(Français) Maisons tropicales brazzaville

2000

We knew through French volunteer workers in the Congo that the two Brazzavile Tropical Houses were still standing at the end of the 80s. Since then, the Congo had become mired in numerous civil wars. Had the houses survived?
As soon as we arrived the first night, in March 2000, my friend Gérald Moreau and I decided to brave the curfew and head for a drink in the devastated downtown, in the company of trusted escorts. We showed the driver some pictures we had of the houses and he instantly answered with a broad smile “No problem, they are the sheet metal huts on avenue Paul Doumer next to the big Post office, opposite the Cogelo” (the Congolese national Lottery).
We couldn’t believe our eyes when barely five minutes later the car stopped right in front of the houses. Despite the bullet impacts, the “eyesores” added over the years, the rundown aspect and the rust, both houses were virtually intact, occupied by small companies which had valiantly kept them standing through endless tinkering and fixing…

Eric Touchaleaume

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

Not only are the Brazzaville houses different from the Niamey one (cf. comments details of Niamey photos), they also differ from each other.

The smaller house (14 X 10 m) designed for offices originally had a wraparound balustrade in tubes later replaced by modern railing.

The bigger house (18 X 10 m) designed for dwelling was originally equipped with aluminum sheet railings, still in place, to preserve the privacy of the occupants. These superb aluminum shells with cutout ventilation grooves are reminiscent of the hoods of racecars from the 60s. The inner side is painted in the same blue as the pillars; the external side is in untreated aluminum.

Curiously, the railings are mounted on hinges allowing them to swing forward. This dangerous function, four meters above the ground, had been disabled. There has been lots of speculation over the utility of this system, was it to facilitate the cleaning of the verandas?

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

The stamped sheet steel elements on top of the railings, visible on the photos taken on site, are unfortunate later additions.

The bridge connecting the two houses had been transformed into a landing for the large Brazzaville house. This type of awning can be found on many Prouvé houses, such as the Meudon house.

The Brazzaville houses have only two axial portal frames because they are shorter than the Niamey house which has four of them.

Unlike the lateral verandas, the balconies at the two ends of the Brazzaville houses did not originally have wooden laths; they had the same steel floor boards as the floor inside the house. The constructive principle of these buildings is based on repeated components; and therefore the possibility of ordering a house for any desired length while continuing to use the same type of components. As these prototypes had not been built to last, the balcony floors had rusted and were now covered with concrete screed. We decided on a protective and esthetic cladding and chose the parquet floor used on boat decks, for the floors on the balcony and inside the house.

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

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