6x9 Demountable house, 1944
At the end of the War, the Ministry of Reconstruction commissioned Jean Prouvé to design moveable pavilions as temporary housing for those who had lost their homes in eastern France. Fine-tuning his already patented axial portal frame system, he replied to the urgency of the situation with a quick, economical and flexible solution. A temporary solution—which the State saw as something of a hindrance to reconstruction—provided him with a chance to try out an industrial process that could be made more permanent. Minister Raoul Dautry’s request was to set up as quickly as possible the serial production of a special type of construction, enabling rural populations who had lost their homes to remain where they lived while their work places were restored. Once work was completed, these ‘shelters’ would be dismantled and (re)used for others left homeless by the War. At the end of 1944, the Ministry approved an order for 450 lightweight constructions in steel and timber, 6m x 6m, to be manufactured as quickly as possible using Prouvé’s process1: 160 to be produced by the Ateliers Jean Prouvé in Nancy for the Meurthe et Moselle region, the rest to be contracted to three manufacturers in Franche-Comté for production and assembly within the region. “We need to run a race against time.”2 Studies for adapting the process, initially destined for military use, were rapidly conducted to determine its applicability to the demand for housing. At the same time, the difficulty in obtaining materials was taken into consideration as supply of steel was severely restricted. Without waiting for approval of the final contract or for the required ration releases for materials, the Ateliers Jean Prouvé began production at the beginning of 1945. Once 70 6x6 houses had been delivered, the Ministry modified the initial order for the 90 remaining houses, instead requesting 60 units of 6m x 9m. This slight variant was at the request of architects and users in order to provide living space that better catered for large families.3 The last 6x9s were completed as planned in mid-February 1946. Despite this, the State did not place any further orders. Nonetheless, Jean Prouvé continued to work on the system, manufacturing private orders and improving the production methods with a view to a production that would meet the needs of permanent reconstruction.
1. Knowing Jean Prouvé’s research in the area of ‘new construction,’ the Minister invited him to participate in the work group charged with reconstruction.
2. R. Dautry, letter 4 April 1945. Archives Nationales, Centre des Archives Contemporaines.
3. The first order with the Ateliers Jean Prouvé was placed in May 1945 and modified in December 1945.