'Simple' Architecture for a Complicated World

Luis M. Castañeda
Feb 3, 2013 10:34PM

Pleasing to the contemporary eye, the minimalist aesthetic of Jean Prouvé's Dismantable House emerged out of an exceptionally complicated historical scenario. The project was meant to house people rendered homeless by the ravages of war in Lorraine, France, and the idea was to make units that could be built in a day by a small group of people with minimal tools. Borne out of these extreme wartime circumstances, this project, which employs a structure of metal, wood panels, and nuts and bolts as its primary materials, also had the broader mission of alerting the political establishment about the potential of prefabricated architecture to solve multiple social problems. Because it did not employ lavish materials and did not require extensive labor to be built, the project's egalitarian ethos ran against the grain -politically, socially, and economically- of more conventional forms of monumental building. Beyond its own specific history, Prouvé's Dismantable House is connected to an expansive set of dialogues between architecture, politics, and technology that unfolded during the twentieth century. At multiple points in this trajectory, prefabricated buildings like the House were seen as the answer to international housing shortages; to the shortage of school buildings in remote geographical areas around the world; and, because they could be used to set up camp quickly, were also envisioned as central tools of military campaigns. Although not many of Prouvé's houses survive today and his designs often encountered mixed results, his ideas about an architecture that could adapt rapidly to changing ecological, political and technological environments continue to be highly relevant.

Luis M. Castañeda
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