4x4 Military shelter, 1939
In 1937, prompted by the recent legislation instituting paid annual holidays for workers, Jean Prouvé boldly stepped into the market for small, prefabricated recreational buildings that were both light and movable. In 1938, at the same time as the BLPS House,1 he came up with two constructional procedures for an Air Ministry competition for demountable houses: the axial portal frame system, readily adaptable to living accommodations, and a simplified external frame variant better suited to holiday and weekend dwellings. The outbreak of War halted plans for recreational projects, but an initial, flawlessly handled experiment for a shelter for a tent recreation center immediately gained the Ateliers Jean Prouvé a place on the developing military market. In November 1939 Prouvé responded to a call for tenders from France’s 5th Regiment of Engineers for light, movable campaign shelters for 4 to 12 men; the primary requirements were ease and rapidity of assembly. Opting for a 4-meter grid, he offered General Maurice Dumontier a semi-metallic prototype that matched the brief perfectly. Impressed by the efficiency of the system, Dumontier ordered some 300 units. As steel restrictions were already looming, the pressed steel components for the frame were turned out in a month by the workshop on Rue des Jardiniers in Nancy, while the wooden facade panels were subcontracted out to companies in Lorraine and the Alps. Here Prouvé demonstrated both his ability to produce a prefabrication program under pressure and his workshop’s capacity to implement it, even though many of its workers had been drafted. A second order came from the army through the good offices of Georges Blanchon and his team at the Bureau Central de Constructions, and further units were delivered to the SCAL (Central Light Alloys Company) site at Issoire, in the Auvergne. With the War intensifying, manufacture of the army shelters was suspended, but Prouvé and Pierre Jeanneret, convinced of the buildings’ potential for adaptation to civilian use, went ahead with numerous designs for permanent housing versions.
1. This transportable, fully equipped weekender was made of freestanding steel panels. Eugène Beaudouin and Marcel Lods architects, Jean Prouvé conceptor, Les Forges de Strasbourg constructor.