The generation game: giving Prouvé’s prefab pods a new lease on life with Richard Rogers

The generation game: giving Prouvé’s prefab pods a new lease on life with Richard Rogers

An invitation from gallerist Patrick Seguin to attend a design workshop with architect Richard Rogers is not one to be snifed at. Seguin – collector, dealer and world authority on Jean Prouvé – thought I may be interested to witness the final stages of a personal project he’d been working on with Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. A project that would revitalise and give a second life to one of his Prouvé demountable houses.

So last September I made my way to RSHP’s studios in Hammersmith, London, to watch Seguin, Rogers, Ivan Harbour and Tadashi Arai wrestle with the finer details of form and function. The house in question, a humble six-metre-square structure of wood and steel, was one of a series created by Prouvé in 1944 to rehouse war victims in France. Similar ones are most often seen these days in museums or galleries, but the challenge for RSHP was to introduce contemporary comforts, adding plumbing and electricity, to make it usable as a modern holiday home while staying true to the pragmatic spirit of the original.

And there could be no one better than Rogers for this challenge. The similarities between his philosophy and Prouvé’s are clear. Both are champions of functionality and innovation, but more importantly, they share an undeniable sense of optimism for the power of architecture to bring about social change. I learned on my visit that their paths had, in fact, crossed back in 1971, when Rogers, together with Renzo Piano, had pitched for the Centre Pompidou in Paris. As president of the selection panel, Prouvé played an instrumental role in commissioning the building that came to revolutionise contemporary architecture. To see Rogers come full circle, transforming and breathing new life into the work of Prouvé was a special treat.

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