Monday 1 November 2010

Deconstructing Maison Tropicale - Introduction

The event

Last week Thursday I attended an event [1]organised by the Prince Claus Funds [2] and African Architecture Matters [3] in Amsterdam featuring the launching of a book on African film by Manthia Diawara [4], the screening of Maison Tropical [5] which he directed and appeared in with Ângela Ferreira [6] after which he was part of a panel of discussants with Joe Osae Addo [7] engaging the audience on the matters highlighted in the film.

I was a guest of Dr Jeremy Weate [8] at the event and this occasion could easily have been topical or a conflation of varied perspectives from architecture, through modernist architecture, culture, heritage, politics, development, history, colonialism to a social commentary on values and appreciation in contemporary Africa.

The context

Not being an architect or in any design vocation, I did not know anything about the work of Jean Prouvé [9] but in context, he was commissioned by the French government to help with a housing problem in the African colonial territories that would have been the building of 10,000 housing units.

Jean Prouvé created 3 prototypes, of prefabricated aluminium parts to be assembled into houses, these parts were flown to 2 locations in Africa, with 2 prototypes erected in Congo Brazzaville and the other in Niamey what eventually became the Niger Republic.

The story

Ângela Ferreira tells a story [10] in the film Maison Tropicale where she identifies an increased interest in the work of Jean Prouvé in Europe in the 1990s which lead to some curator discovering the Maison Tropicale properties in Africa, buying up the buildings, dismantling them and carting them back to Europe in 2000 where two of the prototypes were refurbished, put on display and eventually one was sold at auction [11] in New York in 2007 for almost $5 million.

She attempts to reconstruct the prototypes but after laying out the constituent pieces displays them as sculptural deconstructed parts of the building - the roof, the walls, the blinds and the doors with a container depicting the sense of transition that conveys the context of the buildings coming to Africa from Europe for 50 years and then being returned to Europe.

The controversies

The action of the removal of the buildings offers a complex mix of histories, of colonialism, modernist architecture, economics, politics, social discourse, African perspectives and controversy – the architecture simply becomes a medium to relay and tell a rather intricate story.

I will try not to review the film as a critic but rather offer my views of the things we discussed after viewing the film addressing the undertones that speak about Africa’s colonial history, our appreciation of heritage and the prospects for a changes in thought towards things African.

I would name a series of blogs – Deconstructing Maison Tropicale and attach a focal point that I would try to address at length what was discussed and what I observed.

Deconstructing Maison Tropicale blogs

Deconstructing Maison Tropicale - Introduction


[1] AAMatters, Invitation for an evening with Manthia Diawara and Joe Osae Addo

[2] Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development

[3] African Architecture Matters

[4] Manthia Diawara - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[5] Jean Prouvé - La Maison Tropicale - Presented by André Balazs

[6] Ângela Ferreira – MAISON TROPICALE / e-flux

[7] Joe Osae-Addo - Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

[8] Dr Jeremy Weate’s blog

[9] Jean Prouvé - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[10] YouTube - Angela Ferreira on her film project the Maison Tropicale

[11] The Prouvé Prototype Maison Tropicale Sold for $4,968,000 at Christie's | Home | Art Knowledge News

Youtube references

YouTube - La Maison Tropicale

YouTube - Jean Prouvé – 3D Animation construction of La Maison Tropicale

La Maison Tropicale Series

Maison Tropicale film in Amsterdam

Deconstructing Maison Tropicale - Introduction

Maison Tropicale - Ownership

Maison Tropicale - Heritage

Maison Tropicale - Corrupt enterprise

Maison Tropicale - Grand Projects

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