Les   maisons « Tropique » à Brazzaville (Congo), 1950-1951.

Henri Prouvé architecte.

« Deux maisons semblables au prototype destiné à Niamey ont été envoyées à Brazzaville, pour servir de bureau d’information à Studal. Ces pavillons de 10 x 20 m. et 10 x 14 m. ont été posés sur des rez-de-chaussée en béton armé. Certains détails de ces maisons diffèrent de ceux du prototype ; sur le poteaux en béton sont posées des poutres en tôle pliée et des solives ; des garde-fous pivotants en tôle et un plancher en chêne ont été prévus pour la galerie ; les pare-soleil sont différents (…). Dans une note au Conseil d’Administration, Jean Prouvé écrit : « Si ce prototype donne satisfaction, des commandes très importantes doivent être passées ».

Comme pour d’autres projets, Studal a fait des efforts publicitaires, mais il n’y pas eu de fabrication en série. Une des raisons est donnée dans une lettre du Président du C.F.I.A. à Studal (Société Technique pour l’Utilisation des Alliages Legers) : « …conclusion…Sauf cas particulier absolument exceptionnels, la maison Prouvé, à son prix actuel, est invendable à Brazzaville et à Bangui. Elle ne bénéficiera même pas de l’avantage du court délai d’exécution que nous avions, les uns et les autres, considéré comme un atout essentiel… »

P. Sulzer, 2004, p. 132.

© Archives Jean Prouvé - Centre Georges Pompidou MNAM/ CCI Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris.

 The brazzavile information bureau

The Brazzavile Information Bureau was officially inaugurated on December 3, 1951 by Mr Jean Dupin, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Aluminium Français, in the presence of Mr. Marcel Pubellier, director of Cégédar, Mr. Roger Voisard, director of Studal, and Jacques Piget, director of this African office. Other people present at this event included very high-level officials of the A.E.F. such as Mr. Berdier, principal private secretary of Mr. Chauvet, High Commissioner for the Republic; Mr. Mestre representing Governor Cédile; Mr. Cabou, director general for Economic Affairs, Mr. Puesch, director general of Customs, as well as most of the military authorities and executives from the industrial, commercial, and banking sectors.

As the reception was organized just before nightfall, some senior officials from the Belgian Congo could not attend due to the Congo River ferryboat schedules. For those who could not attend the first event, a second reception was organized on Wednesday, December 5 with some forty invited guests from all walks of life.

The inauguration of the new Aluminium Français Information Bureau was clearly a huge success. Visitors were surprised by the clean, simple aspect of the offices which contrasted with the more cozy aspect of the living areas, obtained by carefully-selected furniture colors – fully metallic as well – by the nettings, curtains, lighting equipment all developed with local resources.

Most Brazzaville residents were already familiar with the Bureau de l’Aluminium Française, without however, knowing the exact function of this institution. The Bureau is ideally located for optimum visibility, half way between the Post Office and the Town Hall, near both the residential area and the commercial area. What is more, it has a rather unusual design in Brazzaville, which had no other prefabricated building. In addition, the publicity during the erection of the building had attracted many visitors to the construction site including even top civilian officials in the Federation.


© Archives Jean Prouvé - Centre Georges Pompidou MNAM/ CCI Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris.

The whole structure comprises two buildings in “Tropical” type light alloy from the Jean Prouvé Workshops. The part for actual office functions measures: 14 x 10m gross; the other part is slightly off-axis, and connected to the first by a bridge. It serves as the residence of Mr. Jacques Piget and has external measurements of 18 x 10 m.

The offices include a waiting and show room measuring 6 x 4 m, the director’s office: 6 x 4 m; a secretariat: 4 x 4 m; as well as a toilet and cloakroom.

The director’s residence comprises a living area of 6 x 4 m plus a recessed corner equipped with a bar; a master’s bedroom of 6 x 4 m; two bedrooms of 4 x 3 m; a kitchen of 4 x 2 m and two toilets one of which is equipped with a Sécip shower unit.

The “Tropical” type house has already been described in this reviews December 1949 issue n° 161. As described earlier, this is an entirely prefabricated house. The bottom part has channels marking the contours of the construction with the primary beams supporting the two portals on which the ridge pole is embedded. The 15/10 mm thick aluminum roof components of the overhanging roof projects to form a verandah: the front wall is made of solid panels, window panels, and door panels. These panel modules are formed with light alloy section frames with outer and inner sides made of 10/10 mm enameled aluminum with glass wool inserted in between for insulation. The panels are connected to each other by rib flanges with an insulating material in between them, according to Jean Prouvé’s technique. The roof is anchored to the floor by pre-stressed anchors between every two panels. The interior partitions are made of double-walled aluminum panels with insulation. The ceiling is made of 1m x 1m panels, in aluminum sheet. The floor is made of steel panels of the same dimensions, covered with linoleum. The electrical installation is prefabricated. Ventilation is provided by air intake points in the long side of the roof and used air is naturally evacuated through the ridge pole forming a chimney and accordingly equipped with adjustable shutters, Protection against the sun, already partly provided by the overhanging roof, is completed by sun-shades made of three adjustable horizontal strips arranged on top of each other. This is a lightweight construction, weighing no more than 50 kg/sq. m; it is designed to last long and withstand the attack of termites and ants.


© Archives Jean Prouvé - Centre Georges Pompidou MNAM/ CCI Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris.

The land on which the buildings were erected, along the Paul Doumier avenue, had a highly uneven surface and its general slope was 4m below the avenue’s level. Therefore, the houses could not be mounted directly on the ground, since only the roof would have been visible from the avenue and that was not the aim, and ventilation would have been inadequate as well. As a result, we decided to place the houses on concrete posts with the top arriving at the level of the avenue. As the construction of a concrete slab would have required considerable and delicate formwork, the Jean Prouvé Workshops delivered a prefabricated metallic floor.

The different components of the construction were shipped by airplane. The last boxes arrived on May 31, the first bolt for the floor framework was laid on June 1. The structure was mounted by Mr. Jacques Piget who had no experience in mounting – assisted by a group of « carpenters » and « masons » comprising two native Congolese teams of eight people. One can imagine the obvious difficulties they encountered. Nevertheless, the houses were fully mounted on July 2.

This official inauguration shows that the new B.R.I.A. of Brazzaville, whose activity is of course different from that of the metropolitan bureau, has had an excellent start. Its aim is to provide industrialists with technical and commercial documentation that is constantly updated, thereby allowing them to benefit from the experience of the Central Services. The Bureau conducts on-site studies of potentially useful applications and reports them to the Paris headquarters, thereby serving as a bridge between aluminum users and technicians.

One of the early results of this new B.R.I.A. was to prove the practical possibility of perfectly furnishing a metallic house to make it as comfortable as a traditionally-built house and achieve the same level of intimacy and coziness. The aluminum house is not a futuristic challenge, but a reasonable solution to the housing problem, which is a major concern worldwide. Moreover, the colonial officers believe, and justifiably so, that landlocked remote regions with no harbor access, no cement and no stone, have much to gain from this new technique, which is more economical than traditional procedures especially due to transportation reasons. That is why Chad has already shown interested in a large command of aluminum houses.

We wish Jacques Piget the best of luck in the gigantic task ahead of him.

© Archives Jean Prouvé - Centre Georges Pompidou MNAM/ CCI Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris.