Yale School of Architecture Exhibits House by Seminal Designer Jean Prouvé
A prefabricated metal house constructed by French designer Jean Prouvé, and recently transported from its home in the Congo Republic, will be the subject of a two-part exhibition at the Yale School of Architecture: within the gallery of the landmark Art and Architecture (A&A) building, from February 14 through May 6, and outdoors, beside the A&A building, from mid-April through June.
Less known to the public than his contemporaries Charles Eames and Marcel Breuer, Prouvé has only recently been acknowledged as one of the most influential European designers of the 20th century. Prouvé’s output, ranging from household furnishings to industrial buildings and residential homes, is notable for his signature use of industrial metals like sheet steel and aluminum.
The exhibition at the Yale School of Architecture Gallery is organized around a building Prouvé constructed in 1951 as a prototype for inexpensive, readily assembled housing that could be easily transported to France’s African colonies. Fabricated in Prouvé’s French workshops, the Tropical House – as it is known – was carried in the cargo hold of an Air France plane to Africa. It was erected in the town of Brazzaville and remained there for 50 years. In 1999, retired commodities trader, rare car collector and Yale alumnus Robert M. Rubin had the Tropical House disassembled, packed up and shipped to France, where it was painstakingly restored.
The Yale exhibition is the first public display of the house outside France. A 400-square-foot end section of the house – approximately one-fourth of the entire structure – will be erected inside the gallery of the A&A building. The open end of the displayed section will face into the main exhibition space. The exhibition will include photographs by Mark Lyon, plans, artifacts and a short film documenting the Tropical House from its return to France and the completion of its restoration near Paris last summer. Related Prouvéobjects, such as furniture made for export to the tropics, will also be included. The exhibition was organized and designed by Dean Sakamoto, director of exhibitions at the Yale School of Architecture.
In mid-April the entire house will be erected on the vacant lot adjoining the A&A building, where it will remain through June. A barrier fence to the building site will be designed with viewing portals to permit the daily observation of the house, from its assembly, which is expected to take five men two weeks to complete, to its full reconstruction. The house will be visible from York Street and from windows of the A&A building.
“The opportunity to insert a full, self-supporting section of the Tropical House – which is the pinnacle of metallic architecture – inside Paul Rudolph’s equally iconic exercise in concrete, and then to put the buildings side by side, in full view of the Louis Kahn Gallery of Art, is amazing and unprecedented,” commented Rubin, the show’s curator. “Students of the architecture school, having lived for two months with an in-depth exhibition on the Tropical House, will be able to observe it going up during its two-week construction window. After all, for Prouvé, the process of construction and assembly was integral to a building’s design, especially where the program was to fabricate it in France and build it in Africa. What better way to get inside the mind of Jean Prouvé” Rubin added.
The catalog, published with funding from the French Cultural Embassy, will present antecedents to the Tropical House in Prouvé’s work and help to place this difficult to categorize designer within the larger context of 20th-century architectural history. The catalog will also feature an essay by Rubin.
Rubin will give a lecture, titled “Jean Prouvé: Legend and Legacy,” on Monday, April 4, 6:30 p.m. in Hastings Hall of the A&A Building, 180 York Street. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.