SCAL drafting pavilion with Pierre Jeanneret, 1940
Using his axial frame constructive system for the first time, the SCAL1 factory in Issoire (France) provided Jean Prouvé with the opportunity to initiate a fruitful collaboration with the architect Pierre Jeanneret, as well as addressing the subject of individual housing. This major project, which was begun during the War, allowed its designers to demonstrate an architecture that was prefabricated in the workshop and then immediately assembled on site. The standardisation that Le Corbusier had been calling for since the 1920s allowed for the rapid production of the elements making up both the structure and the envelope of lightweight and demountable constructions, which were used primarily for housing. The simple constructive language, proposed jointly by Pierre Jeanneret and Jean Prouvé, was able to adapt to the various different needs of this industrial site, evolving in line with supply problems of different materials during wartime. For all that, the extreme circumstances in which this emergency project emerged favored the technical experimentation so dear to the architect and builder, while always maintaining their required standards in terms of building quality and user comfort. The 8m x 12m pavilion that emerged from an ensemble of accommodation for engineers heralded the prefabricated houses designed by Jean Prouvé to shelter the masses. It was the first time his axial portal system was proposed for housing, put into production the very next year for engineers’ accommodation in Saint Auban (France), with Pierre Jeanneret and the BCC team.2 Full of history, it encapsulates an extraordinary quantity of information concerning the circumstances surrounding the commission and overall procedure behind the SCAL project, the implication of members of the design team, the ways in which the constructive system was used, and the use and evolution of the buildings in this series.3 The construction of a factory in Issoire (France) producing aluminum sheet metal and components—a major project in the French State’s armament policy—was launched in 1939, shortly before the declaration of World War II. The project was given to the architect Auguste Perret, who designed an imposing edifice in reinforced concrete. When war was declared, the designated client, SCAL (the recently created powerful group of aluminum processors), organised for the emergency transfer of its Parisian staff—management and workers—to the remote Auvergne region in central France. The construction of the ensemble of fitted-out buildings that would accommodate them was tendered and awarded to the Ateliers Jean Prouvé via their new agent, Georges Blanchon. Blanchon put together a team able to respond to the urgency of the situation: Prouvé’s constructive systems were used and modified where needed with Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand (responsible for the interior fit-out), and production of the metal components was immediately begun in the Nancy workshops. Despite some delays and organizational problems, which feature large in controlled improvisation, the first phase of works was completed in six months: two pavilions of accommodation and a “clubhouse” for engineers, a drafting office for the consultants, and several small constructions with external framework. As the steel supply became increasingly restricted, armistice provisions agreed in June 1940 further complicated transport and travel.4 The Ateliers Jean Prouvé delivered the components and furniture destined for the second batch in extremis—accommodation for the foremen and workers’ dormitories—which in the end were modified and used for other purposes. The team separated for a few months,5 but empowered by the success of this demonstration was able to fulfil, in even more complicated circumstances, the commission from an industrial company, another branch of Aluminium Français, for a collection of demountable individual timber houses, adapted to the urgency of the situation.6
1. SCAL: Société Centrale des Alliages Légers (central company of light alloys).
2. BCC: Bureau central de constructions (central building bureau), regrouping the skills of an architect’s office, an engineering consultant and a general contractor, set up by Georges Blanchon at the end of 1940 in Grenoble, with Jean Prouvé and Pierre Jeanneret.
3. See Jean Prouvé, Pierre Jeanneret, BCC Demountable House, Paris, Galerie Patrick Seguin, 2014.
4. The Auvergne remained in the free zone, whereas Nancy, in the Lorraine, was occupied.
5. The Ateliers Jean Prouvé momentarily interrupted their activity and then diversified their production; Pierre Jeanneret left to join Le Corbusier in the South of France; Charlotte Perriand left France for Japan until 1946; only George Blanchon stayed to supervise the project on site.
6. In 1941 the BCC researched and built a series of four houses entirely in timber in the department of the Hautes-Alpes for the company AFC, another affiliate of Pechiney. This were subsquently added to by supplementary units. See Jean Prouvé, Pierre Jeanneret. BCC Demountable House, op. cit.