There is buzz aplenty about the prefab housing show at MOMA (Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling, 20 July to 20 October). So much buzz that there’s no point in buzzing more here, except where there are elements that touch on tropical design and living. And there are. Among them, the reappearance of Jean Prouvé’s Maison Tropicale amid the historical documentation for the show.
It was a mid-century engineering experiment about housing expats in tropical lands. I’m an expat in a tropical land, and I can tell you, I wouldn’t be overjoyed to arrive home to one of Prouve’s sheds. With all due respect to the spirit of a great designer whose work I generally like, the Maison Tropicale in its various incarnations was not particularly hospitable nor beautiful. Maybe that’s why media photographers have usually taken pictures of it only from a safe distance.
Another point to mention in relation to tropical prefab is our own Bali-based prefabbers, Toma House. I know the Toma team personally, but I haven’t thoroughly inspected the Toma product line, although I reviewed their showroom, literature and website with interest. Prefab “Bali pavilions” and prefab wood houses from Sulawesi have been standard trade goods out of Indonesia for quite a long time. The classic form for traditional houses in this region is essentially modular, sits light on the land, and lends itself well to prefabbing. The Malay house is basically a floor plane on long stilts which extend through the floor plane to support the roof. The Toma concept uses local traditions as a starting point and grafts in modern techniques and materials to update the Malay idiom.
Have a look at Toma Houses. Now compare and contrast to Prouvé’s Maison Tropicale.