Home Delivery Part II: Pre-Fab Housing as Social Intervention

| Jan 22, 2009
by: Mrinalini Rajagopalan 

{Top: Jean Prouve’s Maison Tropicale rebuilt in New York, 2007 (www.djhuppatz.com)/ Bottom: Teddy Cruz’s housing project for the U.S.-Mexico border (Estudio Teddy Cruz)}
The modern history of mass-produced housing is also of course a social history, where house designs responded to larger political, environmental and cultural shifts. For example, Walter Gropius’ design for Copper Houses was aggressively marketed to German Jewish emigres to Palestine, many of whom could not take any money out of the country. The Copperhouse Co. argued that the house was light enough to be carried to Palestine and if it was seen by the home-owner as inappropriate or unnecessary the kit could be melted down and the copper sold for cash.
Jean Prouve’s prefab houses: the Maison Tropicale and Maison Coloniale were shipped to the Congo and other French colonies, reminding us of the ways in which architectural forms have served not only in the transfer of technology but also in that of establishing cultural distinctions and setting social norms. The picture of the Maison Tropicale posted above is from D.J. Huppatz’s blog on culture and architecture, where he has written an interesting piece on the building’s recent “discovery” in the Congo and its appearance as modernist art object in New York in 2007.
The prefabricated dwelling unit has also been a constant trope within the various dystopic visions of the modern city. Archigram’s Living Pod; Peter Cook’s dwelling units in the Plug-In City ann Richard Rogers’ design for Dupont–the Zip-up House are only a few of prefab designs attempting to wrestle with the anxieties of over-populated, polluted and chaotic urban centers. A contemporary rendition of these schemes can be seen in California-based architect Teddy Cruz’s project: Manufactured Sites–for houses along the U.S.-Mexico border. One part mass-housing scheme and one part social-commentary on the co-dependence of U.S.’s high-luxury economy and unregulated Mexican labor, the project appropriates the border as a space where detritus from the First World is trafficked and revalued as elements of housing in the “developing” world.

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