouvé. He entered an agreement with Aluminum Français who had a strong government relationship. Aluminum Français bought 17% of Atelier Jean Prouvé. This agreement also benefited Prouvé's shop, because he could now afford to purchase new machinery with the capital from Aluminum Français. In contracts through Aluminum Français, Atelier de Jean Prouvé was forced to use more aluminum in the design. When working on the designs of projects such as Maison Tropicale, Prouvé's process came from pressures from Aluminum Français. The company wanted the shop to operate like an assembly line and wanted a greater focus on the individual components, not the overall concept. The production style of Maison Tropicale came as a result of external pressures and in 1953, Atelier de Jean Prouvé was sold and Prouvé no longer had to adhere to Aluminum Français in his designs and process of manufacturing.

O'Day, Kathleen. “Tropical or Colonial? A Reception History of Jean Prouvé's Prefabricated Houses For Africa.” (Thesis, Louisiana State University and Art College, 2009.)
"Arquitectura: Una casa en una semana," accessed December 8, 2012,

Niger Geography

    Niger is a West African country with the majority of its land is desert with savanna in the far south. Niger is one of the hottest countries in the world, with temperatures rarely dropping below 30°c. Agricultural problems within the country include reoccurring droughts and overgrazing which have greatly reduced the quality of the soil, resulting in erosion and desertification. The wildlife population across the country has been threatened because of poaching, habitat destruction, and lack of land. Niamey is the capital of Niger and is located in the southwest, just off the coast of the Niger River. It is home to just over one million people.



Aluckarta, "Niger Map", Mappery,, July 23, 2011, accessed December 9, 2012
"Map of Niger", Bubl,, accessed December 9, 2012
"Niger - Economic Activity", University of Texas Library,, last updated November 30, 2012, accessed December 9, 2012
“The World Factbook- Niger”, Central Intelligence Agency, last updated November 23, 2012, accessed December 8, 2012,
“Niger Profile”, BBC, June 28, 2012, accessed November 15, 2012,

Prefabrication Timeline

Chapter 1: A Brief History of Prefabrication.” Accessed December 8, 2012,

Niamey House Assembly

Brazzaville Plan

Jean Prouvé's Early Furniture designs

Europe East Elevation

Europe West Elevation

Europe North Elevation

Niamey Side Elevation

Niamey Front Elevation

Brazzaville Side Elevation

Brazzaville Front Elevation