Métropole house, 1949
“The quality of the Prouvé houses’prefabricated components is unmatched throughout the world. Even in America they could not do better.” In his speech during his official visit to the Ateliers Jean Prouvé in Maxéville in June 1949, Eugène Claudius-Petit, the Minister for Reconstruction and Town Planning (MRU), stressed the need for mass production of “innovative economical accommodations” as part of his project for overcoming the postwar housing crisis. It was thus up to Prouvé to demonstrate his capacity to commit to this ambitious policy and so get state backing for a series large enough to bring costs down. Foreshadowing his Métropole version, the prototype for an internal portal frame house to be sold overseas after partial assemblage at the plant convinced the decision makers and architects accompanying the minister of the virtues of Prouvé’s total prefabrication method. In addition Aluminium Français and its sales subsidiary Studal were all for immediate production of this “light, dynamic detached house: this is what large series are all about, and is characteristic of mass production.” But it was not to be: the government order was for only twelve “standard” houses, a far cry from the hundreds needed for a fully-fledged production system. Fewer than 25 Métropole houses were handmade at Maxéville: entirely prefabricated, with a steel frame and aluminum shell, it was presented as “consumer product for the people.” However its lightness, comfort and adaptability failed to compensate for its price—40% higher than similar “traditional” buildings—and an appearance closer to that of an avant-garde artifact accessible only to an elite. At the Salon des Arts Ménagers home show in Paris in 1950 the building generated enormous public enthusiasm—and not a single sale. Thus the state’s proposal to show one or more versions at the “Synthèse des Arts Majeurs” exhibition, instigated by Le Corbusier in the same year, is an early pointer to the singular destiny of this small-scale venture in the history of architectural modernity.