Les Jours Meilleurs house, 1956
Jean Prouvé’s Maison Les Jours Meilleurs (Better Days House) encapsulates perfectly his ideal of “light, dynamic” mass-produced accommodation. Created to meet a housing emergency, it combined earlier experiments with innovative building techniques. The measures taken by the French government after the War were an insufficient response to a housing crisis that hit the disadvantaged very hard. Prouvé did not succeed in launching mass production of the single-family and collective housing units he had been experimenting with in his Maxéville plant. At the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM)1 in July 1953, just after definitively leaving his workshop, he presented his work on mass production of housing, and in particular the daring constructional principle of a small house centered around a load-bearing core. A few months later Abbé Pierre, a former parliamentarian and founder of the Emmaüs movement, rallied public opinion regarding the plight of the homeless and succeeded in obtaining substantial funding from donations and the state. Representing the small group of architects associate with Prouvé, Michel Bataille persuaded the Abbé to invest in a mass production project capable of providing an inexpensive, rapid, and lasting form of emergency housing. Deprived of his production facilities, but equipped with his design studies for a structural service core, in just a few weeks Prouvé, with his team, came up with a “prepackaged” family dwelling that was light but tough and cheap but comfortable. Its simple, harmonious look masked innovations in constructional details and procedure based on use of cutting edge materials. This optimistically titled “Better Days House” was emblematic of Abbé Pierre’s and Prouvé’s social commitment and the battles they fought against all odds—and against bureaucracy in particular. Hailed by journalists and architects, and enthusiastically received by the public when it was shown at the Salon des Arts Ménagers in 1956, the prototype seemed to meet all the requirements for imminent mass production. Nonetheless, for lack of an official seal of approval, only a few of the houses were built.
1. “L’habitat pour le plus grand nombre”(Housing for All), 9th International Congress of Modern Architecture, Aix-en-Provence.