‘Restoring an edifice doesn’t just mean ensuring its upkeep, repairing it, or repainting it (…) The best way to conserve it is to find a use for it.’

— Eugène Viollet-le-Duc

Apart from upkeep of the site, the small team present year-round at the Friche de l’Escalette conducts restoration workshops (carpentry, joinery, metalwork, resin moulding…) the aim being to restore and give new life to the lightweight structures designed by Jean Prouvé and other visionaries of progressive architecture like Matti Suuronen with his Futuro house (see friche-de-lescalette.local website for the Plastic Utopia exhibition 2017) – works that are not just exhibition models but working buildings.

The restoration of traditional timber boats is also part of the programme. A first feather in our cap is the complete refurbishing of the Roucaou – a barquette that came off the sliprails of the Nadeï shipyard in Marseilles in 1971, and which is now moored at l’Escalette.

PAVILLON 6×9 (1944/45)

Height to ridge beam 2,90 m.

Footprint 6 x 9 m.

‘We should build houses in series like automobiles…’

— Jean Prouvé

A brief overview of the history of progressive design is necessary if we are to understand why these small-scale constructions and their designers have played such an important rôle in shaping modern and contemporary architecture. The leaders of the Modern movement like Le Corbusier (1887-1965) and Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945) were exponents of reinforced concrete poured on-site, an invention made popular early in the 20th c. by Gustave Perret (1876-1952).

In the 1930s the younger generation took a different stand, with designers like Jean Prouvé (1901- 1984) and Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) in the USA, who came out for prefabrication using standard factory-made components (metal/timber/ glass) able to be assembled dry in record time.

In the past 50 years, the hegemony of concrete has lost favour – notably as a result of highprestige cultural buildings that made use of the materials and techniques promoted by Jean Prouvé. The avant-garde project submitted in 1971 by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers for the Pompidou Centre in Paris is examplary. It was selected by the jury of an international competition, whose honorary president was Jean  Prouvé. Since then other leading architects like Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry – to mention only two – have produced high profile contemporary buildings, most of them using prefab components assembled in situ like a gigantic Meccano set.

The Pavillon 6×9 originated as an emergency housing solution commissioned from Ateliers Jean Prouvé after the Liberation by the French ministry of reconstruction, to provide shelter for the people of Lorraine whose homes had been destroyed by bombing. 700 units were made, in various formats, of which some thirty have survived, painstakingly restored and now much sought after by collectors world wide.

This maisonnette is a perfect embodiment of the series construction concept dear to Jean Prouvé, which he first experimented with in the 1930s: it was made in a workshop, delivered in a kit, and assembled on site in just a few days.

It features the axial portal frame and various bearing components in folded sheet steel (Prouvé’s signature material/technique) used with sheathing/insulating elements designed as dual partition wooden panels, a postwar material later replaced by aluminium.

Some of these small, tough, functional and cheap houses were still being lived in in the early 2000s, even though they were initially intended to be temporary.


Modular template 8,75 x 8,75 m delimited by four bearing posts.

Can be assembled in one or two modules. Height under dropped ceiling

in living unit 2,93 m. Height to ridge beam 3,61 m.

Prouvé designed a prototype of the metal frame « Habitat tropical pour zone humide » in 1958, a single examplar of which was built by Constructions Jean Prouvé in association with the Travaux d’Afrique firm. It materialized his advanced research aimed at providing an industrial solution for habitat in tropical countries, and in particular for Black Africa.

It was this prototype that was put on show at the Friche de l’Escalette in 2016.

After simplifying the prototype, and replacing the costly all-metal frame in favour of one made from locally milled timber, in 1964 collaborative research between Jean Prouvé as consulting engineer and the Atelier d’architecture LWD (Lagneau, Weill & Dimitrijevic), led to the production of a set of classrooms and housing for teachers, launched in Cameroun after an international competition funded by the nascent European union.

The aluminium ‘wave’ panels designed by Jean Prouvé to clad the different versions of this structure were without doubt their defining feature, conferring on them an eye-catching identity both inside and out.

But apart from purely aesthetic qualities, this type of cladding also provided perfect natural ventilation so efficient as to render unnecessary any recourse to mechanized heat control. Things like this show that Jean Prouvé was way ahead of his time. His preliminary tests using perforated sheet metal go back to the 1930s, and the first prototype for the tropical house for Niamey (Niger) was made in 1947-1949. But his concept is a perfect response to climate change and its corollary: the urgent need to impose measures for energy saving while reducing emissions of CO2.

Similarly, the wide overhang of the roof serves as an umbrella/parasol, under which sits the living unit, which has its own roof. The empty space between the two roofs enables free circulation or air. As for the perforations in the aluminium wave panels that clad front and rear elevations, they enable an exchange of air pressure. On our initiative, with a view to making the bungalow habitable year-round in a temperate climate, glazed panels have been put in high up all around the living spaces, there where formerly there was nothing but mosquito netting so as to maintain the circulation of air. This is one of the rare single-module bungalows for teachers’ housing to have survived destruction by termites, the tropical climate and the lack of maintenance… and we are proud to be able to put it on show at the Friche de l’Escalette.

We have taken cues from Viollet-le-Duc: the bungalow is in the process of being re-fitted to serve as a holiday home equipped with all the mod cons but using renewable energies. Modules containing sanitaries, kitchen and storage space have been laid out at each corner of the interior, with sliding cupboard doors of the ‘Brazza model’ designed by Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé, that come from the former Air France housing units at Brazzaville (Congo).

The bungalow’s furniture is solid, simple andpractical, of the same period and sensitivity: creations by Jean Prouvé’s architect/designer friends: Charlotte Perriand, with three lath bench seats of the Cansado type and three woven-seat chairs of the Meribel type; Le Corbusier and/ or Pierre Jeanneret, with seating for the public institutions at Chandigarh new town (India), a  bench seat and two low unit chairs from the High Court (PJ-LC), two tables and two cane-top seats from the Penjab University (PJ).

More contemporary features are Flotteurs lamps by Yonel Lebovici; the Tower of winds luminous columns by Guy Bareff, Masks in cut cardboard by Lilian Daubisse, and Dorsale coat hangers by Atelier Baptiste & Jaïna.


exhibitionJEAN PROUVÉ