La Maison Tropicale @ Tate Modern

Dean Nicholas
By Dean Nicholas Last edited 133 months ago
La Maison Tropicale @ Tate Modern

We're considering giving our notice at Londonist Towers and upping sticks for a new home. Specifically, we want to move into Jean Prouvé's Maison Tropicale.

The prefabricated bungalow, standing on the front lawn outside Tate Modern, is in London as part of the excellent Prouvé retrospective at the Design Museum. Dating from the 1950s, the Maison was an attempt at creating lightweight, flat-pack housing for colonial authorities that could easily be loaded into a cargo plane and dispatched to one of France's African outposts. Prouvé's intention was to demonstrate that a house built in his Nancy studio and flown overseas would be cheaper than one constructed from locally-sourced material. Unfortunately, despite the ingenuity of his design, he was proved wrong and only a handful were ever built.

Still, the Maison is a marvel. Resting on stilts, its angled shades and UV-deflecting portholes - made to withstand the harsh equatorial sun - looking redundant in the chill London winter, the building is like something out of a lost French New Wave film. Entering the Maison, one feels surprised not to find a taciturn French préfet poring over charts, Gauloise dog-ends littered around his feet.

It is a wonder we still have this remarkable relic. This particular Maison was deposited in Brazzaville, Congo in the Fifties. It was re-discovered a few years ago, smashed and bullet-ridden from the decades of Congo's civil war, by Eric Touchaleaume, who's likened in this Guardian profile to the Indiana Jones of furniture collecting. The house has since been sold to an LA hotel magnate for $5 million - which does, unfortunately, put it out of Londonist's slender price index for the time being. Still, a blog can dream, right?

La Maison Tropicale, outside Tate Modern, Bankside. Tickets £8.50 and include entry to the Jean Prouvé exhibition at the Design Museum, Shad Thames. Until 13th April. Photograph by the author.

Last Updated 11 February 2008