At the invitation of French gallerist Patrick Seguin, a dealer and collector who has been instrumental in bringing the work of French industrial designer Jean Prouvé to a wider audience, British architecture firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners set out to redesign Prouvé's famous 6x6 Demountable Home. It's quite the lifestyle upgrade for the wood-and-steel-framed prefab. Initially meant to alleviate the postwar housing shortage in Lorraine, France in the late '40s, models of these portable homes, ingenious solutions to mass-produced living, have been sought after by collectors. After mounting numerous exhibits, Seguin wanted to redesign one for use as a personal cabin and retreat, and reached out to British architect Richard Rogers and his team. According to Ivan Harbour, a partner at the firm, the redesign grabbed their attention because it gave them a chance to "spread their wings" and look at architecture in a different way.
"We have a huge respect for Prouvé's work," he says. "Today, I feel like we're doing projects around the world pushing the same ideology of mass production to alleviate housing challenges. His work is a great reference on how to solve these problems."
On the face of it, Prouvé's original design can seem almost too simple. "To the layperson, it's just a shed," says Harbour. "What's really interesting is that with the new features we added, the design really reinforces the house as an important piece of architecture."
The team's upgrade leaves the 6x6 home mostly intact, turning Prouvé's graceful design into the core of a home that's now even more independent than it was before. By elevating the home 600 millimeters, the team was able to wheel a series of "trolleys," or small modules, underneath the home that provide electricity and plumbing. Separate satellite kitchen and bathroom modules, including a compostable toilet and water recycling system, enhance its livability. And to bring the dwelling up to date both in terms of electronics and sustainability, solar cells and a home battery system were wired in to provide power. Built to flourish in a variety of terrains "from the Alps to the Mediterranean," the revised 6x6 even boasts a foldable deck outside its front door.
"Prouvé is a fantastic constructor and engineer, but he wasn't necessarily great at space planning," says Harbour. "So we just put the complicated things on the perimeter and left the beautiful room alone."
The design team looked at other industries for design and technical solutions, a process that would have gelled with the philosophy of Prouvé, who always called himself a factory worker first. Lightweight airplane insulation was adapted for the walls, to provide better energy-efficiency. While there aren't specific plans for the home beyond being displayed at Design Basel in Miami later this month, Harbour sees it as a model for adapting Prouvé's work and finding new methods for showcasing and preserving the prefab pioneer's particular talents.
"I have so much respect for the brilliant and economic constructor and engineer Prouvé was," says Harbour. "The solutions he had for complex problems were so simple, but that level of simplicity must have taken hours. I look at what we've done and ask, 'Why can't we make it as simple as Prouvé?'"
∙ 5 of the Coolest Prefab Houses You Can Order Right Now [Curbed]
∙ Watch a Jean Prouvé Prefab Get Built from Start to Finish [Curbed]
∙ Jean Prouve archive [Curbed]